COP21, environment and corporate reputation
A GLOBAL AGREEMENT TO FIGHT CLIMATE CHANGE
The Paris Climate Summit has ended. Representatives from 195 countries, as well as from the European Union, have worked to reach a global agreement to fight climate change. During the two weeks of this summit, the goal was to reach an agreement to ensure that the global warming does not go beyond 2 degrees by the end of the century with respect to the temperature registered before the Industrial Revolution. The meeting aroused unprecedented interest after the 2009 Copenhagen Summit, in which no agreement was reached.
This agreement is now more necessary than ever, as temperatures have risen by 1.02 degrees since the pre-industrial age, a record CO2 concentration in the atmosphere has been reached (400 parts per million), and 2014 was the warmest registered year in the last 135 years, when climate records started.
The summit set its sights on the period after horizon 2020, replacing the second phase of the Kyoto Protocol, with the goal of reaching an agreement that will remain in place until 2050. One of the main changes has been the inclusion of all countries, thus covering 100 % of the greenhouse gases, unlike the current protocol, which only include countries that represent 11 % of global emissions. In Paris, political representatives also want to bring about the beginning of the end of fossil fuel.
Today more than ever, organisations will have to work to project a positioning of commitment in their efforts to reduce emissions and respect the environment
COP21 concluded with a binding agreement with an undercurrent of historical significance. For the first time, a global agreement was reached to “maintain the rise in temperatures below 2 degrees with respect to pre-industrial levels, and make every effort to limit the rise to 1.5 degrees.”
But beyond this commitment, the summit has established that developed countries must provide developing countries with financial support for energy transformation and to face climate change phenomena, such as more intense droughts and hurricanes. The talk is not only about the environment, but also of social action, as the right of islands that are vulnerable to the rise of ocean levels and poor countries that are most exposed to climate change to obtain support “to avoid, reduce to a minimum, and face the losses and damage related to the adverse effects” of this phenomenon has been recognised.
A NEW COOPERATIVE AGE OF SOCIAL AND ECONOMIC IMPACT
However, this challenge cannot be faced without cooperation between countries and social agents. In the words of Samantha Smith, the Leader of WWF’s Global Climate and Energy Initiative, “we are at the beginning of a new age of cooperative action by all countries and at all society levels.”
In this context, how can the commitment acquired by governments be delivered? What role should companies play? To what extent can citizens demand its fulfilment? How can companies act as social agents and commit to this reality?
The future we face has nothing to do with the world we know. Management and production transparency, as well as sustainability –understood as placing limits on the growth of capitalism– will set the corporate agenda in coming years.
Management and production transparency, as well as sustainability, will set the corporate agenda
Organisations will be forced to include the environmental culture in all their processes and decisions, starting with their strategy –understanding and making use of the new scenario of the low-carbon economy and identifying the risks of climate change in the production chain– complying locally and globally with the guidelines arising from this new scenario, as well as attracting socially responsible investments based on their environmental commitment and identifying tax incentives associated with carbon reduction.
However, these initiatives will not suffice if reputation initiatives are not carried out. This is because, today more than ever, organisations will have to work to project a positioning of commitment in their efforts to reduce emissions and respect the environment in general.
CO2 reduction becomes crucial to achieve acceptance of corporate activity by the various stakeholders, which forces organisations to support environmental causes, adapted to their own waste generation dynamics, establishing differentiating strategies and innovative tactics that make their narrative stand out.
Nothing can be effectively implemented unless the CEO commits to including the sustainability message in the company’s corporate discourse on a regular basis. In order for this narrative to be consistent, the organisation should establish stable relationships with the key environmental agents and hold a smooth, stable dialogue over time with them. Cultural change will force the organisation to have a proactive attitude with respect to its commitment to the environment, leaving behind evasive and even opaque habits as regards this issue. Proactivity, transparency, and obligation to facts will make organisations’ sustainability communications strategy believable, protecting their brand’s reputation in this new and more demanding context.
From a more tactical point of view, those in charge of corporate reputation will have to adapt their narrative conveying their organisation’s desire to comply with the Paris agreements. Mere promises and non-specific intentions will not suffice, but rather the narrative will require sound quantitative data resulting in improvement processes that can be measured and sustained over time. In this highly demanding context, a rigorous use of language will be particularly important, but organisations will have to adapt the narrative to their various audiences, making it intelligible, accessible, and understandable, as was the case in the past when it came to the communication of production or financial processes.
Innovation in the language of sustainability does not differ from the techniques that those in charge of corporate reputation are applying in their general narratives
The fivefold income statement is already used by most organisations, but in this new paradigm, the adequate communication to the various stakeholders is crucial, paying attention –as regards the environment– to the third sector entities that are highly qualified in this matter. Internal reporting systems will change information technology processes and organisations will seek endorsement from seals that attest to the activity reported.
Finally, innovation in the language of sustainability does not differ from the techniques that those in charge of corporate reputation are applying in their general narratives. The contribution of testimonials, the opinion of authorised third parties, the use of images, interactive content, viralisation, and connection to current events should dominate the sustainability spaces made available by organisations to public opinion if they want their contents to establish a consistent emotional link. Obviously, this does not exempt organisations from their duty of ensuring high quality content, whatever their sources of external wealth, attracting audiences’ attention in a context in which the ephemera have been democratised through the technological revolution.
The results of the Paris Climate Summit have thus been determinant, not only regarding countries’ emission reduction policies, but also in establishing the path to take for companies that seek sustainability in their business strategy, a crucial element for their reputation in a context in which the fight against climate change is an ethical imperative.