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Speaking Sustainably

It’s time to level with people about climate change

Its impacts are already a part of the story. How will you take charge of the narrative?

More companies are taking steps to reduce their impact on the environment. Earlier this year, Ceres released an excellent comprehensive view of which companies are taking what actions (and what more needs to be done). The upside is that 64 percent of the 600 largest U.S. companies have commitments in place to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

As I’ve noted here before, many companies actually have concrete, science-based targets for reductions in waste and energy and water use — so much so that companies all sound the same when they talk about their goals. I’ve urged corporations to set the appropriate targets but to hone in on one environmental or social issue they can own — that they can be known for and solve. It’s what consumers want companies to do, and being known for leading on an issue is fully leverage-able from a brand-building standpoint.

But I think it’s time to go further.

It’s time to level with people.

Whether it’s wildfires in California, heat waves in Europe or hurricanes all over, the impacts of climate change are here. They’re happening right now. So it’s awesome that companies are aiming for things such as zero environmental impact by 2030 or 60 percent carbon reductions by 2020 — I would NOT want those companies to throw their hands up and stop working towards those goals.

It’s awesome that companies are aiming for things like zero environmental impact by 2030. But the brutal truth is that those efforts won’t stop climate change or turn it around.
But the brutal truth is that those efforts won’t stop climate change or turn it around. It’s already happening. I think it’s time for companies to start acknowledging that in their communications about the environment — and to communicate what they’re doing to help people deal with the climate effects that are already ever-present.

Savvy companies are already working on climate change resilience — determining how they’ll continue to operate in the midst of devastating climate events. I’m suggesting that savvier companies will make plans for that and plans for how their products and services, people and processes can be mobilized to help people in need as the climate hits come faster and faster.

How will your company be a first responder?

How will you talk about climate change resilience? How will you shift your company’s story so you’re not just telling people you’re working to reduce your company’s impact on the planet — you’re also working to reduce the planet’s impact on people? What will you create when you broaden your thinking to include both reduction and response? And how will you make an impact on countless lives in immediate need when those climate moments happen?

Be that company — the company that eliminates its impact on the planet and the company that responds to people in crisis when the climate disasters happen. Do that in a way that’s unique to your brand or your product and, for all of my podium-pounding about how important it is to tell your story, you won’t actually need the help of a company such as mine to tell the story. The story will tell itself.

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