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Article • 12/12/2023

Our AI analyzed the global environmental & ESG conversation. Here’s how you can win.

By Dan Gaynor, Head of Strategic Solutions at Signal AI

The latest UN climate summit–called COP28–featured myriad storylines about how the global community plans to tackle rising temperatures, melting glaciers, and looming famines. Glimmers of hope emerged, like over $2 billion in new financing for resilient agriculture. But so did bitter debates, like a standoff over an agreement to rapidly phase out fossil fuels.

If anything is clear, it’s that COP28 will put companies in the crosshairs. In 2024, corporations face the pressure to report, clarify, and quantify ESG milestones. For CEOs, CMOs, and CCOs alike, the same question is at the top of their inbox: “How can we lead our peers on Purpose?”

Our Strategic Solutions team dove into the data, unearthing insights with our proprietary AI.

Let’s start with the big picture: to win on ESG, focus storytelling on the “E”. Despite culture issues dominating our political discourse, environmental stories generate more than double the volume as societal stories. With decades of pressure from governing nations, activist groups and investors, it’s essential for corporations to demonstrate how their entire operational footprint–from suppliers to shelves–mitigates harsh environmental impacts. As Bloomberg recently reported, there is still ambiguity across big banks’ definitions of “sustainable” so it remains hard to adequately compare climate strategies. In other words, if you want to be renowned on ESG, it’s not about solar, or carbon credits, or direct air capture, or any individual technology–it’s about the clarity of your comprehensive plan. 

Digging deeper into the data, we dug into how environmental storylines resonate across regions.

Global Landscape: Regional Storylines and Opportunities

In the East, environmental storylines are a trinity: they’re tangible to local populations, emanate from local supply chains, and drive local dynamism (for example, Asia is adding renewable energy capacity at the fastest clip of any region).

In the West, it’s more political: there’s bubbling tension around unlikely-to-be-met climate commitments made to cut emissions. With so many companies committing to net-zero by 2030 to 2050, conservative commentators continue to prioritize profits over purpose. In the U.S., for instance, feisty Republicans cast any ESG improvement as a “woke” conspiracy, forcing President Biden to use his first veto to ensure pension plans could invest in sustainable funds. For companies, it means any action on environmental issues risks association with the climate change agenda of “big government.”

But there’s a place where both the East’s and West’s environmental storylines converge: sustainable manufacturing. 

It emerges as the top Battleground Topic across 40+ industries. Nowhere is this more important than the auto industry. As the supply of electric vehicles soars, car companies–particularly those still churning out gas guzzlers–are receiving the highest volume of negative coverage. Other industries with relatively high scrutiny on sustainable manufacturing include transportationfood and beverage and retail. On the heels of the hottest year on record, the perception of these sectors (which produce a lot of plastic and ship it long distances) suffers from consistent accusations around greenwashing.

The key differentiator between the criticized and the celebrated? Real, measurable action. As ESG becomes a reputational microscope, there’s an emerging opportunity to win by investing in sustainable solutions, like how a group of retail brands – Puma, On, Patagonia – collectively invested in groundbreaking recycling technology.

How can your communications strategy action these insights?

It’s about adopting an approach of informed agility. In such a fractured landscape, companies need more than a sense of direction; they must harness a data-driven framework to iterate their corporate nuarrative as conversations shift. Reputation is a moving target. And in order to protect it, you must have insight that moves at the speed of storylines.

The most agile companies incorporate that data into a fleet of tools–from automated reputation dashboards to C-Suite intelligence reports–that consistently optimize their editorial calendars.

But above all, it’s about authenticity. Done right, data can help you elevate the most powerful proof point from your business–telling the right story, to the right audience, and with the right cadence, so you’re consistently surfing ahead of the competition.

Get in touch with me and our Strategic Solutions team at [email protected] to hear more about our powerful reputation benchmarking tools.

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