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This week Cognito publishes its report –  “The communications of climate transition – the signal and the noise”. This year we decided to look beyond last year’s asset management remit towards a more expansive view of storylines behind climate transition.

In addition to substantial quantitative media research, as part of the project we spoke to more than a dozen journalists. Some allowed us to use their names and are mentioned in the report, others wanted to remain anonymous. All were generous with their time. 

What struck me from these conversations was just how seriously reporters take their role. Whether they are writing for a publication that strictly focuses on green issues, or occasionally write on ESG as part of a broader finance mandate, writers understand that they are a critical source of information on what might be the most important issue of our time. 

We in communications deserve to be equally serious when creating messages and stories we hope that will be covered by these very reporters. I know from experience that it can be easy to dip into communications cliche or obfuscate what might seem complicated. But we can, and must do better. 

With this in mind and looking at the results of the report, I’ve outlined three things that everyone, whether they are working in house or an agency, can do to be better stewards of their companies’ stories around the environment and climate.

Lesson #1: Do the work 

Expectations, like the world’s oceans, are rising. This year we saw a notable increase in reporters diving into the complicated world of how to mitigate the impacts of climate change and reverse the damage caused by carbon in the atmosphere. The policy choices here are complex, but increasing reporters will expect people to understand, for example, what a voluntary carbon market is, and what it means. 

Cognito specifically looked at mentions of climate adaptation, impact investment, carbon trading, natural capital, hydrogen, carbon capture and storage, energy storage, sustainable fuels, bioenergy, climate disclosure and ESG ratings. Overall, mentions of these solutions grew nearly 50% between 2020 and 2021 – from 8,200 to 5,500 a year prior.

As reporters write on the debate around these terms, it is critical for communicators to have a more granular understanding of the market. That means carefully reading a variety of press sources and seeing how the debate is evolving. Learn the jargon.  (I wrote last year about my time passing the CFA certificate in ESG investment – that’s been worth every hour spent.)

Lesson #2: Bring evidence

When assessing the relative value of people in the market in our research, we heard praise for asset managers, along with an acknowledgement that there’s more being done at the banks. But non-profit organizations were seen by some as doing best of all. Danny Flatt at Capital Monitor told us: “NGOs are nailing it because they are not coming with complaints and moans. They are coming with data that tells the story.”

Claims without evidence are a recipe for additional scrutiny. The message is this: to communicate effectively and authentically about climate transition, you now need to show what solutions you are adopting, what you are investing in and ultimately adopting or supporting as a business. 

Lesson #3: Acknowledge your position  

Reporters intrinsically understand that every single source has a point of view. That’s also true in climate reporting, even though there’s a broad understanding that sustainable solutions would have benefits to all. Choosing a particular standard or funding source could channel billions in a particular direction. The scale of action required to reduce carbon emissions is so vast that the opportunity is also outsized. 

We recommend sources acknowledge this in interviews. Explain upfront how and why your company is involved in the market, and how this influences your point of view. This doesn’t have to be awkward or humiliating, rather it will build credibility as a source. It also means you can contextualize your work in a way that very well impacts the way your company or expertise is described in an article.

Also be unafraid to acknowledge other players. Pretending they don’t exist won’t make them disappear. Instead practice the line, “What sets us apart from X is that we are focused on…” And go from there. 

One step at a time 

Our research found mentions of ESG in just 21 top publications rose from 5,200 in 2020 to just under 8,000 in 2021 – a rise of 54 percent. That’s a lot of stories.

The sheer number of column inches devoted to green topics means plenty of opportunity – but only if approached in the correct manner. Good luck out there. 

Jon Schubin is a director based in Cognito’s London office. Learn more about Cognito’s Sustainability Practice here. Download this year’s Sustainable Finance Communications Report here