WASHINGTON, DC: Amy Meyer is an associate at the World Resources Institute Center for Sustainable Business. She's produced a checklist for companies to communicate a successful climate message:
Corporate statements encouraging and supporting strong public policy on climate change are important to create the political will needed to pass climate-related policies in the United States. We’ve read many of them and seen a wide range of approaches: some are impactful, others are well-intentioned but weak, and some can justifiably be classified as greenwashing.
So what makes a corporate climate statement successful?
We’ve assembled the characteristics that make for an impactful corporate statement on climate policy based on our experience with companies, climate and communication experts, and U.S. congressional policymakers.
Here’s everything needed to help write a strong public statement, both in terms of composing the statement and promoting it:
1. Support specific and current policy measures. Statements supporting ‘climate action’ are vague and less effective. A good statement will name the policy and show clear support for it.
2. Be clear. It’s important for your audience — policymakers, staffers and other policy influencers — to understand WHY you support these policies. Connect policies to your business interests and explain why they are necessary or will have a positive impact on your business/sector.
3. Denounce contradictory statements and actions from your trade and industry associations. Historically in the U.S., trade and industry associations tend to mobilize against the passage of robust climate policy. If you are a member of a trade group that is lobbying against the policies you support, this calls into question the authenticity of your position and renders your support ineffective. Make a clear statement that your trade group does not represent your views on specific policies where this misalignment exists.
Publication and promotion:
1. Speak from your CEO. As the head of your company, having the message come directly from your CEO is a clear indicator that climate policy is important, and that all divisions of your company are aligned. Other spokespeople, such as a CSO, are helpful to promote the message but not as effective.
2. Target policymakers and decision makers. An effective message speaks directly to the policymakers and decision makers with the most leverage. While your statement should be shared with all stakeholders, if it does not reach the people with the power to enact the policy then it has no impact.
3. Use the right platform and have a promotional plan. Policymakers, staffers, other policy influencers and stakeholders need to see your statement of support for climate policy for it to be effective. Posting quietly on social media or updating a page on your company website will not attract the attention needed. Instead, consider channels such as a CEO op-ed in an influential news outlet, tv appearances, or paid advertising. Using multiple platforms to reinforce your message is ideal.
4. Lead with a corporate voice, not an NGO one. While partnering with NGOs can be an efficient way to develop and organize a statement, messaging is strongest when corporate voices are in the lead. If a statement is organized by an NGO, it becomes even more critical for companies to individually promote it. Having your CEO sign the letter and including your company’s logo also goes a long way.
Statements of support from the private sector remain critical
In the upcoming months, the U.S. Congress will continue its debate on the FY23 budget package. Many of the climate provisions originally proposed as part of the Build Back Better legislation (passed by the House in 2021 but held up in the Senate), appear to retain popularity and political capital. As discussions move forward on some form of a reconciliation package, we cannot afford to let the opportunity to pass meaningful climate policy slip past us once again.
Aim High, But Don’t Let Perfect Be the Enemy of the Good
None of these criteria are meant to discount the challenge of putting out a statement. We know that corporate statements of any kind can be difficult to organize and approve and as with many things, perfect should not be the enemy of the good when it comes to speaking out in favor of climate action.
Companies should use this checklist as a guide and toolkit, not as an excuse for silence. Corporate voices in support of climate policy remain critical and we hope that corporate employees reading this will make a commitment to composing and promoting a strong statement in support of climate action.
WRI is a global nonprofit organization that works with leaders in government, business and civil society to research, design, and carry out practical solutions that simultaneously improve people’s lives and ensure nature can thrive.
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