Posts Tagged ‘Andy Revkin’

5 ways brands can engage on climate change

2010 tied 2005 as the hottest year on record, according to reports last week. The news came as flood waters overwhelmed Queensland, Australia and mudslides killed hundreds in southeast Brazil. The natural disasters were made worse by global warming, scientists told ABC News.

Brazil mudslide January 2011. (Source:

Meanwhile, a new poll shows only 40% of Americans believe global warming is caused by human activity. And New York Times environmental blogger Andy Revkin said in 2010 “global warming,  the greatest story rarely told, had reverted to its near perpetual position on the far back shelf of the public consciousness — if not back in the freezer.”

Is that how it is for you? Is climate change even on your radar screen as a business? And if it is, are you doing something about it? Or are you treating it like some harmless object along the distant horizon?

What your brand can do

I won’t make an argument for why you or your business should care about climate change. I’ll leave that to authors like Bill McKibben, whose 2010 book “Eaarth” is an unsparing description of a world already scarred by global warming and a guide to how we must now live in it.

What I would offer are five ways your business brand can engage stakeholders on climate change. After all, a large minority of Americans believes humans are causing global warming and increasing numbers of customers are holding business accountable. On the opportunity side, brand differentiation around climate change is there for the taking in many markets.

  1. Brand as promise: You can’t waffle on climate change. Choose to believe the scientific evidence and climate scientists like this one who states unequivocally, ”We’re observing the climate changing – it’s happening, it’s real, it’s a fact.” Take a stand. Let your stakeholders know your business cares deeply about the trajectory of the world’s climate. Then show them what you’re doing about it through your products, services, operations and culture.
  2. Brand as meaning: Customers, employees and, indeed, all stakeholders are in constant search for meaning. That’s life. Connect what you’re doing on climate change to what matters to your stakeholders. And what matters to most of us is that we and those we care about achieve happiness and avoid suffering. The climate is now on a very unhappy path. Be an example for a different way forward.
  3. Brand as emotion: We all experience basic emotions such as joy, love, anger, sadness, surprise and fear. For many of us, the thought of climate change overwhelms us and triggers undesirable emotions. How much more desirable is a brand that taps into the joy and satisfaction in caring for our planet and its current and future inhabitants?
  4. Brand as story: Humans connect through stories. It’s how we entertain, educate, preserve our cultures and instill values. Your brand is a story. Place it within the Mother of All 21st Century Stories — climate change — and watch as new, meaningful and emotional connections get made.
  5. Brand as experience: No matter what we tell others about our brands, what determines their fates are the experiences others have of them. When someone interacts with your business or product, they experience your brand as a promise kept or a promise broken. Promise to be on the right side of climate change and then give others the experience of standing with you — and you with them — in creating a world hospitable to all.

How can climate change be non-issue in presidential campaigns?

Are you wondering like me how climate change could fail to be a substantive issue in this year’s presidential campaigns?

One explanation may be the unwillingness of debate hosts to raise the issue. Early this year, the League of Conservation voters released an analysis of the debates in 2007 moderated by hosts of the top political programs on television and found that only 24 questions related to climate change or global warming were asked out of a total of 2,275 questions. I haven’t seen an updated analysis of debates since the first of the year. The debates are (or were) a significant source of campaign news; if an issue isn’t raised in a debate, it won’t appear in the next day’s media summaries.

Another explanation is that climate change, while worrisome to Americans, is not among our top concerns. Last year, polls indicated Iraq was top of mind for voters, at least among Democrats. This year it’s the economy, with health care remaining another huge issue. Among Republicans, immigration is a dominant topic. It appears the news media are taking their cue from polling results and covering the issues voters say are their greatest concerns. That relegates climate change to a non-issue in political coverage.

Yet another possible explanation surfaced this week in a post by Joe Romm, editor of Climate Progress (Romm once worked for the Clinton Administration). Citing Elizabeth Kolbert’s book, Field Notes from a Catastrophe, Romm writes: “How can the traditional media cover a story that is almost ‘impossible to imagine’? I don’t think they can.” One reason, he says, is it’s in the nature of the media to lose interest in a story after telling it over and over again. Climate change, because of its complexity and dimensions, is a story that must be repeatedly explored.

While Romm doesn’t refer specifically to political reporters, his analysis suggests the political media simply aren’t up to the task of covering the climate change story; heck, even one of the best climate reporters, Andy Revkin of the New York Times, is singled out for criticism by Romm. If Revkin can’t do justice to the story, certainly no political reporter can.

Revkin responds to Romm here.

Frankly, I think one could write the perfect story on global warming, or create the perfect documentary, and repeat it over and over, and still not see much movement if the goal is to rapidly shift society out of its coal-fired comfort zone as the world heads toward 9 billion people…

As I’ve said, an energy quest — from the bathroom light fixture to the highway to the boardroom to the classroom — does not begin in a newspaper, but must build from deeper within a society (with a big dose of nonpartisn (sic) leadership).

Revkin is right, of course: The news media can only do so much in moving society away from the brink of catastrophe. And leaders of all stripes (and I would add voters, too) must step forward to place climate change at the top of our political agenda and work to keep it there. But I also agree with Romm that the national media is showing no staying power with this story, which I believe to be easily the most important one of our time and will remain so for years to come. The media, like our politicians, must lead, even when the electorate has its mind on other things.

The good news is there’s still time to make global warming a core subject in this year’s presidential campaign — the general election remains eight months away. And the Democratic race is not over. In case you’re interested, here are Clinton’s and Obama’s energy and climate plans.