Climate & Other Crises: how can we talk about and act on environmental issues this winter?
By Alex Robinson 14th December, 2022
Businesses face huge uncertainty, with tumultuous politics, social unrest, and the economy, if not on life-support, then certainly on the waiting list for a bed. And when it comes to sustainability, they’re telling us that they’re in a double bind: budgets are under scrutiny as recession bites, while at the same time there’s pressure to do even more for the environment and communities that sustain us.
Businesses need to act with urgency, but how? And what do the cost of living and energy crises mean for the way we communicate environmental issues to the public?
We brought together a group of senior business leaders and key stakeholders from some of the UK’s leading and most progressive companies for a workshop to discuss these questions and come up with solutions. Our ‘Hubbub Explores’ event included presentations from Tesco and OVO Energy on their environmental initiatives and how they’re supporting customers, colleagues and suppliers; and from Virgin Media O2 on how they’re bringing their plans to life with the public. In the discussions that followed, a handful of key themes emerged.
Taking action in a winter of discontent
There was a unanimous view that this is no time to shy away from taking action, however difficult the challenges. We drew three pieces of wisdom from the session:
1) Start small, test and learn, then scale what works. Trial and error is ultimately efficient: you learn a lot as you go and have more impact when you scale up.
2) Transparency and sharing: it’s important to tell your story and share the negatives and positives widely across the business community. It adds credibility to your work and stops the rest of us making the same mistakes. This is one of our founding principles at Hubbub; we share the results of all our campaigns to help drive progress more quickly.
3) Collaboration: Before launching your own initiative, ask yourself: what could we bring to something that’s already underway? There may be no need to start your own version of what already exists. By teaming up within your industry, or with trusted partners, you might be able to accelerate an existing project and have more impact with less risk. Co-op’s support of our Community Fridge Network is a great example of this in action.
Setting the tone
The cost-of-living crisis was top of mind for almost all the companies who joined the session. Knowing the financial pressures many customers and communities are experiencing adds extra complexity to communicating sustainability initiatives. Three key points from the conversation:
1) Use a cost-saving hook: Talking about saving money is more likely to resonate with the public than environmental impact at any time – but especially now. Green products might be typically viewed as more expensive, but there’s a huge overlap between money-saving and environmentally friendly products and behaviours. Focusing communications on ways to help customers save money is a great place to start. If you can authentically combine it with sustainability initiatives, it’s a win-win.
2) Speaking of authenticity… Hubbub Explores participants stressed the need to take extra care that messaging is authentic, consistent and tailored to your audience. This is no time for preachiness, insensitivity or opportunism.
3) Be vigilant for greenwash and green-hush. Greenwash is rife, and while much of it is deliberate (a topic for another day), some of it is more misguided than deliberately deceptive. By following the guidance of resources such as the Green Claims Code or the advice of an expert partner, you can ensure your communications campaigns build rather than risk breaking trust with the public. ‘Green-hush’ is when businesses deliberately stay quiet about their climate strategies. It can be tempting to avoid both the scrutiny that comes with making bold declarations and the risk of being accused of greenwashing. However, stakeholders and customers expect to see environmental commitments from companies, so it is better to communicate something, even if it's still a work in progress, as opposed to staying schtum. And if you’re not sure what to do, go back to the steps on taking action above!
Of course, all this is easier if your company is truly committed to doing the right thing, which leads us to our final theme:
It's what's inside that counts
The organisations least likely to be thrown off course by the crosswinds of crisis are the ones with sustainability deeply embedded into their business. This means going beyond public commitments, and integrating it into procurement, employee goals, bonuses and so on. One clear signal is where the sustainability team is positioned in the organisation, and how much influence they have. These are often micro teams with macro challenges: senior support and authority goes a long way. Leadership can build and maintain support from the wider business by providing the sustainability context around strategic decisions as a matter of course.
Yet true sustainability can’t be just top-down or a series of technical fixes: it involves everyone in the organisation. Companies that do this best talked about having regular opportunities to inspire colleagues and help them understand the role they can play as colleagues and citizens. Employee challenges, creative workshops and brainstorms, away days and volunteering can all energise a team around a common cause (side note: Hubbub supports a number of major businesses with employee engagement, and we run the ever popular Plastic Fishing in Canary Wharf). Training matters, too. For example, would your colleagues benefit from Carbon Literacy Training?
Join the conversation
Hubbub Explores is a way of bringing together a small group of business leaders around a topic of shared interest to swap insights and generate ideas and solutions together. If you’re interested in joining our workshops for business leaders, or have any topics you’d like us to cover in future events, please do get in touch.
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If you have a challenge to share, or want to get involved with our work, we'd love to hear from you.
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