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Holly
Edwards
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They came in their thousands. Corporates, civil servants, entrepreneurs and the managers of a thousand financial companies. 

They gathered in London with solutions and questions. The most urgent: why aren’t we on track to meet our 2030 emissions targets?

Could LCAW succeed where COP and Bonn did not? 

In truth, London’s annual climate gathering lacks the heads of state and negotiators who could hammer out meaningful changes to countries’ commitments. So we had to judge its success on whether it served as a forum for genuinely interesting and innovative conversation – the ability to say something that hasn’t been repeated thousands of times. 

By this metric, the conference occasionally succeeded. 

Now in its sixth year, London Climate Action Week saw more corporate engagement than previous years. It has gained momentum and stands as a marker in the sustainability calendar, much like its big sister in New York. 

Climate week landed right in the middle of an unprecedented run of elections. After India, South Korea and the European Parliament but just before France and the United Kingdom. But there’s been “deafening” (according to Rain Newton-Smith, CBI CEO) silence on the climate in these elections.

So much was covered, from carbon markets, transition finance, regulation and disclosure to energy transition and nature based solutions. But more important than the what was the how, the way these companies think they can reach their emissions targets.

Here we take on three major themes of Climate Action Week, and what it says about the communications strategies of companies and organizations involved. 

 

  1. The three greens: striking the balance 

Here are three things you should not do: “greenwash”, “greenlash” and “greenhush”.

“Greenwash” is common knowledge. But the other two deserve some discussion. 

“Greenlash” is the coordinated backlash we have seen in recent months against climate action. Businesses have come under fire – especially in the United States – from activist investors who argue that sustainability is an unprofitable distraction from creating shareholder value. 

ESG has been dragged into an ideological “war on woke” and this has gained momentum globally. Did anyone else notice that the acronym practically vanished from the Davos agenda at the start of this year? 

“Greenhushing” is the response. Companies are intentionally scaling back climate communications for fear of facing criticism or getting dragged into an overly political debate. 

And companies are increasingly getting it right. But some aren’t, and some are still silent, which is stalling progress. 

Companies leading the way at London Climate Action week were present, honest, collaborative and embracing the data. The London Stock Exchange argued for companies to describe ESG data collection and reporting as data to guide business strategy and add shareholder value, not just an “expense”. 

Data is what investors want to see. And it can really help bolster and validate your communications. 

We saw some great collaboration at London Climate Action Week to combat “greenlash”. Mission 2025 was announced in support of robust climate action, backed by climate celebrity, Christiana Figueres. Unsurprising corporate leaders of the pack included IKEA and Unilever, brand names which are now publicly synonymous with climate action. 

As communicators, we need to focus on authenticity, transparency and data to avoid the three greens. 

 

  1. Implementation is everything 

“We need to translate promises into tangible action.” Action, action and more action really was the LCAW 2024 motto.

How can we finance and mobilize the capital needed to decarbonize the most challenging sectors? 

We heard about institutional memories, how this year’s promises sit alongside ones made in the past. The Labour Party – widely tipped for power later this week – slashed its ‘green prosperity plan’ from £28 billion a year to £5 billion.

Several companies have recently rolled back on net zero and other environmental measures. 

The community is bracing for more backtracking.

Long-term targets increasingly seem subordinate to the near-term. 

Last week, the Financial Times published a Special Report on the energy transition reflecting on how few investors have been convinced that large oil companies can profitably execute their transition plans.

As an organization, you need to be talking about how you are going to actualize your targets, or if you aren’t, what you intend to do about that. 

 

  1.  Can tech turn the tide?   

Technology might still be the way out of this mess. 

Carbon capture and the circular economy both seem very close to mass deployment. These innovations could reduce the need for drastic cuts in personal emissions by taking carbon out of the atmosphere. 

The World Economic Forum published its annual Top 10 Emerging Technologies Report during the conference, citing AI for scientific discovery, carbon-capturing microbes and the elastocaloric effect. 

But on the flip side, we are seeing companies like Google increasing their emissions by 48% in five years due to the energy demands of AI. 

Technology may one day offer salvation, but it’s not there yet. And for now, we have a long way to go to hit cleantech investment targets. 

Global investment in clean technologies is on track to hit $2 trillion this year, twice the amount spent on fossil fuels. This is less than half the annual investment needed by the early 2030s to achieve net zero goals. 

We heard last week that the private actors need to get innovative and get to scale. Early-stage innovation is there but a funding gap exists to do things at scale. 

“The valley of death” is a new-ish term to describe this gap between early-stage venture and infrastructure funds. It explains why it's so difficult for climate innovators to get money to scale.

The biggest request to future government and private actors is to find ways to bring this tech to market to drive change. 

For communicators, this means being bold and collaborative. We stand on a precipice. 

Now is not the time to be conservative or communicate in silos—partner with advocacy organizations that are driving real change and connecting across sectors and industries.

Communicate with your competitors and call governments to act now.  

The prevailing lesson from LCAW was that we cannot be pro-growth without being pro-green, something which should be able to unite people, governments and sectors.

Holly Edwards is an account director in London focused on sustainability