Posts Tagged ‘Climate Change’

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.

Marketers’ choice: ‘Lead, follow, or get out of the way’

Consumer spending is falling fast. While that’s bad for the economy, it’s good for the environment. Excessive consumption produces waste and pollution streams that are destroying our planet. The question now is how are we going to respond to the economic crisis at hand. If our elected officials and business leaders seize the moment, the consumption downturn will ignite a movement that saves our economy and our environment for generations to come.

And maybe, just maybe we marketers will heed the call to help lead the way.

In the near term, an environmental benefit will be of little solace to those whose jobs depend on consumer spending, which is to say most of us since consumer spending comprises nearly two-thirds of our economy. It’s all-but certain the current financial crisis will slip into an economic recession, perhaps as rough as any we’ve experienced in decades.

As painful as the near future may become, the glass half-full view reveals the opportunity ahead. Financier George Soros explains:

You see, for the last 25 years the world economy, the motor of the world economy that has been driving it was consumption by the American consumer who has been spending more than he has been saving, all right? Than he’s been producing. So that motor is now switched off. It’s finished…You need a new motor. And we have a big problem. Global warming. It requires big investment. And that could be the motor of the world economy in the years to come.

Over consumption, made possible by easy access to debt, explains much of the financial mess we’re in today. And a consumer economy, stoked by cheap, abundant fossil fuels, is a principle cause of global warming. In the end, reliance on consumer spending is both bad for the economy and bad for the environment. Other than that, it’s great.

What makes the coming elections so critical is the next president and Congress will decide whether we as a nation will fundamentally change the underpinnings of our economy. If we simply find new ways to prop up our consumption-based economy, we will hasten the day of reckoning that climate change requires. If we embrace the environmental and social challenges of climate change as the economic opportunity of our times, we can all look toward the future with hope.

For marketers, the opportunity is to finally begin leading the world in the right direction. If “the motor of the world economy” has been consumption, the fuel has been marketing. Marketers create awareness and demand for goods, services and ideas. The problem is we’ve used our talents overwhelmingly in support of unsustainable economies, employers and clients.

But that can change. Imagine if we were to unleash our creativity and persuasive abilities in service to freeing our economy from dependence on fossil fuels and mindless consumption. I’m convinced the impact would be both enormous and swift for our climate, environment and economy.

I don’t know whether the collective parts of the marketing industry — branding, advertising, PR, direct marketing etc. — are up to the task. The industry is so deeply enmeshed in the profitable, but dead-end ways of consumerism. So be it. The train is leaving with or without us. In the words of Thomas Paine, our choice is simple: “Lead, follow, or get out of the way.”


Even Bush Administration can’t ignore climate change

I’m somewhat surprised how little has been made in the media and blogosphere of a federal government report this week on how climate change is already be felt across the US.  Why the surprise? Because it’s being issued by the Bush Administration. 

An executive with the World Wildlife Fund told the Washington Post:

(T)he report represents “the very first upfront acknowledgment from the administration that we are already experiencing climate change impacts.” As recently as July 2007, the administration submitted a report to the United Nations that omitted any discussion of how global warming will affect wildfires, heat waves, agriculture or snowpack. 

According to the USDA, the report’s lead sponsor:

The report concludes that climate change is already affecting U.S. water resources, agriculture, land resources, and biodiversity, and will continue to do so.  Some agricultural and forest systems may experience near-term productivity increases. Over the long-term, however, many such systems are likely to experience diminished ecosystem services and the need for changes to management regimes.  Management of water resources will become more challenging. Increased incidence of disturbances such as forest fires, insect outbreaks, severe storms, and drought will command public attention and place increasing demands on management resources.  Changes in season length and primary productivity, along with possible breakdowns in traditional pollinator/plant and predator/prey interactions, are stressing and altering current ecosystems.  


Frankly, that’s quite an admission coming from this administration. If it’s willing to bless these conclusions, things have to be bad. And, in fact, probably worse than the report leads on, considering the lengths the White House has gone until recently to distance itself from the whole climate change issue. If nothing else, I hope this report sways at least a few conservative leaders to get off the global warming fence and start acting.


Forget the snow, listen to the oilman from Houston

As I write this, falling snow is blocking the otherwise expansive view I enjoy from my home. This is spring, in Portland, isn’t it? In all my years in Oregon, I don’t remember even a trace of snow in spring on the valley floor. It’s almost enough to make me side with the right-wing talk show and blogging bloviators who would have us believe climate change means we’re entering the next ice age.

Fortunately, a piece today in the LA Times is helping to loosen the dark side’s grip on my senses:

The American West is heating up faster than any other region of the United States, and more than the Earth as a whole, according to a new analysis of 50 scientific studies. For the last five years, from 2003 through 2007, the global climate averaged 1 degree Fahrenheit warmer than its 20th century average. During the same period, 11 Western states averaged 1.7 degrees warmer, the analysis reported. The 54-page study, was released Thursday by the Rocky Mountain Climate Organization — a coalition of local governments, businesses and nonprofits. It was based largely on calculations by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The report reveals “the growing consensus among scientists who study the West that climate change is no longer an abstraction,” said Bradley H. Udall of the University of Colorado, whose work was cited in the study. “The signs are everywhere.”

I really didn’t need more scientific studies to convince me that climate change is real and potentially catastrophic. But analysis like this isn’t aimed at folks like me. It’s aimed at lawmakers, especially Congressional members, to act now on legislation to dramatically cut greenhouse gas emissions nationwide. The LA Times cites a source that says “as many as 10 Republican senators from Western states are leaning against” a bill in the Senate aimed at slashing CO2 emissions.

Perhaps those senators ought to be listening to John Hofmeister, president of Shell Oil Company. Public television’s Charlie Rose asked Hofmeister this week, “So why should we have a scientific debate about global warming?” Hofmeister replied, “I don’t think we should. I have said many times, ‘the debate is over.’ Shell has said, ‘The debate is over for us.’ We’re not climatologists, but we’re convinced action is needed. No more debate. Action!”

Words like these coming from an oilman in Houston, Texas — it’s even more shocking than spring snow in Portland.


Recession or no, climate change can’t be put on hold

Here’s a silver lining in the existing or pending US recession: Chances are consumption and production will slow, meaning less fossil fuel expended and fewer greenhouse gases emitted. Feel better? I didn’t think so. None of us wants to see the inevitable wrenching loss of jobs, income and personal security that comes during a major economic slowdown.

The attention of government and business leaders, as well as the public, is increasingly fixed on the economy. And while that’s understandable, every other public concern will likely take a back seat to the economy. Including climate change. America, the largest source of CO2 emissions in the world, will be telling the world that we can only afford to focus on climate change as long as our economy is growing (and spewing growing amounts of CO2).

The effects of a recession are painfully real. I started my career in the early 1980s when Oregon was in the midst of a miserable recession — depression, really. I was fortunate to find a job. Some of my friends, meanwhile, lost their homes. Earlier this decade, I felt the tech implosion in a very personal way. The marketing business I co-founded lost half of our revenue in just a couple months in 2001. Within a year we had laid off nearly half our staff. It doesn’t get much worse than that as an employer.

For those of us who believe global warming is real and human-caused, this recession — if that’s what we’re in — poses a vexing question: Can we or how do we keep the very real concerns of recession from overwhelming the equally real threats of climate change?

We may be entering a very nasty period of job and income loss for millions of Americans — and perhaps for many others around the globe dependent upon our economy. A recession is one of those clear and present dangers experienced at the personal level. It’s difficult to think about much else when you’re faced with the prospect of losing your livelihood or your home.

And yet, climate change is no less urgent of a matter than the health of the US economy. The UN Human Development Report 2007/2008 calls climate change “the greatest challenge humankind has ever faced.” Its authors warn:

(Climate change) is still a preventable crisis — but only just. The world has less than a decade to change course. No issue merits more urgent attention — or more immediate action.

Try telling that to someone who’s lost his or her job or home. Or to the political candidate who can’t get the words “It’s the economy, stupid” out of his or her head. To them, global warming is a faraway worry. Unfortunately, it’s not. When we get through this recession — and we will, as history shows — the issue of climate change will still be with us. Every year our political leaders back burner the issue draws us that much closer to irreversible harm. As the UN report makes clear, “The world’s poor will suffer the earliest and most damaging impacts.” They have no political voice in America. And neither do future generations.

If the world is going to avoid the worst of global warming, America and Americans must be completely engaged and leading the way. We’re about to find out whether we’re up to the challenge.


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.