I predicted last year that we’d see more “scrutiny and accountability” from the press around sustainability.
Then came the war. Coal plants re-started across Europe and countries struck deals for gas wherever it was available. We saw the press struggle to balance these changed circumstances with a genuine desire to hold companies and governments to account.
Will this change? The war is very much an ongoing concern, triggering an energy crisis and exacerbating a looming recession. Climate may struggle to top the agenda.
In absolute terms, media interest continued to surge. We saw growth in our research around sustainable themes when we reviewed these in the spring. There’s a continuing process, where the media move from general openness around sustainability stories to applying increasing judgement to individual initiatives. This will continue.
Beyond the term ESG
The term ESG itself is under attack. The Economist published ‘A broken idea’, which equated ESG with ‘hype and controversy’. There’s a concern ESG has been a mish-mash of half-formed policy ideas rather than a pathway to actually mitigate the climate crisis.
Expect the term to be used less frequently next year, as there’s more frequent drill down into its three components. Environmental factors will drive most agendas – especially in financial services and investment.
Consider the controversy around Article 9 – for funds that have sustainable investment or carbon reduction as an objective – in Europe. Thousands of funds claimed to be under Article 9, but were then removed by ratings providers. Amundi downgraded $45 billion in Article 9 funds. Investors were unsure if funds they invested in were as sustainable as they claimed.
This back and forth generated hundreds of stories and the issue isn’t settled. Expect more scrutiny here in the new year.
Greenwashing investigations proliferate
Greenwashing has moved from a slur to a potentially expensive charge. Forrester predicts more than 10 companies will receive a fine of more than $5 million next year because of greenwashing.
The danger is particularly acute in Europe for two reasons: European consumers demand more transparency and are more likely to distrust companies' communications on climate change and the introduction of new regulation.
Expect the press – and especially the investigate press – to be busy in this area. Corporates must ensure what they do put out to the general public is valid and accurate. Partnering with third-party organisations who have weight and authority in the market will give disclosures more legitimacy both in the eyes of the public and the media.
The purse or the planet
Some investors prioritised profitability over climate responsibility this year. Institutional investors and fund managers sometimes struggled to balance new, broader mandates around corporate responsibility and their fiduciary duties to beneficiaries.
According to research from MSCI, more investors voted against corporate climate strategies in 2022 compared to 2021. While it may be viewed as backwards progress, this reflects the choppy markets facing investors and advisors.
Investors can’t only care about the climate in rising markets. Next year expect both debate and new strategies to fundamentally integrate sustainable metrics in a variety of market conditions.
Ensuring sustainability remains a part of the agenda
The media’s attention has shifted. Journalists are stretched across beats, and may struggle to give the climate sustained attention.
Media coverage may halt its rise in absolute terms. The newsflow that remains must be impactful and substantial.
It may sound cliche and overused but we are all in this climate fight together and the press play one of the most important roles in it.
Louis Hogan is an account manager in London