COP27 is one of the largest global debates in recent years. And it’s a hot topic for communications leaders who are increasingly charged with helping to communicate and manage their brand’s reputation for sustainability.
The promise of COP27 (6th – 18th Nov) is delivering for people and the planet. Whilst the world’s leaders and climate experts gather in Sharm el-Sheikh to debate the future health of our environment, it’s widely accepted that the private sector, big corporates, and financial institutions play a significant role in its success.
The Edelman Trust Barometer is our annual reminder that “societal leadership is now a core function of business”. For global businesses, attempting to be neutral or not take a position at all is no longer an option and this has been highlighted throughout the COP27 event. With trust in Government and the media increasingly in decline, the expectation is on brands to lead on societal change. Brands are expected to have an identifiable purpose and deliver their purpose with measurable action.
For organisations that have historically sold products, with profit as their key measure of success, this can be seem a complex and everchanging world to navigate. Get it right and you grow loyalty, advocacy, and revenue. Get it wrong and you risk accusations of “greenwashing”, alienating your audience, and losing revenue.
The OED defines greenwashing, n. as “The creation or propagation of an unfounded or misleading environmentalist image”
With the FIFA World Cup 2022 due to kick-off in Qatar on 20th November, sports washing is likely to be the new greenwashing for a few weeks. The recent launch of the LIV Golf Tour and the controversial ownership of Newcastle United FC by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund are two high-profile examples of sport being used to position a State as being more progressive than it actually is.
As part of the bidding process to host the World Cup, FIFA proudly states that “integrating human rights requirements into bidding processes for competitions and as a factor in the subsequent selection of the host”. This seems to directly contradict its decision to select Qatar as the host whilst the country continues to criminalise LGBT+ communities. The consequences of this are likely to be felt by FIFA’s key partners and sponsors who will be anticipating activism against their brands because of their association with the World Cup in Qatar.
Where to start and how to get it right…more often than not!
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Very often during the COP27 event, we’ve seen organisations lean into the environmental and social aspects of ESG more confidently because their message is clearer and more positive. Whilst this is understandable, our advice is that if you want to talk to your Environmental and Social position with any credibility, then please make sure that your Governance is in good order first!
Speak to those who are impacted
In championing any area of ESG, speak to those who are most impacted by the issue first. You are not expected to be in the expert in this space, so engage with those that are. Whilst on the subject of engagement, go to your key stakeholders and employees; what do they care about and what do they want you to care about? Stakeholder engagement is key to delivering purpose with action.
What makes you legitimate?
Ask yourself, what is it about our brand and our organisation that gives us legitimacy in this conversation?
Clearly define your brand’s role
Understanding your role and where you can have the most impact is vital. It might be that the heritage of your organisation allows you to lead the conversation. Or maybe you can make the most impact by lending your platform to someone else to amplify their voice? Ask you yourself: are we a facilitator, a microphone, a campaigner, or a donor?
Team with your peers
Don’t be afraid to partner. Remember, this is not about you. If you can make a greater impact by partnering with other brands or organisations, then do so – this is a team effort.
Start small, grow big
Don’t be afraid to start small. Whilst you might want to leave a lasting legacy on society, there are lots of local community initiatives that align with your brand values and need your support.
If you get it wrong (and you will), take your medicine, hold your hands up and commit to doing better. And most importantly, show your plan to improve and report back on it regularly.
Haters gonna hate. It’s inevitable that whatever position you favour, not everyone will agree with you. Don’t ignore it. Be open to an alternate view but be prepared that haters gonna hate.
Be in it for the long term, not just around COP27
Committing to your ESG strategy should be a long-term plan, not a flash in the pan campaign. Your clients and audience want to trust that you are truly invested in your ESG efforts.
In January, we’ll be back with our whitepaper: Building brand reputation in an era of anti-greenwashing activism. If you’re ready to learn how to communicate authentically in a time of heightened media and stakeholder scepticism, don’t miss it!