Talking About Your Position On Climate Change

August 9 2021

Climate action is the most mentioned UN Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) in corporate sustainability reports, according to the Global ESG Monitor, a unique study piloted by Public Relations Global Network members cometis, Xenophon Strategies and Currie, and research firm Kohorten.

What is your company’s position on climate change? Is your company taking action?

Whether you believe in climate change or not, climate change is a risk for business. You need to take a position on it. Your customers, investors and workers are asking – “Where do you stand?”.

Having a clear position on climate change is critical, but how can you get it right?

For direction see this position statement from the world’s biggest miner, BHP Billiton.

Many companies are setting targets to be carbon neutral or net zero on carbon. One-fifth of the world’s 2,000 largest companies have made this pledge, and these numbers are rising. The number of commitments have doubled in less than a year. Most are aiming for a zero-carbon economy by 2050 as part of the UN Race to Zero. This United Nations corporate coalition involves more than 3,000 businesses and over 700 cities around the world.

However, only 10% of the 250 largest corporate greenhouse gas (GHG) emitters globally have a meaningful plan to actually decarbonise in the next decade. So, are they ‘walking the talk’? Do they all separate truth from marketing? Probably not. 

Disturbingly, 40% of sustainability claims online may be greenwashing i.e. rubbish. For now, you may get away with not ‘walking the talk’ on climate. But not for much longer.

In Australia, company directors have been warned that companies making net zero carbon pledges without science-backed plans for achieving the goal could be sued if they are found to have misled or deceived, or to be likely to mislead or deceive, the users of those statements.

In the United Kingdom (UK) where carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from one-third of the top UK firms are not in line with global climate goals, a local regulator the Competition and Market Authority, has released draft guidance to companies on how to avoid greenwashing.

Telling stories about sustainability, including climate change, has become a “must do” for business. The point here is that sustainability storytelling and reporting is not marketing. 

So, how truthful is your company’s story about climate change?

At Currie, we say start with the facts and craft a story about sustainability from the truth. This truth can be grounded in an assessment of a company’s climate-related financial risks and corroborated by science-based targets, scenario-based action plans and audited reports.

Complicated? Probably. But if you are serious about climate change, this is what you do.

So, firstly, find out how the operations of your company affect the climate and how your company’s management of climate risks influences decisions made by your stakeholders.

At Currie, we interviewed customers and stakeholders about what they consider to be our social, environmental and governance risks. The environmental impact of GHGs generated from our use of energy and travel, and waste were considered important but not as critically important as governance issues such as anti-corruption and client confidentiality. 

After looking at our impacts and listening to our stakeholders, we told our climate story: 

We believe climate change is having a drastic effect around the globe through rising temperatures, climate-related disasters, and extreme weather events. Currie aims to support leaders in business and government to limit the increase of the global average temperature to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. We want to be part of the climate solution by assessing and minimising our own impact

Frustratingly, our GHGs slowly rose pre-COVID, mainly driven by air travel. The move to a new office has also led to a small rise in our energy emissions. In FY2019, our GHGs, were 9.6 tonnes CO2e (scope 2) and 74.2t CO2e (scope 3). These scope 3 emissions encompass air travel only. We do not currently collect data for other scope 3 activities in our supply chain.

We offset 100% of GHGs generated by our air travel and 100% of the energy we use is generated by renewal hydro power. We have plans to set targets to increase energy efficiencies and measure and reduce recycling waste. We will also establish a supplier code of conduct that ensures the suppliers we work with align with our goal to make a net-positive impact on the planet.

Transparency about climate change (telling the good, the bad and the ugly) builds trust.  If companies are not open about climate risks, actions and impacts, can they be trusted?

Your company’s story about climate change can cover five points.

  1. What you believe about climate change
  2. What are your climate risks and impacts
  3. What you aim to achieve (goals, targets)
  4. What you are doing to take climate action
  5. The progress (or not) that you are making

Overstating the positives in your climate change story is greenwashing – an activity that is bad for the environment, erodes trust with people and may one day incur legal costs and penalties.

So, what is your position on climate change and what is the story you are telling?

Mark Paterson
Principal, Currie
Mark is a strategist, storyteller and change agent. He thrives on the big picture and is a champion for sustainability. As a sense-maker and stubborn optimist, he helps organisations find their voice and see their future more clearly. The son of Corgi breeders, Mark would like to change the world for the better.

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