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How and why comms people need to shout about sustainability right now

This summer will surely be remembered as a haze of wildfires, record-breaking heat, drought, water shortages and most recently, the devastating floods in Pakistan. Once a topic reserved for scientists, eco-warriors and the fringes of mass media, we’re now seeing climate change and sustainability stories play out across every channel worldwide, to be consumed by the public, its impact becoming an inescapable reality of daily life.

The world is watching

There has been much discussion in the PR and marketing industry and beyond about how we approach and adapt to this topic over recent months. As professional communicators, we’re experiencing a moment in time that is truly once in a lifetime. The responsibility that exists in disseminating messages on this topic to reach every stakeholder and audience is huge, and now, finally, it feels like the world is watching.

The CMA’s introduction of its Green Claims Code demonstrates the crucial need for information about climate change to be accurate. The CIPR has also just launched its first ever sustainability diploma, clearly signalling that communicating on this topic demands specialist sectoral and industry knowledge. That’s not to say that communications around sustainability is only for the specialists. It’s not, as all agencies have a role to play in stakeholder communications. However, for those who have the expertise, networks and influence to operate at board level with companies and with industries that need to dramatically mitigate their environmental impact, they can influence positive change at a more corporate level. The time is now for this to be acknowledged and embraced if we want to see tangible action on sustainability and in delivering decarbonisation and global warming targets.

The energy transition

Although some believe that the PR industry should ghost or cancel any organisation that still provides fossil fuels, for others - those that ‘know’ - it’s clear that this is impractical, short-sighted and shows a lack of understanding of the realities of the energy transition.

The energy transition is just that - a transition. It cannot happen overnight. Which means every single organisation and industry across the globe is on a journey towards sustainability and decarbonisation; and some businesses will always be further forward than others.

PR is two-way

True public relations is a two-way process - effective communication requires an organisation to listen to its publics and act accordingly, not only disseminating information. A PR consultant has the responsibility to challenge and be challenged. We are not ‘yes men/women,’ much as the old tropes like to portray that view.

Long-term positive, engaged, respectful relationships are powerful and enable influence and action. You also can’t influence if you’re not in the room. And you won’t be in the room if you don’t have the right level of understanding or network of contacts to draw upon to drive collaboration and influence change. The time is now to develop an in-depth understanding of sectors that have the potential to significantly contribute to climate goals, and work from within - alongside them - to guide, support and continuously improve. This is true sustainability.

Gaining knowledge

When it comes to ESG/sustainability comms, the PR industry is still working on building this understanding- and rightly so, this can take decades to acquire. Our agency has been working in this space since 2008 and have lived many lifetimes of changing regulation, evolving clean technology, and the development of future fuels and new sources of energy - it’s a hugely complex, yet ultimately very rewarding space to inhabit as communicators.

Certain sectors, like marine and energy, which are critical drivers of global commerce, operate under the radar and are more insular than others. This is partly due to not being consumer facing as operations tend to be ‘buried’ within B2B supply chains and falling outside of mainstream media and public interest - and so the cycle continues.

Without expert and in-depth knowledge combined with decades of multi-channel communications experience across multiple sectors, these B2B industries would be left in the dark, yet they are major contributors to the climate crisis and central to successful global decarbonisation.

Our joint responsibility

To become genuinely sustainable requires a real level of transparency. Therefore, as communications professionals, we have a collective responsibility to collaborate and support each other to ensure that the facts cut through the noise. We must change the narrative - adding a layer of facts and expert commentary alongside softer, more accessible campaigns. We currently inhabit extremes - either paywall technical comms that doesn’t account for how we share information as a society – ie, online/ on social media channels or B2C green campaigns that are not always built upon credible foundations.

As PR consultants we have a responsibility to use our expertise and influence to drive positive change. But that can only happen from within and with extensive networks and a detailed knowledge of what true sustainability looks like within the confines of the industries we specialise in. We don’t want to see statements like the one from EY’s sustainability chief flagging that ESG runs the risk of falling into ‘disrepute’ after being ‘hijacked by marketers’.

Written by Amie Pascoe, director of agency BLUE Communications

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