Communicating During a Climate and Cost of Living Crisis
A blog from Network members AMBITIOUS PR.
If 2020 was the year of unprecedented then 2022 is – distressingly – the year of crisis. The crises in Ukraine, Ethiopia, Myanmar and elsewhere, the climate crisis, the energy and cost of living crisis.
Newspapers are full of terms like ’squeeze’ and ‘surging’, with predictions of rising prices and inflation on a level not seen for a generation. At a time when substantial investment in decarbonisation from government and businesses is needed to meet net zero targets, we are at risk of going backwards, rather than forwards.
At a societal level, communication is crucial to ensure that the move towards net zero is not blamed for rising prices. These are instead the result of broader factors including reviving supply chains post-COVID, Brexit and the war in Ukraine.
For some, the current situation is a reason to dial back investment in green energy. While for others, wind and solar offer the opportunity to reduce reliance on exports from Russia. These are clearly complex and interconnected issues, which are increasingly political.
Many businesses may be fearful of communicating around ESG and sustainability – indeed, communicating at all – at this time. However, now is not the time to go silent. Focus on bringing more empathy and sensitivity to your communications.
Transparency and sensitivity
At a time of inflation and rising prices, there is a tendency for the media and commentators to pitch businesses on one side and consumers on the other. This distinction is unhelpful and ignores the simple fact that both ‘sides’ are made up of people: people with families and energy bills.
Open communication about how price rises are impacting your supply chain, business practices and employees will help break down barriers between provider and consumer or stakeholder and build trust and engagement.
COVID-19 saw many businesses become more open and transparent about challenges they face, such as difficult decisions around staffing and furlough. This transparency should also run through your sustainability communications too. Often honesty is the best policy, when underpinned by a clear plan. For example, if price increases mean you need to delay an investment in upgrading your fleet to electric vehicles, be open about why and when you hope to make that investment instead.
That is not to say you need to bombard audiences with updates. As with the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, consider a simple banner or letter from a CEO on your website or LinkedIn. This should highlight what the impact of price rises is on your business and the steps you are taking to mitigate these, as well as your continued commitment to sustainability.
Positioning behaviour change
One of the challenges many businesses will now face is how to encourage sustainable behaviour change when customers and consumers are otherwise occupied. This is particularly true if your business produces a sustainable product, where users need to change their day-to-day behaviour. Take our friends at CanCan for example, whose reusable coffee cup scheme encourages coffee drinkers to download an app and shift away from using disposable cups.
Rather than seeing this change as a demand on the consumer, CanCan highlights how this small change can have a positive impact and demonstrates the carbon saving of the activity to the user. During challenging times, this positivity can go a long way.
When it comes to behaviour change – and to uncertainty – expert input and authority are vital for building and maintaining trust. This means having the data to back up your asks and making sure to incorporate the relevant context. For example, if you’re selling heat pumps, employees can educate consumers. Being transparent about the up-front costs but highlight the long-term savings and climate benefits that the solution can provide at a time of rising costs.
The benefits of sensitively displaying authority on a topic also means that thought-leadership and visibility of leaders should not be paused. Put your leaders forward demonstrates personality and credibility. Specialist media training services can help to prepare leaders to face challenging questions and adapt their style to fit the times.
No matter what industry you’re in, don’t ignore the current crises and put out communications that are deaf to the wider landscape. And whether your business is still managing to take sustainable actions or facing increasing prices that must be passed onto customers, never underestimate the importance of transparency, sensitivity and personality.
Contact us at email@example.com to discuss ESG and sustainability PR services for your business.