The climate changed this weekend for marketing and communication

Andrew Woodward, Principal at Climate Communication and published in Mumbrella

The world changed this weekend. That’s a massive statement. It is deserved. The world made a massive statement in saying it will start the process of addressing climate change and accelerating the clean energy revolution. In generations to come, history books and text books will refer to 12-12-15 as the day the world agreed to do something it had been struggling to do for 20 years - act on irreversible climate change. The implications for the world are profound and will filter down to the marketing and communications industry over the next year or two. The ways and mindsets of government, business, communities and individuals are changing and the pace of change will accelerate post Paris, presenting new challenges for our profession.

The good news: The world started the process to address climate change over the next 50 years so that everything - humans, flora, fauna and landscapes - can survive for the next few centuries. Not only that, the quality of life will be better than it otherwise would have been, mainly through a reduction in air pollution generated by fossil fuels. The not so good news is that it was a bit half-arsed. Pretty much everyone in the know agrees we need to limit temperatures to no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial age levels. Nations took to Paris a plan that would limit temperatures to 2.7 degrees. Most agreed we should limit warming to two degrees and 1.5 degrees should be the stretch target. Let’s be clear, to maintain the standard of living we have now; to keep economic growth in the low single digits and, to avoid the disastrous impacts of climate change, we can’t go above 1.5 degrees. Remember, the Great Barrier Reef dies at a 1.5 degree increase and we have about 20 to 30 years to prevent this. The Paris agreement is the first of many more regular and tighter agreements to further limit carbon pollution emissions. This is our future.

How are we going to do this? Governments at the weekend pretty much said that we’re giving up smoking - but over a few decades. We’re not going cold turkey. Instead, we’re going to get our patches, gum, nasal spray and lozenges or whatever it takes to give up, that is - getting out of fossil fuels by the middle of the century - or at least having having net carbon zero emissions. This is a very big deal. Fossil fuels power electricity generation, motor vehicles, railways, shipping, aircraft and manufacturing, amongst many other things, including whatever you are reading this post on. Just think about the implications for a moment. They are amazing. This 30 year ‘giving up’ plan will touch every part of every day life. The good news is, in most cases, there are viable alternatives like solar and wind generation and battery storage that don’t cause net pollution; don’t require prime agricultural land to be dug up and, don’t need to be hauled from one side of the world to the other. 

What does this mean for marketing and communication? The world is about to go on a health kick and this will change consumption habits and consumer preferences. Products we like today won’t be in vogue in a few years time on environmental grounds. We could be buying our energy from companies that have yet to be established. People might put solar on their roofs to increase the values of their houses. People will start demanding charging stations for their electronic cars. Some people may think deeply about the state of the world and reject consumerism. Others, like this author, may go vegetarian and then vegan on environmental grounds. Governments can now introduce carbon pricing, yes a carbon tax, because everyone else will be doing it because it is the right thing to do to address the climate crisis. Consumers will up their activism against companies, like we have seen with campaigns globally to stop the financing of the proposed Adani coal mine in central Queensland. Employees will demand their companies divest of fossil fuel investments. A movement has started. And now that the movement has mandate from Paris, it has a license to push even harder and it is now an unstoppable force. 

There’s nothing a marketing or communications professional has to ‘today’ as a result of what happened in Paris. As I said, at the outset, this will take some time to move from the C-suite, to the boardroom, back to the C-suite and down through the layers of management. Certainly, some companies are already there. Others will listen to their customer base in due course. In my opinion, a clever business will do a couple of things in the short to medium term. First, it should make a stand on climate change and say it will do whatever it can to reduce emissions. Second, it must reduce emissions and adopt clean energy. It should prepare for climate change; it should mitigate against climate change and, it should adapt to climate change. With reduced emissions, new energy sources and changed business operations, the business should speak up for and champion a sustainable future. This is attractive to government, the business community, current and potential employees, the industry that the company operates in and the community as a whole. This is a reputation play rather than a consumer marketing play at present. The consumer play comes later.

There is competitive advantage to be had to acting on climate and or acting sustainably. I have spent some time looking at the volumes of research and there is a strong business play for making a consumer play sooner rather than later.

  • Climate change is the number one issue of concern to the most number of people around the world (Pew Research, 2015). In Australia, it is second after the threat of terrorism (Pew Research 2015).
  • Approximately 50 per cent of Australians regard climate change as a “growing and pressing problem” which “we should begin taking steps now even if it involves significant costs” (Lowy Institute 2015).
  • Nearly two thirds of people want Australia to be a world leader in climate solutions (Climate Institute 2015).
  • Eighty-nine percent of aspirationals say “we need to consumer less to preserve the environment for future generations (Globe Scan 2015).
  • Sixty-nine percent of global CEO’s see investment in climate solutions as essential to competitive advantage (Accenture 2015).
  • Thirty-one percent will reward a company for acting responsibly; 19 per cent will punish a company for irresponsible behaviour; 29 per cent believe their purchases can make a significant impact on social and environmental issues (Cone 2015).
  • In Australia, more than one in three people say they are prepared to “pay more for products and services to reduce my environmental impact” (IPSOS 2015). The global average is 55 per cent (Neilsen 2014). Nearly two thirds say “it is my responsibility to do something about climate change” (IPSOS 2015).
  • Globally, 79 per cent of people consider a company’s social and environmental commitments when it comes to considering “where to work” (Cone 2015). Seventy seven per cent of “connected” Millennials say “my company’s purpose is part of the reason I chose to work here” and 38 per cent say the “business having positive environmental impact on society or the environment” is important (Deloitte 2015).
  • Certified organic food sales in Australia have gone from around $200 million a year to $2 billion a year in 15 years; Fair Trade Certified product sales have gone from zero to around a quarter of a billion in a dozen years; solar energy production doubles every few years and the price of solar modules has fallen over two-thirds in ten years (Future Business Council 2015).
  • Sixty per cent of companies list climate change as a priority over the next 12 months (Globe Scan 2015); ethical investment funds are outperforming traditional investment funds (RIAA 2015) and, meaningful brands “deliver 100 percent more KPI outcomes; on average gain 46 per nonet more share of wallet and out perform the stock market by 133 per cent” (Havas 2014).

There’s a pretty compelling business case to act on climate and sustainability and tell people about it. Stakeholders and consumers are receptive to messages. They reward companies that act. Soon, people will say they’re happy to keep buying your product but “hey, what are you doing about climate change” will be their next comment. People will be attracted to companies that act on climate. We, as marketers and communicators, have to answer the question “What are you doing about climate change?” for our employers or clients.

Climate change adaptation, mitigation and communication touch every area of society and business. I have said before, what social media was to our industry last decade, climate change is to our industry this decade. It was confirmed this weekend. Climate change ushers in a new era for the marketing and communication profession. All that has changed in the last 48 hours is that 196 countries agreed. Welcome to your future.


Multi-laterals, actors, COP21, UNFCC, IPCC, CO2, 450 ppm, 2°C. Da fuq? A guide to the climate change talks in Paris next week for marketing and communications people.


By Andrew Woodward - Principal at Climate Communication

When I first started working in the industry, I was told by one of my first bosses that marketing and communication was simple - it is about getting people do things they would normally not do. We want them to buy way more than they need - more in volume, quality, functionality and frequency. That basic philosophy drove marketing for the past half a century. It is called consumerism. It came after half a century when there were two world wars, punctuated by a great depression. Peace, mass manufacturing, economic development, credit cards, air travel, globalisation, the internet and electronic commerce fuelled an orgy of consumerism. Party time! Governments dreamed of growth above five per cent, cheap energy was consumed wantonly, resources were depleted with little concern for the consequences and the world used the sky as a dumping ground for carbon pollution. Guess what? The party is over - officially. We have had too much of a ‘good’ thing. We now have to pay the price. The price is an opportunity and threat for the marketing and communications industry, as it is for all areas of business, government, communities and individuals.

Next week, world leaders will convene in Paris to agree on a new plan to address climate change with the focus on keeping the planet’s temperature increase below 2°C. Indeed, many say we need to be below 1.5°C. These numbers are the headline act and it is the thing you will hear the most about. We’re at the ‘must do now’ stage because the world has not done near enough since warnings started 50 years ago and came to the fore when the Earth Summit was held in Rio in 1992. In 2006, former Vice President of the United States, Al Gore, told us of the Inconvenient Truth. Nearly a decade on, the truth is even more inconvenient. It is frightening. But let’s understand one thing up front. The Paris meeting will not, according to Australia’s chief climate negotiator, put the planet on track to keep global warming below two degrees. “Paris is a waypoint, not the final destination in our efforts to tackle climate change,” Peter Woollcott said in Brisbane last week

So what should the marketing and communications industry look for over the next few weeks from Paris? The majority of our industry should see Paris as a signal to start engaging on this mega issue. There aren’t going to be any immediate impacts, like new regulation or price hikes, to contend with. There will be in the medium to long term. There will be a carbon pricing mechanism, inevitably, and some prices will rise due to supply constraints, like cocoa for chocolate. Consumers aren’t going to suddenly change their views of products or consumption habits. They will, however, start changing in the next few years. The process has already started. Just ask the people who make solar panels, who are benefitting from an 80 per cent reduction in the cost of solar compared to five years ago. Did you know around one in four houses in Queensland has rooftop solar? Yes, really. Companies aren’t going to change overnight. But in the medium term we’re going to see the emergence of corporate super heroes who put the environment at the centre of their corporate philosophy and communication. I am talking about the likes of Unilever, Apple, Ikea and Patagonia to name a few. These companies know there’s sustainable competitive advantage in doing something real about climate change and telling the world about it.

So here’s a few things about what you are going to see and hear about in Paris next week. First of all, it is convened by the United Nations (UN); Paris is the host city and, France is the host government. ‘Everyone’ will be there. Barack Obama will make the most noise as he is making climate change a legacy of his Presidency and a focus of work in his last two years in the job. France is deeply concerned about climate change and has been running a big diplomatic effort in lead up. The recent terrorist attacks will, however, take some of the focus away for President François Hollande. Expect big noises from the Germany’s Angela Merkel and EU as a whole, except for David Cameron who is in the climate policy dog house after promising much before this year’s election and delivering little after. Malcolm Turnbull will be there. He is playing a Jeckyl and Hyde approach - his Jeckyl side comes from having to stick, under the threat of a second political death from his own party’s hard right, with Tony’s Abbott’s widely condemned and ineffective climate policy action policies. His Hyde comes from his deeply held views about the need for dramatic and prompt action on climate change. The up and coming rock star of addressing global warming are the Chinese. They’re going from the biggest user of fossil fuels to the fastest decelerator. They’re way ahead of the game as they are clever. They saw two things. They saw the clean energy revolution coming and decided to own the majority of manufacturing for it, providing jobs, growth and wealth. Tick. Secondly, they saw that many of their citizens wouldn’t have food, water, clean air and a place to live if climate change ran its course. What happens when people are hungry, thirsty, homeless and desperate? They overthrow governments. That’s not the sort of thing the Communist Party normally goes for, is it? Tick.

Corporates have been making lots of noise in the run up to Paris but don’t expect any of the super CEO’s to get much profile at the meeting. The big Super C’s in addressing climate change and actioning the clean energy revolution are Elon Musk of Tesla, Paul Polman of Unilever and Tim Cook of Apple. It wouldn’t surprise if Richard “Jack-in-the-box” Branson pulled a stunt. He’s long said “Climate change is one of the greatest wealth-generating opportunities of our generation”. The business agenda for Paris, subscribed to by many Australian big brands, concerns agreement to reach zero net carbon emissions; accelerating action on climate change; the introduction of carbon pricing; investing in clean energy and, routine to achieve short and long goals term success.

Now to some of the lingo of next week:

  • “COP21” - that’s just UN language for “Conference of the Parties - Meeting Number 21”.
  • “UNFCCC”: That’s just the “United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change” - the department in the UN that runs climate policy.
  • “Multilateral” - that’s just diplomatic wankery for meetings for representatives between more than two countries. It is nothing special. 
  • “IPCC: That’s the UN’s “Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change” - the hugely huge and technical work of scientists the world over on looking at the impacts of climate change. It’s work is the main scientific reference point for the UN and governments around the world. 
  • Actors: Stakeholders - just another wanky term - this time from the land of academia. 

So what’s happening at the multi-laterals involving the UNFCCC at COP 21 when actors discuss IPCC findings? Are you turned on yet? Of course not, you are not a bureaucrat. It is basically going to come down to a few issues which, as I said, have a mid to longer term impact on marketing and communication. Here’s a rundown of what you need to be across.

Reference point: You will hear lots of talk about this and that rising. Rising since when? When we are talking rising temperatures and carbon pollution in the atmosphere, we’re talking since the start of the industrial revolution in the mid 1700’s.

Temperature: Since the start of the industrial revolution, the average global temperature has gone up one degree. What’s one degree? It is the difference between ice and water. Simple, as that. The current pledges by nations to cut greenhouse gas emissions amount to 2.7 degrees. That’s bad. If it was business as usual, we would be up over four degrees by the end of the century. That’s catastrophic. The environment movement globally, Greens in Australia and low lying nations want temperature limited to 1.5 degrees. The Government and Labor in Australia are aiming for two degrees. Did I mention that the Great Barrier Reef dies at 1.5 degrees? Yes, really.

Greenhouse gas emissions: These primarily come from fossil fuel - coal for energy production and gasoline for transport. Don’t get hung up on farting cows and burping kangaroos. Prior to the industrial revolution, the atmosphere had 280 parts per million of CO2,. We’re now at 400 ppm. There’s been rapid growth since the mid 60’s. It took 250 years to go up 120 ppm (and that increased the temperature by one degree). Business as usual has us doing in the next 30 to 40 years what we did in 250 years. Bad, huh?

Sea level rises: What’s two degrees? Two degrees has water lapping the top of the sea wall at Opera Bar at Sydney Opera House. Four degrees has the Opera Bar submerged. Now that’s serious! Oh, we also lose many Pacific and Indian Island nations and, closer to home, the Gold Coast. Globally, 750 million people will lose their homes under the four degree scenario. If we do nothing on emissions, NASA’s former lead on climate change says the global sea-level would rise between 4.3 and 9.9 metres.

Targets: You will hear lots of talk of targets. Let’s deal with two types of targets. One is the emissions reduction targets (averaging around a 25 per cent to 30 per cent cut over the next 15 years) which won’t get us where we need to be. That gets us 2.7 degrees. #fail. The general consensus is we need a 40 to 50 per cent emissions reduction to get the two degrees. Secondly, there’s renewable energy targets. Malcolm Turnbull is aiming for 23.5 per cent by 2020. Labor wants 50 per cent by 2030. The Greens want 90 per cent by 2030. The general consensus is that the world must be net carbon neutral by 2050. Science and academia says we can get there.

Money: Expect to see the developing world put its hand out in a big way for help to reduce emissions and support the development of renewable energy. They blame the west and they’re asking the developed world to pay. Also expect to see strong rhetoric on governments ending taxpayer subsidies for fossil fuel. This is a big deal. The IMF says fossil fuel government subsidies globally in 2015 will total $6.6 trillion including $41 billion, yes, 41 followed by nine zeroes, in Australia this year. That’s $1,700 for every person in Australia a year. It makes the demonised carbon tax look like bugger all. Getting rid of fossil fuel subsidies in Australia equals roughly the same amount of money generated by raising the GST from 10 to 15 per cent. Hmmm….

Coal: Coal is the new tobacco. It really is. Investment houses are ditching fossil fuel and mining investments. Consumers and students are calling on their banks, universities, governments and others to divert of fossil fuel investments. The coal price has plummeted and coal use has started to decline. Just as smokers were ostracised and punished, so too will the coal business be. Coal is the villain. Expect to see it demonised in Paris and beyond. Renewable energy and battery storage are the future. 

What I have spoken about in this piece is the tip of the (melting) iceberg. I haven’t even touched on population growth and the issues this other meg issue creates. The impacts of climate change alone are horrific. What we have done to the world is horrific. The inaction has been horrific. There is, however, room for optimism. There’s a body of world leadership, most notably from China, the US and EU on climate change; climate villains like Tony Abbott and Canada’s Stephen Harper have gone; business has recognised that action on climate is good for business and, the clean energy revolution is well and truly underway. Al Gore is optimistic. He said recently in Melbourne - we must do this, we can do this, we will do this. 

Marketing and communication will change forever over the next few years. Companies, consumers, products and perceptions will change. It has started. Marketing and communication is going to be about “sustainable consumption and production patterns”. Indeed it is one of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals of the UN. Sustainable consumption and production aims at “doing more and better with less”. “It involves engaging consumers through awareness-raising and education on sustainable consumption and lifestyles, providing consumers with adequate information through standards and labels and engaging in sustainable public procurement, among others,” says the UN. That’s a massive challenge for the marketing and communication industry. It goes against nearly everything we have done. At this time last decade, our industry was starting to come to terms with social media. In the years following, we learned that it changed everything. What social media was to us as an industry last decade, climate change is to us this decade. Climate change is the issue of the decade for marketing and communication. It will change out business forever and, again, for the better. It really is the new business environment. 



Sustainable Development Goals - setting the scene for the issue of the decade for marketing and communications.

Over the last few years, the United Nations (UN), governments globally an increasing number of big businesses have been looking at the future of the planet and its inhabitants. They have been asking a few basic questions, like “How’s it going?” and “How’s it looking?”. It is like you or I checking the use-by-date of the milk in the fridge. Well, when the UN officials looked in their ‘fridge’ they found that the use-by-date of the planet wasn’t that far away. A lot of this concern has to do with climate change and that’s getting plenty of attention right now from the likes of President Obama, the Governor of the Reserve Bank of England and Pope Francis. In recent times, all three have made apocalyptic predictions on the impact of climate change and the need for urgent action. Much of that action should start at a UN conference in Paris at the end of November. The signs for an agreement to start a process to curb global warming to a manageable level are promising but not guaranteed.

While climate change action is the ‘headline act’ in working toward a better world for all of us, there are ‘other performers’ taking to the stage as well and making a significant contribution to a better world. The UN, government and business in late September met in New York and ratified what’s known as Sustainable Development Goals. These goals are the ‘other performers’ joining the ‘headline act’ for a better world. There’s 17 of them in total and contained within are 169 targets ranging from things like “By 2020, substantially reduce the proportion of youth not in employment, education or training” to “Significantly reduce all forms of violence and related death rates everywhere”. By and large, they are high level and aspirational targets running from 2016 to 2030. They were passed by a resolution of the UN. Numerous businesses signed up too. They follow up the Millennium Development Goals which ran 2000 to 2015. These were credited by some as helping the likes of China, India and Brazil emerge over the last decade.

While there are 17 in total, there are six broad themes that the goals address. These are: action on climate change; quality of food and water; health; economic development; sustainability and personal development. Some business media have focussed on only a few of the goals as directly impacting business, like: SDG 8 “Decent work and economic growth”, SDG 9 “Industry, innovation and infrastructure”, SDG 7 “Affordable and clean energy” (Source: PWC). The Guardian took the same view but added SDG 10 (“Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns”) saying “The circular economy, supply chain auditing and sustainability reporting – all come out of the shadows and into the limelight.” Academia put business at the centre of delivery saying “Business, from micro-enterprises to multinationals, has a vital role to play in achieving each of the SDGs. The UN is very explicit about the expectations placed on the for-profit sector around the world”. I side with the view of academia. The Sustainable Development Goals, all 17 of them, must be taken into account by business in their strategy, planning, procurement, operations, production, employee management and marketing - and everything in between. Everyone in business needs to be across them. The issues for marketers and communicators are significant.

In the second half of the last decade, the world was getting ready to act on climate change. Governments were well on their way and former Vice President of the United States and now Chairman of the Climate Reality Project, Al Gore, took the message into lounge rooms with The Inconvenient Truth. But then the global financial crisis came along and it was ‘all too hard’ for the world to do anything about it. With the evidence now unequivocal, the effects of climate change being felt every month and, predictions of impact becoming more apocalyptic, the world this month (via the UN conference in Paris) with start the process of action on climate change. The world will be jolted into action. As Al Gore said in Melbourne recently “the world must do it; the world can do it; the world will do it”. The ‘new deal’ on climate change action will put the focus on sustainability like never before. We will learn about the projections of population growth (and they’re frightening); we will learn how much trouble the planet is in (and it is really bad); we will learn about the scarcity of water and food and reduced supply (and it looks scarier when you see reductions in land); we will learn about the increasing impact and incidence of more deadly weather (and feel is as we do now) and, we will learn more about solutions like renewable energy from wind, solar and other low cost sources (and that’s really exciting). The world wont shrug its shoulders as it did in Copenhagen in 2009. If it does - we are doomed. 

The focus on climate change will put the focus on sustainability and wake the world up. Not only to climate change but to the need for a more sustainable, green and clean energy future. It is like being told the way to live longer is to lose weight and that comes a whole lot of changes, including diet, lifestyle, attitude and so on. The world is about to go on a health kick. The prescriptions to the green, clean and sustainable futures are contained in the Sustainable Development Goals. While few customers will know of them, they will expect action on each of themes and targets. They make sense for society, government and business. In the next decade, consumers will start asking tough questions of companies when it comes to be being clean, green and sustainable. We’ve started to see that with pressure on banks not to fund coal mines and companies urged to divert of their fossil fuel investments. A social movement is has begun. We’re at the early adopter stage.

While marketers and communicators need to be across most of the themes and how they interact with their organisation when it comes to brand equity and corporate reputation, practitioners need to pay special attention to Goal 10 “Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns”. The consumer mindset will begin to change over the next decade and support what this goal encourages. Right now for consumers it is optional or fringe. This time in a decade, if not sooner, it will be mainstream. It will change the way we do our jobs. 

This time last decade the world’s economy was humming along and and marketers were starting the process of coming to terms with things like blogging, Second Life, MySpace and online forums. Not long after, Facebook and Twitter arrived on the scene and the game changed forever. Social media was “the issue” of the decade last decade for the profession. The “issue of the decade” for marketers and communicators this time around is action on climate change and a more sustainable world. Both will shape business. Both will impact brand equity. Both will be central to corporate reputation. Consumers will ask, “What are you doing about climate change?” and “What are you doing about sustainability?”. So, what are you doing? Start by having a look at the Sustainable Development Goals.

ENDS (First published in Mumbrella on 12 October 2015)

Responsibility Plus - the new meaning of sustainable competitive advantage

al-gore-attends-climate-reality-leadership-summit-1 copy.jpg

The following essay is a statement of my intentions as a Climate Reality Leader. 

Climate Change is the biggest issue facing mankind. I am working with millions of others around the world to ‘do something about it’. More specifically, I am a Climate Reality Leader who will tell the story of climate change and inspire communities everywhere to take action. The issue will be central to my personal and professional lives. 

The Climate Reality Project is presided over by Al Gore. You know the guy. The truth today is even more inconvenient than it was in 2006 when he produced his world changing documentary. That said, his ‘core message’, or should I say “Gore message” hasn’t changed. As a Climate Reality Leader, I am committed to taking Gore’s message forward. Since 2006, Gore has continued to tell the story day in, day out. He continues to mount a compelling argument for action in this lengthy essay from Rolling Stone in June this year (2014).

Government, business and the general community all have an equal and important role to play in addressing climate change. The future of the world is at stake. Yes, really. History will remember those that do something. It will condemn those that don’t. The science is irrefutable, the statistics confirm what we’ve been warned about since the 1980’s and we are now seeing real and negative changes to the earth’s climate affecting billions. It’s only going to get worse. The pace of change is accelerating. There’s no upside to this. The long term prognosis, without action, is grave.

No one is to blame for the past. When asbestos was first used in building materials, no one knew of the consequences. When people first started smoking cigarettes, no one knew of the consequences. When the fossil fuel drilling, mining and energy producing industries were born, no one knew of the consequences. Fossil fuels are to the earth what tobacco or asbestos are to lungs. Unless the world dramatically reduces its use of fossil fuels, it will make the world sicker and, some say, terminally ill. No one is at fault for decisions made centuries ago. To use what’s known as a ‘streaker’s defence’ when its comes to the use of fossil fuels, “it seemed like a good idea at the time”. In the last 30 or so years with the benefit of science and changes to the earth’s climate beaming obvious, the problem has become real, very real. It is far from a good idea. Blame will be accorded to those who ignore the science and facts and fail to act on climate change. 

We can’t switch off fossil fuel use with the flick of a switch. The use of fossil fuels will be with us for the next 50 years, at least, as a key resource for energy. Economically, much is dependent on its various forms in production and use. There’s the mining and drilling of coal, petroleum and natural gas; its refining into energy and, its subsequent use to power everyday living and business. The aim is to gradually reduce the dependancy of every user on fossil fuels. This in time will allow for communities heavily dependent on fossil fuels for their economic well being to make the structural shift to other industries that can generate sustainable economies and employment. Much of the opposition to action on climate change action is more about protecting fossil fuel economies and the jobs that go with them rather than opposition to protection of the natural environment. Much also has to do with ‘the hip pocket nerve’, populist politics, election cycles and nostalgic memories of an age long gone. Australia is a prime example of this. A strategic, measured, managed and modern approach to economic transition for these economies is required. Politicians will only do this is if they are encouraged and rewarded by voters for taking tough, decisive and inevitable decisions that support action on climate change. Action on climate change is like a huge anti-smoking campaign. You have to encourage people to ‘give-up’. The majority get it. Some people will always smoke. There will always be some use of fossil fuels. Both are inevitable. The important thing to do is to reduce this to sustainable levels. We can’t continue to use the earth’s atmosphere as an untreated and unmetered open sewer.

As I see it there are three key issues on climate change. First, ensuring the long term liveability of the planet for humans, flora and fauna (somewhat of a major issue). Second, creating the political will and reward to ‘do something’ and working around the short sighted, mischievous and vested public and private interests that seek to derail action or deny the need for it. Third, in the meantime, surviving the more frequent and more ferocious severe weather events - scorching drought, torrential rains, ferocious storms, blazing wild fires and thunderous avalanches and mud slides. These three issues effect everyone - government, business, communities and individuals. All can positively impact on the issues and each other. They need to. Success will only come through these four groups working together.

Many governments around the world are heading in the right direction on addressing climate change.Some, like the Australian Government, are notThe two ‘decision makers’, the United States and China, are. The world’s leaders, via the United Nations in Paris in 2015, hopefully will set a re-energised course to lower carbon emissions over the next half a century. In terms of Australia, I see climate change somewhat differently to the conservative national government. This comment is based on policy and not politics. The conservative government in the state of New South Wales made some great announcements recently on clean energy, wanting to turn the state into the “California of Australia”. The current view of the leadership of national conservative politics in Australia hasn’t always been its position. The immediate past leader of conservative politics in Australia, Malcolm Turnbull, was an action on climate change advocate. Good policy always trumps bad politics. In time,  in Australia, it will. This will occur by either a shift in policy as reality takes hold or through a very clear message from voters, before or after an election. Action on climate change can be a strength for Australia. It doesn’t create a weaknessfor Australia. This is an opportunity for our prosperity. This is not a threat to our economic security. It requires leadership, imagination, courage and forward thinking.

Individuals and communities are acting too. The move toward more affordable renewable energy, with and without help from government, is happening. It’s a part of the evolution to cleaner living. Think back to the 1980’s, we went from one trash or garbage bin to two, three or four bins as we adopted recycling. We did our bit. We’ve moved to more fuel efficient cars. We’ve installed energy saving appliances and light globes. We continue to do our bit. The next part of the revolution is the widespread adoption of affordable and available clean energy to power our lives at work, home and everywhere in between. It’s real and it is happening. It is great!

Many businesses engage in ‘corporate social responsibility’ and focus on the natural environment. Some do a great job and it is integrated into their every day operations. Some see it as a ‘bolt on’ that ‘ticks a box’. Worse, some ‘green wash’. I have always said that the best form of ‘CSR’ is business-as-usual. The most socially responsible thing any company can do is have a well run business. Integrated or ‘bolted on’ was last century’s thinking. Business-as-usual was the thinking of last decade and today. In the future, business, to be successful, must not only do ‘what’s right’, but it must go the extra step and do more than its ‘responsibility’. It is what I call “responsibility plus”. Business will go from being carbon neutral or off-setting to a point where they become carbon negative where they take out more than they put in. Why? Consumers will demand it. The world is in trouble. People want action and the desire will grow as the problem becomes more apparent. So, a combination of significant disruption to business practises and a demanding public means that addressing climate change and adaptation is a high order issue for every business. I believe “responsibility plus” is a source of future competitive advantage. Indeed, it gives new meaning to Michael Porter’s theory of ‘sustainable competitive advantage’. Sustainability comes from “responsibility plus”. I can see addressing climate change becoming another ‘fork in the road’ on McKinsey’s consumer decision journey.

I am planning to use my interest in addressing climate change to work with my peers in marketing, corporate communications and public affairs, primarily in the private sector, to engage or deepen their relationship with the issue. I want them to embrace the need for urgent action and to become champions in their business. Will they pay attention? As the climate warms, prices will rise, consumer confidence will fall, disruption to business continuity will become common place, consumer behaviour will change and the market for many products will change significantly. It is in their interest to act. More importantly, as I said previously, I believe the public will demand action on climate change from companies they do business with. It is simple as that. The public will ask, ‘what are you doing to save the planet?’. The answer could determine the viability of a business.

I am a fan of the author and motivator, Simon Sinek. He makes sense to me. He believes in “the golden circle”. His TEDx Talk is worth watching on YouTube. The basic premise is that people don’t buy whatyou do - they buy why you do it. Therein lies the link between corporate social responsibility plus and action on climate change. People won’t buy the fact that ‘you’ are, for example, a paperless company (although that’s great!). They will buy the fact that you are trying to help save the planet by acting on addressing climate change - the biggest threat to mankind. They will buy it as a concept and actual purchase. 

People don’t buy what you do - they buy why you do it. The goal is not to do business with everybody who needs what you have. The goal is to do business with  people who believe what you believe,” Simon Sinek, 16 September 2009.

There is an enormous amount of data available indicating that more and more people are becoming increasing concerned about climate change. The Lowy Institute poll in Australia is just one of them. It’s most recent ‘headline’ was “This year, 45% of Australian adults now say that ‘global warming is a serious and pressing problem. We should begin taking steps now even if this involves significant costs’. Concern is up 5 points since 2013 and 9 points since 2012.” This is indicative of the community’s mood. As more and more people see and feel the impact of climate change for themselves, they will look to companies who are doing something about it. They believe action should be taken. They want to do business with companies that believe what they believe. 

Marketers, communicators and public affairs specialists are influential people within organisations. They ‘get it’. If they don’t, I will help them. If they do already, I will help them go to the next level. 

My agenda for the marketing, communication and public affairs profession is to:

  • Educate - Bring them up to date on the climate change issue
  • Enlist- Have them champion action on climate change in their organisation 
  • Adopt - Have their company adopt “responsibility plus” by being climate friendly
  • Promote - Tell their clients, customers, staff and industry about their “responsibility plus” activities
  • Cascade - Urge their customers to become climate friendly

I will do this through:

  • Using the messaging and other resources of the Climate Reality Project
  • Providing evidence to support the concept of “Responsibility Plus”
  • Conducting one on one meetings
  • Presentations to in house and agency teams
  • Presentations at industry conferences and other gatherings
  • Content for industry newsletters, magazines and journals
  • A weekly bulletin summarising the latest news and developments for brands
  • Social media resources to help practitioners keep up to date
  • Hosting a library of downloadable publications that relate to marketing, communications and public affairs in the age of climate change and adaptation or can assist practitioners with advocacy in their company.

In committing to action, I made myself carbon neutral by purchasing off-sets through Climate Friendly(used by World Wildlife Fund). I have also returned to University of New South Wales and commenced aMasters of Environmental Management to deepen my understanding of the science, issues and solutions.

Pulling all of this together, we know climate change is the biggest issue facing mankind and therefore business. We know it has short, medium and long term implications for every business in every country. We know the need for change is inevitable. We know the community is concerned. We know the community wants action. I know, marketers, communicators and public affairs specialists are leaders in their organisations who can affect change. I commit to helping them affect this change with their colleagues, customers, clients and contacts in both my personal and professional lives.

In his Rolling Stone essay, Al Gore says a turning point has been reached in the battle to save the planet - “a powerful, largely unnoticed shift is taking place”. The premise is that government, companies, communities and individuals now ‘get it’ and are beginning to act at a more accelerated pace. I commit to doing my bit to make sure we continue that shift and at an accelerated pace. To quote Mahatma Ghandi, ‘be the change you wish to see in the world’. I am.

Andrew WoodwardMBT (UNSW)

25 July 2014