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Climate Communication and Preventing Greenwashing


Companies are taking the lead in sustainable and climate transitions, and we applaud them for it. But often they lack clarity about how to credibly communicate about the impact they bring about. During Tuesday’s webinar on ‘Climate Communication and Preventing Greenwashing’, we were treated with useful insights into the main challenges they encounter as well as with useful levers for them to apply.

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Wim Vermeulen (Director of Strategy and Sustainability at Bubka) called upon recent academic research (in collaboration with UGent) to point out that marketing messages about sustainability are usually received with a significant dose of skepticism. This means that any marketing message is subject to a credibility test. He provided us with a model based on 5 drivers – honesty, commitment, urgency, shared value and clarity through details – to help increase the credibility of your message and with it, its overall response.

In his presentation, Brad Shallert (Director of Carbon Market Governance and Aviation at WWF) touched upon the terminology of popular climate claims (e.g. ‘carbon neutral’, ‘net zero’) and why it is so important to understand their precise significance. In doing so, he elaborated on existing claim guidance initiatives and made the remarkable distinction between greenwashing’ and ‘greenwishing, where the latter sprouts from undeliberate erroneous communication of claims.

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Ines Verschaeve from Lidl, a BACA member with validated SBTs, demonstrated how increased climate impact doesn’t always correlate with a similar rise in climate reputation over time. The company actively takes on the exercise of making their climate efforts more visible and accessible, not only towards customers (e.g. through a sustainability magazine) but also for their employees and other stakeholders. It proves an endeavour of trial and error, one that requires a healthy dose of self-assessment, but is worthwhile.

To conclude, Peter Verbiest from communication agency Bonka Circus explains how they aim to walk the talk they recommend their customers regarding climate communication. Integrating the climate narrative into the heart of your organization, more so than just into your communication strategy, is an important place to start. This requires a clear purpose and climate objectives that are embraced by the entire organization, from the management to employee level. These objectives should then be translated into a story that is honest and informative, using a narrative that speaks to people, one that is personally relevant.

There are clearly some communication pitfalls to waltz around. But don’t let them stop you from dancing. Try, allow yourself to not communicate perfectly from the start but self-evaluate and adjust. And all the while, never seize to be constructive and show that progress is possible and underway.