EcoVadis, the world’s largest and most trusted provider of business sustainability ratings, has awarded Man Bites Dog Silver Medal status in recognition of its excellent sustainability performance.

The EcoVadis Rating provides a benchmark for measuring an organisation’s environmental, social and ethical performance, scoring businesses on the quality of their sustainability management systems in relation to environment, labour and human rights, ethics and sustainable procurement.

By achieving EcoVadis Silver, Man Bites Dog has been recognised as being within the top 25% of organisations that use the platform.

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.

an image of a meteor on track to hit a planet

We know how to Net Zero

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.

Net Zero needs comms people

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.

If you have an interesting sustainability communication challenge feel free to reach out directly at [email protected] or the wider team at [email protected].

As the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2022 draws to a close we’ve been reflecting on some of the key themes discussed this year in Davos.

With the theme, History at a Turning Point: Government Policies and Business Strategies, this year’s event saw almost 2,500 leaders gather to tackle global issues and find solutions to the world's most urgent challenges including the ongoing global pandemic, the war in Ukraine, geo-economic shocks and climate change.

Here are a few of our top takeaways from the first in-person event in almost two years:

Climate change and food scarcity top of agenda

Business leaders can be overwhelmed with reactive challenges, so it’s been helpful to see this year that ESG and sustainability are still top of the agenda across the C-suite. And there is acknowledgement that food security and climate change are converging. Food shortages are made worse because of rising global temperatures, with examples even in recent weeks such as South Asia’s heat waves and floods, wildfires in the US West and extreme temperatures in the Middle East and southern Europe. These kinds of climate-related events affect food security, negatively impacting on crops and food exports. The continued threat of climate change is huge, and organizations are still mapping out their own net zero journeys, so it was good to see so much emphasis on it despite such geopolitical uncertainty.

Raising standards

An interesting area of conversation this year was increased emphasis on sustainability standards. Companies use an array of voluntary sustainability reporting frameworks. However, without the adoption of consistent standards, it is difficult for stakeholders to make the like-for-like comparisons that are critical for capital investments and understanding companies’ impact. There is continued concern that voluntary frameworks can be a barrier to transparency, enabling selective reporting and potential greenwashing. However, those with frameworks in place are at least demonstrating action over discussion towards net zero transition.

Mainstreaming the metaverse

A panel on ‘making the metaverse’ was an exciting moment this year. Gaming apps and virtual reality headsets have created the gateway to a virtual environment that is now playing host to millions of people each day, with participation very heavily skewed towards children and young people. It is all happening fast, and we need clear codes of behaviour and ethics in place. The metaverse offers exciting opportunities for companies if it is safe. There will be different surfaces, objects, clothing and footwear on which companies can display their brands. It is the commercial opportunities that this affords that will support and build the metaverse we want. So, with the metaverse moving from escapism and gameism, to commercial utility, the potential for the metaverse is huge and a myriad of experts and voices will determine what it will look like.

Future of the working week

The future of work is another really exciting theme that businesses need to continue to explore. This year, leaders at Davos discussed the benefits of a four-day work week, highlighting the merits of flexible work and the importance of this in encouraging greater productivity and crucially, in retaining talent. Conversations highlighted that often, employees are less concerned about where they work, but place a higher value on when and how much. In the United Arab Emirates, the government introduced a shorter work week earlier this year. Around 70% of employees reported working more efficiently, while there was a 55% reduction in absenteeism, according to the country’s minister for government development and the future.

That's a wrap

For nearly 50 years the annual meeting has provided a unique environment for global leaders to reconnect, exchange insights and obtain fresh perspectives. There were certainly some exciting and interesting themes from Davos this year, signalling its continued relevance and importance as a milestone event in the calendar for leaders to reflect on, and advance, actionable change.

Over the last few years the environment has been engaged in a hostile takeover of the global news agenda, and it’s working. Earlier this year the UN Development Programme (UNDP) surveyed over a million people around the world and found that the vast majority (two thirds) believed there is a climate emergency. Whether younger or older, whether in the UK, South Africa or Japan the story was the same. What’s more, most people were willing to support climate action even when it required significant changes in their own country.   

For investors the same story is playing out, whether you look at the flood of green bonds appearing on the market or the three quarters of investors planning to increase their share of ESG investments this year.   

Green screen 

For marketers the good news comes hand in hand with the bad. With so much passion for the environment, authentic, well founded marketing that showcases the genuine green credentials of a progressive business can be a powerful lever of growth. On the other hand, the bandwagon is crowded, and often with those whose actions don’t live up to their words.  

Greenwashing is pervasive across a number of industries and as a result it’s easy for genuinely progressive firms to get tarred with the greenwashing brush. Even without the threat of the greenwashing label, finding white space that your brand can own in this ever more crowded market is only getting harder, yet all the while the rewards for successfully doing so increase exponentially.  

The question: how do you find your own unique white space, and at the same time demonstrate the authenticity of what you have to say? To do so is no simple challenge. There are however a few guiding principles to start with:  

 

Progress, not promises  

Firstly – and this should go without saying – you can’t market it if you don’t have it. If your business doesn’t have a plan to reach net zero; to aggressively improve its impact on the environment; or better still to facilitate a host of other people and organisations to improve their impact, then the journey doesn’t start with a marketing campaign.  

If you haven’t already made some progress, then to talk about future plans sounds hollow. Equally, you can’t highlight a problem that you can help fix, if you haven’t already gone some way towards fixing it within your own organisation. Progress comes before promises. If you have grand ambitions that you can’t back up with demonstrable achievements, that’s greenwashing, no matter how good your intentions.  

 

Challenging, not cheerleading 

The planet – at least as far as humans are concerned – is in grave danger, and an unprecedented amount of progress is required to turn the situation around. That isn’t something that is going to change this decade. Celebrating small wins is great, and it’s all part of the journey, but only in the context of the gargantuan challenge that remains.  

The most direct route to finding unique white space within the green agenda is to understand a unique aspect of the problem that isn’t garnering the attention it deserves and to demonstrate why it needs focus and how we can begin to tackle it. That’s exactly what Standard Chartered recently did with their successful Carbon Dated campaign by highlighting the problem of multinational corporations shunting emissions reduction efforts down their supply chains. And what Law Firm Addleshaw Goddard explored in their Pain to Net Gain campaign revealing a major sustainable financing threshold just four years away. 

 

Lead, don’t follow 

Thinking inside the box will never deliver the kind of profitable white space CMO’s crave. A great many organisations offer their take on some of the biggest and most debated challenges of the climate emergency, but that kind of thinking doesn’t cut through the noise.  

All too often asset managers and other financial institutions produce ‘me too’ content on ESG investments and other sustainable finance initiatives. Investors are bombarded with it and journalists are bored of it. 

To truly lead the conversation, brands must project the climate challenge forward, uncover the unforeseen challenges that tomorrow will hold and relate them back to the business pressures that we face today. Only then can they truly break new ground.  

If you’re interested in hearing more about how your business can discover and claim its own white space in the all-important climate debate, highlight your own role as a stakeholder in global carbon transition, get in touch with me directly at [email protected] or reach out to us: [email protected] 

The logic chain of carbon reduction sounds straightforward and it goes like this: Carbon is bad, reducing carbon is good; therefore companies that produce a lot of carbon emissions are bad, and reducing these companies is good. Simple.

To a large extent, that sums up the philosophy of the environmentally-minded investment community, and particularly the big institutional investors which control swathes of global capital. Just the other day, three of New York’s vast public employee pension funds divested $4 billion from securities related to fossil fuel companies in a move that most would view as commendable, if not vital for the future of our planet.

A Carbon Admission

However, as several people, including Mark Carney, have been at pains to admit, the world can’t simply switch off fossil fuels and switch on green energy. Energy infrastructure is in the expert hands of energy companies, and these have all until recently been heavily reliant on the only form of energy that was cost effective: carbon.

By divesting money and support from fossil fuel businesses and instead supporting green businesses, we are helping the growth of the green tech sector and supporting sustainability, but are we helping the world transition quickly and efficiently away from its carbon habit? Probably not.

On the other hand, are we willing to carry on blindly supporting fossil fuel businesses in the vague hope that they channel our support into rapid transition activities? Heck no. So how do we know where to get the best environmental return on investment? How do we know who the high potential, high impact “greening” businesses are, not just the already “green” businesses who lack the same potential to accelerate transition. More to the point, how do we distinguish greening businesses from the laggards without the meaningful intent to speed their transition?

The Communication Challenge

This is among the critical challenges that marketers and communicators now face: how do we effectively reflect the strategy and genuine intent of greening businesses and show the world who they are and what they are striving to achieve?

The importance of this communications challenge extends well beyond the investment community, or even business leaders. It extends right down to the engagement of each individual worker on the factory floor. Bernard Looney, CEO of bp, likes to tell the story of the oil refinery worker he met on a visit who personally thanked Mr Looney for bp’s Net Zero by 2050 strategy – a policy that would ultimately make his skillset redundant, but that he knew would make the world his children will inherit a better place.

It is this broad engagement with the subject of the environment that places so much potential, and also so much risk, with the communicator.

Greenwashing

Amid the efforts to communicate the virtues of earnest transition there is also the harsh reality of greenwashing, where insincere or lacklustre environmental efforts are passed off as more than they are. However, it could be argued that the threat of being labelled as “greenwashers” is a valuable incentive for communications teams as it forces businesses to leave no ambiguity. Instead they must underline all that they say with firm evidence of their intent, their approach and their progress.

This is a challenge and an opportunity that puts marketers at the centre of a historical pivot. By effectively communicating the genuine efforts of the critically important “greening” businesses, and distinguishing them from the hollow words of the greenwashers, the marketing community has the potential to become the stewards of transition, signposting investment and raising standards, to facilitate the realisation of a net zero economy.

If you’re interested in hearing more about how your business can fit into this conversation and highlight your own role as a green or greening stakeholder in global carbon transition, get in touch with me directly at [email protected] or reach out to us: [email protected]

“Abandon hope all ye who enter here” has become the unofficial maxim of most stock exchanges since March when the FTSE tumbled towards a low of 4,800 points and the Dow Jones saw the three worst point drops in its history.

Broader economic measures haven’t offered much optimism either – if I made a wordcloud of my news alerts over the past fortnight, it would mostly feature the word ‘contraction’ in a soup of negative adjectives.

It’s already a truism that we’re undergoing an unprecedented – and in part irrevocable – change to how societies and economies operate. While there may be some positive impacts in the long-term, from an investment perspective, there is one area in particular that is set to suffer.

ESG (environmental, social & governance) investing is one of the most likely victims of the financial shockwaves from COVID-19. Yet, immediately before the crisis took hold, this sector was flourishing, with a record 479 green bonds issued in 2019. It was only in January of this year that Blackrock’s Larry Fink – in characteristically straight-talking fashion – said that climate change had become a “defining factor in companies’ long-term prospects”. In fact, evidence for the approaching heyday of ESG was everywhere, from a January study showing that investors will pay more for stocks in companies that give to charity, to a 2020 ETF (exchange-traded funds) study showing that 74% of global investors planned to increase their ESG asset allocation over the next year. But given the current context, how many of these plans are likely to remain intact?

With a global downturn not only likely, but threatening to out-plummet the crash of 2008, how much goodwill is left for ESG? The natural reaction for many will be to refocus on short-term gains, to rebuild portfolios and make up the loss: a return to the stark profit motive. Unfortunately many ESG investments are long-term, carrying risk and uncertainty aplenty.

So is it really the case that a small mutation in a hitherto unheard of virus could derail the global environmental and social momentum we’ve been awaiting for decades? Well, yes, it looks that way. But is it a foregone conclusion? Perhaps not.

It depends, to some extent, on us marketers.

Driving a green recovery

The COVID-19 crisis has caused immeasurable suffering but, from an environmental perspective at least, it has not been without its glimmers of hope. From dramatic improvements in air and water quality to the emergence of seldom seen wildlife, we’ve seen a glimpse of a world less choked by pollution. We’ve also seen unprecedented changes to our own activity, having been forced to radically redefine our relationship with travel and consumption. These behaviour changes were once thought impossible, but have – for now at least – become the reality.

However, these positives have quite naturally been drowned out by the weight of bad news and, as the below graphic from reputation intelligence specialist Polecat shows, the extent to which climate change (in blue) has been pushed down the agenda by COVID-19 (in solid grey) should not be underestimated. And that’s where we communicators come in.

Covid-19 discourse graph

As Bill Gates noted in a recent Economist article, the lasting impact of COVID-19 on the world will not be defined by our response so far, but in how the world reacts over the months ahead.

Financial services marketers, from asset managers to global banks, now have a unique opportunity to put a stake in the ground, pinning their firms’ reputations to a progressive agenda that sees COVID-19 as a chance to reset the dial and drive a green recovery. Instead of setting progress back years, it’s possible to advocate for a response to the downturn that centres on recognising the transformative lessons of the crisis and locking-in the best of those learnings when we rebuild our economies.

Without influence, it’s all too likely that old habits will resurface and the stark profit motive will take precedence, at least until the aftermath has started to clear, by which time the opportunity for lasting change will be lost.

The stage is now set for pioneering financial institutions and investment houses to lead substantial thought leadership campaigns that put their weight behind a far more positive response, connecting capital to positive change that could redirect us to a green recovery. If that happens – if we, as financial services marketers, succeed in making it happen – our actions will echo around the world.

If you’d like to talk about what such a campaign could look like, and how it could move the needle for your reputation, drop me a note at [email protected] or email [email protected].

Campaign

The Gender Say Gap

For some years now, we have been campaigning to close The Gender Say Gap, a term we coined to highlight the invisibility of women and diverse leaders as expert authorities in business and public life.

View Campaign
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