News and Insights

Reshaping the Climate Story

June 24, 2024

Today most people understand that climate change is a global emergency. According to a recent report by Ipsos Global Advisor, two-thirds of the global public agree their countries should do more to fight climate change. Despite this broad consensus, climate inaction persists with a staggering human cost. For example, a 2023 Lancet Countdown report predicted that heat-related deaths are likely to increase almost fivefold by 2050.

The personal stuff is what’s important

There exists a cognitive dissonance between the long-term impact of climate change and the short-term action that individuals can take. Instead of emphasising the bigger picture which can seem too distant, it must be made clear how people’s individual lives will be directly affected in the here and now. By communicating the urgency of the matter, the public are more likely to engage with environmental issues.

Dismissing climate change as a future obstacle means people don’t have to change what they eat, what they drive, the products they buy, and so on. Climate inaction is therefore much more appealing in the short term. A 2023 study even found that preferences for short-term thinking can slow the development of green policy practices. Climate messaging therefore needs to be positioned instead in the present.

The climate story needs to excite the public, and not fall into the trap of fearmongering  

It can be easy for those working in sustainability communications to get drawn into the catastrophic consequences of climate inaction. While these may be true, this narrative creates feelings of fear, guilt, anger, despair, and helplessness in the public – emotions that are rarely conducive to productive action. The climate story must instead centre around hope for the future, highlighting more ‘pull’ factors than ‘push’.

Instead of scaring the public into climate anxiety, campaigners must emphasise what we’re doing right and what we can do for the future, rather than dwelling on everything we’re doing wrong. Activists should spotlight stories of hope and innovation, such as Tesla’s line of electric vehicles, energy storage and solar panels which, in 2021, prevented the release of 8.4 million metric tonnes of CO2e emissions into the atmosphere. At FINN Partners, we are telling the story of Mainetti’s pioneering recycling process, Polyloop, a solution to the single-use plastic challenge vexing the retail industry. Stories like these promise a greener future for us all and are more likely to excite the public.

Climate change should also be framed as an opportunity and a head start to the future, not as a sacrifice. For example, instead of asking people to give up meat, the health benefits of veganism should be emphasised. Instead of demanding people surrender their tried and tested petrol cars, electric vehicles should be spotlighted for their lower maintenance costs and advanced technology. Emphasising these changes underscores that we are stepping into a future where sustainability is the norm, and traditional methods like reliance on fossil fuels will become relics of the past.

Ultimately, communications professionals must employ strategies that are multi-channel in nature, conveying a positive message across earned, organic, social, and paid coverage. By framing climate messaging around the urgency of the issue – placing the consequences in the immediate present – and highlighting what good can come from acting, activists can position climate action as an appealing and exciting way forward for the public. This will garner the enthusiasm needed to make real and lasting change that secures a greener future for us all.


TAGS: Sustainability & ESG, Professional Services

POSTED BY: Shannon Pendleton