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communicating climate change

Communicating Climate Change

23rd September 2021 Amanda Reaume 4 min read

With climate change and climate-related weather events playing a more central role in our lives, does how we communicate about the crisis need to shift? That’s the question a panel of communications experts, from filmmakers to journalists, non-profits to corporations, discussed at “Communicating Climate Change,” a session of Climate Week NYC’s The Hub Live.

“Most Hollywood films are showing a very dystopian vision of the future,” said Jeff Orlowski, the filmmaker responsible for climate awareness films like Chasing Ice and Chasing Coral. “It’s bad for our psyche to be inundated with messages saying look how bad it’s going to be…We need to see a much more optimistic future laid out for us…so that we can inspire both our leaders and everyday people to take action.”

Climate communication should be about vision and solutions

Brady Piñero Walkinshaw, CEO of Grist, an independent climate media site, agrees that a vision is necessary to get the right message across. “[We need to move] beyond the doom and gloom narrative,” he said. “The solutions that are being advanced, the ideas that people are talking about, the technologies that are being developed, the social movements that are sprouting are starting to match the scale of the problem that we have. That makes storytelling even more important.”

Essentially, Piñero Walkinshaw explained, climate change adaptation and mitigation require that we imagine a different society—something that communicators are perfectly placed to take the lead on. “When you actually play out what these solutions look like in society, it is an imagining, it is a rethinking, it will change what our daily lives look like,” he said.

Climate justice should be our guide

Climate justice activists and artists are leading the way, said Sarah Shanley Hope, VP, Brand and Partnership at The Solutions Project.

“When climate justice leads, we all win, and that’s because the solutions are practical,” she said. “These are communities that have been experiencing the climate crisis for years…and they’re already connecting the dots between housing and health and the economy and workforce and how you look at whole cities or rural communities through a lens of interconnected climate justice solutions that improve people’s lives.”

For that reason, her organization helps these climate visionaries with storytelling. “All of their solutions are worthy of scale,” she said. “They’re human-centered stories, first and foremost. They are the most resonant stories for climate action. You can actually understand how climate solutions address your everyday life.”

Businesses should be accountable in their communications

“Years ago, people didn’t want marketing or branding to get too close to the work that was happening in the sustainability field for fear it would be seen as greenwashing,” said Kristina Kloberdanz, SVP and CSO at Mastercard. “But now you have to communicate what you’re doing.”

In fact, said Kloberdanz, with so many companies making climate commitments, it’s critical that they also be accountable in communicating their action toward those goals. “This isn’t about greenwashing, it’s about impact,” she said. “We need organizations to set big and bold targets and commitments…[But we also] need to be able to measure and monitor and ensure that we aren’t just committing but driving that impact.”

Companies should leverage their communications for behavioral change

Marc Pritchard, chief brand officer at Procter & Gamble, talked about his company’s “Turn to Cold” campaign that encourages customers to save money on their energy bill and reduce their emissions by washing their clothes with cold water.

“What we have is this opportunity, because we reach so many consumers, to help them change their behavior,” he said, noting that the company’s efforts could change how much energy is used in billions of loads of laundry.

Individuals can make a difference, too—and business can help

Mastercard is looking at ways to extend their impact by incorporating a carbon calculator on their credit card statements.

“When you think of net zero or carbon neutrality you think of countries, but what role can an individual play?” said Kloberdanz. “When you use your card, what if you could see not just the transaction cost but also the carbon cost?”

Good climate communication is about both accountability and inspiration

“There is a huge role to play in communicating,” said Alan Sullivan, co-CEO of JCDecaux North America. “Action is what’s most important. Then being able to demonstrate, year in year out, the progress.”

Orlowski agrees that communication is key, but for slightly different reasons, “We can inspire people to take the actions that we need to build the better future that we want for everyone,” he said.