Reenergised communications

Climate change communication: Staying relevant in the post Paris environment

One month ago the announcement from the Paris climate summit, COP21,  sent a clear message to the world.

The fossil fuel era is at an end. The renewable era has begun. Not because of the binding legality of the COP 21 agreement but because of statement after statement by world leaders.

With an eye to the future, energy policies are shifting to market-driven solutions. Investors are starting to ditch coal in favour of solar, divest from oil and invest in wind. NGOs have long spoken out on the environmental and health impacts of burning coal and oil. Now 200 world leaders agree. Fossil fuels are not a sustainable energy source. Not for the planet. Not for people. Not for the climate.

Obfuscation of climate data and debate for years not only slowed investment in a clean future, it also created a political class that embraced diesel, subsidised oil and promoted toxicity over public health, unable to resist the draw of envelopes over ethics. So with trust in big business and government at an all time low, corporate communicators face real challenges in the post Paris communication environment.  

ABC of post Paris communication

1. Authenticity is always the best policy

Faking data like faking orgasms can only take you so far before relationships explode. Having pretty green ads, sponsoring institutions dedicated to public health in return for silence or communicating in a vacuum no longer make sense.

Transparency is always the best policy. Be bold enough to embrace uncertainty rather than use it as a smoke screen.

2. Buck stops with the boss

CEOs have been notoriously absent in offering evidence of ethics, with just a handful of exceptions.  Ads still carry messages that bamboozle consumers with conflicting environmental and consumption messages. Should we buy, buy, buy or should we stop, look and listen?

Challenge your CEO to consistently communicate with integrity.

3.  Connect with critical friends

Companies that operate cloak and dagger programmes are now the fading few. Win the respect of consumers, policy makers and NGOs through a policy of open engagement. 

Listen to detractors rather than shout them down. Reality check with critical friends. 

Sustainability engagement

In the post Paris environment, marketing, communication and public affairs professionals have a vital role to play in building awareness and engaging in an informed debate about sustainability. How to address challenges of climate risk, diet-related ill health and food waste? How to align health and environmental agendas? How to talk about EU circular economy, climate mitigation or UN sustainable development goals? How to talk about oil?

With opportunities abounding for new narratives and novel engagement, the post Paris communication construct requires a fourth pillar to the classic cornerstones of relevance, reach and resonance. Realism has come of day, just as realpolitik has come to be, with the challenges and changes facing Europe so fast and furious.  

Post Paris energy communication

Promise. Make a climate commitment that is bold. Show clear intent. Get stakeholders excited.

Organise. Redesign strategy to embrace new imperatives. Align external communication and employee engagement agendas.

Simplify. Cut out the clutter. Lean in to clarity, consistency and coherence in storytelling.

Train. Harness the energy of employees to drive authentic communication.

Position the organisation as leader, not follower.

Amplify messages through social media and engaging events.

Resonate with all audiences. Reach into busy lives.  Real talk.

Inspire through imagery, incentives and integrity.

Sustain the vision through stories of progress, planet and people.

Joanna’s company Conscience Consulting provides strategic communications advice, writing, facilitation and training services to organisations committed to a better future. Contact her at [email protected] and find her on Twitter at @thinkconscience

Image: Flickr / COP PARIS


Jo Sullivan

Jo Sullivan is a senior advisor on sustainability and strategic communication for corporate, NGO and EU Institution leaders. Jo founded Conscience Consulting in 2007 as the first activist agency in Brussels, and in 2014 co-founded the Transition500 Alliance, a global network of sustainability communication consultancies. Previously as campaigns and communications director for Friends of the Earth, Jo created the 20.20.20 campaign for climate action which was rolled out across 27 European countries. Jo runs workshops on strategy, campaigns, messaging and influence across Europe, teaches at IHECS, the Brussels Communication School and delivers webinars on her book, Creating Employee Champions: How to drive business success through Sustainability Engagement.