Tips for Communicating About Climate Change and Sustainability

Consumers increasingly demand companies make progress on sustainability and climate change. When companies make progress on such issues it can help their bottom line. Purpose-driven companies post compound annual growth rates of 9.9% vs. an average of 2.4% for S&P 500 companies overall, Korn Ferry found.

Yet in another study Korn Ferry notes ESG and sustainability details often go missing. For example, "How does the organization intend to reach its goals? What exactly is its approach to ESG and sustainability? Is there a concrete change plan in place and, if so, who is going to deliver it?"

Clearly, providing the public with these details is a communicator's job. As such, communicators must know how stakeholders evaluate companies on sustainability and climate change.

The Institute for Public Relations and Cision looked for clues. They analyzed more than 170K Twitter posts on the subject (Oct. 1, 2021-March 2, 2022).

The research found some job seekers are prioritizing companies' environmental track records as they consider employment. In addition, the tweets showed consumers:

  • want businesses to lead on sustainability
  • expect that companies have an ethical, sustainable supply chain

3 Camps  

The study categorized three types of social media users based on their opinions about climate change: concerned, unconvinced and dismissive.

Concerned: These users were highly engaged on climate change and used social media as a platform to educate others. They often used emotional messages to persuade others to care about climate change.

Unconvinced: This group of users was not as engaged on climate change as Concerned members. In their lives, they were indecisive or inactive on sustainable practices. Sometimes they minimized or avoided acting because they were unsure sure how to make a difference.

Dismissive: This group included critics of climate change efforts. Its members believe climate change is not concerning. Some think it's a hoax.

Communicating with the groups

Based on the 3 groups, below are tips for communicating with them.

  • Know where your audience is on the continuum

As we know, a basic principle of PR is knowing the audience. As such, messaging strategy should track with where target audience members sit. For instance, are they Concerned, Unconvinced or Dismissive?  On top of that, leveraging behavioral science can help your messaging with various stakeholders.

  • Address the unconvinced

Another constant of PR is key here: do what you said you'd do. Of course, in the climate context this means avoid greenwashing. Members of the Unconvinced group often question why some of climate change's loudest voices are not doing their fair share for the environment.

Accordingly, back up sustainability and other claims with action and data. In addition to being the right thing to do, it will boost message credibility and corporate reputation.

  • You lack all the answers

As in so much of PR, listening is critical. It's important that communicators and organizations hear what audiences are saying about climate. Similarly, they must demonstrate that the organization is listening.

  • Consumers are holding companies accountable

As noted above about potential employees, consumers also evaluate companies based on the firm's environmental record. And they're vocal about greenwashing. Moreover, they believe companies have an obligation to make a difference because they have resources to do so.

  • One size does not fit all 

Every industry has unique needs and issues. As such, sustainability efforts will look different at various companies. Communicators should know the sector's and organization’s unique position as they craft messages.

Olivia Kresic is senior research and outreach manager, Institute for Public Relations 

[Editor's Note: The writer’s views do not necessarily reflect those of PRNEWS. We invite opposing essays.]