Hi there Per Espen Stoknes, co-director at the BI Center for Climate strategy, Norwegian Business School
Should we stop debating climate change and instead converse about the climate, or how do we take the matter forward?
- It is very important that we keep speaking about climate disruptions, as too few people rarely hear it mentioned. Many people hear about climate change less than once a month, and almost never from their colleagues or friends. Speaking about climate helps bring it nearer, as many people distance themselves from it, as if it had nothing to do with themselves. But when we speak about global warming, we should use other framings or perspectives than the conventional. Based on psychology research I advice people to switch from cost, sacrifice and catastrophe to focusing on health, safety and smart possibilities when speaking about climate.
You have said that for every negative news about climate change, we need to hear three positive news. Why?
- It depends on what you want to achieve. If you want to invoke fear, guilt and scare people, go ahead and paint the coming catastrophe in vivid language. If you want to get people engaged and change behaviour, we have better options. In psychology there’s good support for a positivity ratio of 1 : 3. This means that for each climate threat that you focus on, you should also highlight three opportunities for constructive action, health benefits or safety considerations. This is the best way to create engagement and the creativity needed to change our society’s course.
Is it profitable for businesses to reduce their climate impact?
- CDP is the world’s leading standard for reporting climate emissions. From their database we’re getting more and more evidence that profitability and carbon productivity goes hand in hand: Rapid reduction of climate emissions, correlate with overall economic performance. Companies with climate strategies are getting more attractive to investors, capitalising on new business opportunities and revenue streams, and building resilience for the future, see CDP.
How should we communicate the climate issue to the business sector?
- We need to get CEOs and CFOs onboard. I think there are three main commercial drivers that explain why tackling climate emissions sooner rather than later makes strategic sense for business. First, reduced risk: Both to fossil fuel price volatility, and to climate litigation and being ahead of coming stronger regulations. Second, improved performance: By rethinking supply chain, operations and product portfolio, the energy costs can be cut and resource use radically improved. This gives green competitive advantage. Third, there is brand reputation. Both among customers and in attracting smart talent, being green and climate smart is rapidly becoming of paramount importance. Together these three explain a lot of why green companies are more profitable than the conventional “gray” companies.
How should businesses communicate the climate issue to the rest of society?
- Help building the narrative of how and why green growth is smart. To be credible one’s own performance has to be well documented and the climate targets must be connected to the planetary boundaries. We call this approach science based targets in alignment with the Paris agreement. When the company has products and services that can help society transition, they should not be shy of marketing it as part of the solution. So first, get your own house in order, strengthen the sustainability requirements of your suppliers, improve your operations and products, - and then let the world know! So in a nutshell: words, money and action at the same time!
What can businesses contribute with in the climate debate?
- There are so many things companies can do to participate in society’s response; from putting pressure on politicians, to joining initiatives such as Haga or RE100 But also, for consumers, to provide for instance solutions that make it simple and convenient for people to take climate action. Businesses can - in all stores and web commerce - set the default option to the most climate friendly one. We call this “nudging”, from the field of behavioural economics. Today there are 100s of smart green nudges that help the consumer make greener everyday decisions, and then reinforce the effects to others through the power of social networks. This means that they can share and compare their own behaviour with friends and colleagues. It really reinforces the rate of diffusion, as most marketing professionals already know very well.