In the Netflix black comedy Don’t Look Up, the astronomer Randall Mindy (played by Leonardo DiCaprio) appears on breakfast TV to explain that humanity faces an existential threat from a 6km wide comet that is hurtling to earth. His lengthy explanation, which includes precise technical details of how the scientists found the comet, unsurprisingly falls on deaf ears and the scene ends with Mindy’s colleague, PHD candidate Kate Dibiasky (played by Jennifer Lawrence), losing her temper with the chirpy breakfast show hosts.
Whilst the threat of the climate crisis is not quite as immediate as a planet-killing comet, it is not far off. Earlier this year the IPCC warned that emissions increasing at their current trajectory would result in “irreversible” impacts and that 40% of the global population are “highly vulnerable” to climate risk. Mitigating the worst effects of this planet-wide heating will require a fundamental shift in the global economy. Yet, unlike dealing with a comet, the core technologies and financial muscle for achieving net zero are available today.
Carbon Tracker have shown it would take just 0.3% of the global land area (less than is currently used for fossil fuel infrastructure) to meet the entire world’s energy needs through solar energy. Personal transportation, once one of the most carbon-intensive sectors, is in the midst of an electric revolution with over 6% of global car sales being an EV in 2021 – more than double that of 2020 sales. And with Bloomberg predicting that ESG assets could hit $53 trillion by 2025 (30% of total assets under management) it appears the financial firepower to get clean-energy and low-carbon transport projects off the ground is starting to lift off.
However, despite these real-world building blocks for net zero being available, like the scientists in Don’t Look Up, businesses working to decarbonise are struggling to get their sustainability stories heard. In a world where stories about practical solutions to help mitigate the climate crisis are competing in a news cycle that prioritises simple, immediate, and tangible content, businesses need to shape their messaging to fit with this reality. This doesn’t mean deviating from core values – and certainly doesn’t mean greenwashing – rather, packaging businesses’ commitments in a way that can easily be understood by as many people as possible.
The road to net zero will require comms people to play a major role within their organisation to help their business thrive in a sustainable economy. This will mean bringing diverse viewpoints into your business to help ensure your sustainability story is understood by as wide a section of society as possible. It will require people with a PR background gaining a seat at the boardroom table so well thought-through communication is embedded into net-zero transition strategies from the start. And, perhaps most importantly, it also means helping businesses articulate how they are contributing to net zero in a way that is clear, relevant and impactful.
At Man Bites Dog, we partner with some of the world’s leading B2B brands to help them carve out their green space and tell their unique sustainability story through bold data-led campaigns. For instance, we recently highlighted the risk of a “lost decade” as companies postpone action on climate change – and revealed that 55% of corporates are not transitioning fast enough to reach net zero by 2050. We developed a campaign that quantified, for the first time, the global tipping points that would need to be achieved in order to achieve mainstream EV adoption. It revealed consumers are waiting for a price point of $36,000, a charge time of 31 minutes and a range of 469km before they will make the switch to an EV. We also recently partnered with a client to explore the fundamental role of the energy sector in decarbonising the global economy which demonstrated that the industry would need to halve their emissions this decade if the world is to achieve net zero.
Articulating how businesses are meeting the challenge of net zero is one of the biggest jobs for comms people today. Without bold and simple stories that are intrinsically tied to brand purpose, campaigns can risk ending up misunderstood or ignored like the Don’t Look Up astronomer’s appearance on breakfast TV.