Tag Archives: cop16

Communicating Climate Change Creatively

On my flight from London to Cancun, I had a layover in Miami and found myself on a flight full of designers on their way to Art Basel Miami and Design Miami.  Next to me, a wiry architect was busy scribbling sketches of building exteriors in a notebook.  In front of me, a colourfully dressed art lover was flipping through the latest edition of the Art Newspaper.

Perhaps a bit odd, but I felt quite at home amongst my new peer group since I envision the practice of CSR/sustainability communcations as fundamentally a creative exercise, albeit with the more practical goal of building value for the organisation.

With this in mind, I have noted below a few of the more creative ways in which businesses have leveraged their attendance at these climate talks to illustrate my case for creative climate communications.

Example #1

Staff Training/Networking: The legal climate behind COP16

A team of lawyers from the international law firm, Norton Rose, have set up a blog and Twitter account to help communicate the legal implications of the climate policies being negotiated at COP16.

Not only is this a great marketing tool for potential and existing clients, but this exercise also helps keep Norton Rose’s lawyers up to date with the latest legal developments emerging from the negotiations.  This will help them deliver valuable services to their clients, for instance, on how various legal frameworks might clash with each other or how carbon markets will function and who will be required (or invited) to participate in them (or not).

Innovative CSR strategies like this one acknowledge that offering a public benefit (in this case, free legal commentary on climate policies) add commercial value in terms of your employees’ expertise and networks as well.

Example #2

Product innovation: Technology-driven climate responsiveness

Two Google representatives attended a US Government-sponsored exhibition highlighting innovations in satellite mapping technologies and their ability to inform disaster planning and response strategies.  The technology in question was partially built using Google Earth technology.

After the presentation, the Google representatives asked about how they could further orient their tools so that others could use them for related developmental purposes, presumably as part of their Google.org work.

It’s a simple and perhaps obvious idea, but companies like Google whose products can be extended in innovative ways can not only build reputational benefits by doing so, but they can also build staff loyalty and encourage further innovation amongst their employees, some of which could translate into commercially-viable products or services. It also helps to develop relationships with stakeholder groups who become de facto ambassadors for the Google brand themselves.

Since the United Nations foresees a transformative role of Information Communication Technologies in the fight against climate change, which they blog about here, this sector can benefit tremendously. Google has already committed to allocating 1% of its equity and profits each year to philanthropic work like this, which puts it level with the most generous countries – namely Sweden, Norway and Luxembourg – in terms of what percentage of their yearly income they donate per year.

Example #3

Thought Leadership: Cementing your reputation through partnerships

Cemex, a Mexican cement company, has partnered with the World Green Building Council to host a day-long side event here at COP16 entitled “Key Challenges for Construction in the 21st Century – Open Dialogue with Experts on Sustainable Construction.”

As a 2007 New York Times article rightly pointed out, “cement is literally the glue of progress…but making cement means making pollution.” Alone, it accounts for 5% of total global carbon dioxide emissions, and 80% of it is being produced and used in emerging markets.  China alone uses slightly less than half the total cement.

Thus, as a leading cement supplier, Cemex can build its reputation by playing a leading role in inspiring collaboration, thought leadership and innovation in climate-smart practices.  In this case, Cemex brought together architects, standards bodies, concrete scientists (read more about the concrete lab at MIT here) as well as Cemex’s senior management.

Events like this not only help build a business’ reputation, but it also helps them keep up to date on innovations in the pipeline and to monitor potential regulatory (or other) risks more systematically.

This post also appears on the Glasshouse Partnership blog.

Climate change, politics and food security

Back in 2009, Elinor Ostrom and Oliver Williamson won the Nobel Prize in Economics for their work on economic governance.  Ostrom was noted for her research on how the “tragedy of the commons” could be overcome through cooperative management from those who use these common resources (e.g. fish stocks, pasture land, ground water).  Williamson, in a different vein, was lauded for his theoretical work on how businesses themselves, in certain situations, are better placed to resolve conflicts of interest internally rather than through the market itself (i.e. to make it rather than source it). (Read the Nobel Prize press release if you’d like to learn more).

In the context of climate change, Ostrom’s and Williamson’s research is particularly insightful.  If Ostrom’s research is to be believed, it lends hope to the possibility that the world’s leaders can find an adequate solution for addressing the effects of climate change — both in terms of adapting to the changes we are already experiencing as well as mitigating future climate change.  Williamson’s theory forces us to ask which types of institutional arrangements (e.g. within businesses, between businesses, between businesses and consumers, via government regulation, etc) would be most likely to produce a climate-smart solution.

This year’s negotiations have already been written off by many media and policy pundits (read BBCICTSDXinhua or Sky News to name only a few).  The Kyoto Protocol, the current international climate agreement whose successor is being debated now, is set to expire in 2012.  Thus, climate negotiators have one more year to find a replacement solution (the 2011 negotiation will be hosted by South Africa.)

But many businesses and countries are not waiting around for a global agreement. Rather, they are passing laws domestically to address their perceived needs. (Read this recent Reuters article for examples of what they are doing.)  And the emerging economies, especially China, are playing ever more important roles as power brokers within the negotiations.  And as competitors for the next generation of green technologies. Also, businesses are coming together to either call for better dialogue with regulators or to demand further investment in green growth.

Climate change presents several unique challenges: its scale as a “common good” is unparalleled; the distribution of its impacts is not shared equitably; its future impacts can only be estimated rather than calculated.  However, it seems that Ostrom’s and Williamson’s Nobel Prize-winning work may shed some answers in how climate solutions may be refined and who may be involved in finding a potential solution.

For businesses, the necessary incentive could come from reduced costs to their supply chain, improved risk management (e.g. of accessing key resources or markets) or potential reputational gains in the eyes of key stakeholders.

This blog post also appears on the Glasshouse Partnership blog.