Climate Change

7 tips for communicating nature-positive ambition

Discussion of nature-positive action will be central in this year's NYC Climate Week. Companies must ensure they're communicating their work on it effectively.

Discussion of nature-positive action will be central in this year's NYC Climate Week. Companies must ensure they're communicating their work on it effectively. Image: Abbie Trayler-Smith/Panos

Joel Makower
Chairman and Co-founder, GreenBiz Group
Emily Poyser
Communications Lead, World Economic Forum
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Climate Change

This article is part of: Centre for Nature and Climate

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  • With Africa Climate Week underway, and NYC Climate Week approaching, nature-positive is the phrase on everyone's lips
  • But what does it really mean? And how can business leaders communicate how they're contributing to it?
  • Taking accountability, avoid greenwashing, speaking to your critics are just some of the ways communicators can ensure their company's impact is understood.

Climate Week NYC is approaching. Civil society groups, companies and governments are readying their announcements, op-eds and talking points. This year, these materials will no doubt contain the term nature-positive.

But what does being nature-positive really mean? How do we get there? Who is responsible? How do we talk about it?

Defining nature-positive action

Nature-positive action means making a positive impact on the planet. It means going beyond reducing negative impacts on the natural world, to actually reversing declines in biodiversity through restoration and building resilience of ecosystems and natural resources.

Nature-positive is quickly becoming a key topic in industries including: travel and hospitality, food and agriculture, energy and utilities, construction, financial services and more. Companies increasingly embedding individuals with ‘nature’ or ‘biodiversity’ in their job titles to lead their nature-positive efforts.

It is important to note that companies, however, cannot become nature-positive, but can contribute to a nature-positive economic and societal goal. While communicating their commitments and efforts can be important for companies, such claims must be backed with measurable and time-bound commitments to biodiversity. This can be achieved by following established pathways, using specific tools or acting in accordance with disclosure frameworks.

As civil society groups, companies and governments prepare for the fast-approaching Climate Week NYC, the term nature-positive will certainly be included in discussions, publications, addresses and social media. Understanding how to communicate nature-positive action can help companies address this topic effectively.

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7 principles for communicating nature-positive action

In some cases, communication can mean broadcasting action far and wide. In other cases, it means subtle and directed communications to key stakeholders.

Here are seven guiding principles for companies delivering nature-positive communications.

1. Accountability stretches beyond shareholders

You cannot build trust with any community or group without open, two-way communications. This is a principle applied by governments, charities and companies — ensuring accountability to communities for any decision or action that affects them. It’s often difficult and complex, but can reap rewards in the long-term.

Good-quality communication can help explain corporate projects in a public-friendly way, build confidence in your contribution to nature-positive goals, help projects achieve their aims and foster trust among business, government, the public and civil society.

2. Inclusive and equitable communication is a must

It’s a no-brainer to highlight diverse perspectives in communications, including young people, women, Indigenous peoples and local communities. Just like your strategies, it can’t be done without these unique and different viewpoints. But communicators must go beyond this. It is important to be sensitive to cultural and generational norms, to invite feedback from diverse groups, to learn more about their needs and embed these in communications.

3. Greenwashing will come back to bite you

The practice of making exaggerated, generic or unverifiable claims about benefiting nature can be problematic, but without an agreed definition for greenwashing, companies can make inadvertent missteps. Greenwashing tends to be more sloppy than sinister, as companies under-resource their communication strategies, and fail to back up their claims with data or incorporate stakeholder feedback.

Greenwashing can lead to declining investor, consumer and media confidence in nature-positive claims. A lack of trust in the impact, environmental integrity or social inclusion of projects can undermine the progress of a company’s communications. To make sure greenwashing doesn’t occur, seek third-party verification of your claims or achievements, educate your stakeholders about the issue of greenwashing and explain how your organization is committed to avoiding it. Increase levels of transparency to show real change and, where possible, provide stakeholders access to monitoring data.

A growing number of companies are developing metrics or key performance indicators to help them assess and communicate progress. A growing number of science-based organizations offer assistance or resources to help them do this. Radical transparency can be a friend.

4. Being quiet helps no one

‘Greenhushing’ is on the rise, as more companies choose to keep their nature projects from scrutiny. This can undermine a sense of collective action and accountability and erode trust between companies and the communities, media and public.

Companies often have significant profiles and large audiences which can be leveraged to inspire others to act. The idea of moving to models that support nature is not straightforward. Helping audiences understand the complexities involved with a company’s actions engenders transparency and builds credibility.

5. Speak to your critics

Even the best-laid communications plans can attract criticism — but not every critic wants to see you fail. Most critics want you to be your best self, even if their demands are vague or unclear. And critical friends can push you to do better, telling you what isn’t good enough, calling you out on greenwashing or on not setting sufficient targets or timetables. Don’t confuse critical friends for haters.

Embracing constructive criticism is an opportunity for growth and improvement. Maintain an optimistic outlook, acknowledge feedback and use it to improve. Make clear your commitment to be ambitious and to continuous improvement. It's not about avoiding criticism, but using it as a tool for learning and strengthening stakeholder relationships.

6. Get internal alignment

By bringing together internal stakeholders early and often, communicators can integrate the expertise from each department to reflect their language. By understanding the subject matter and sensitivities of internal stakeholders, you can build communications that work across the organization.

Long before soliciting signoff from a subject matter expert, check and double-check the accuracy of a communication. Have playbooks, guides and protocols ready. Create a list of frequently asked questions that can be distributed across departments, and have all of your analysis and facts in order and be able to stand behind them if there is a challenge. Having a board-level or C-suite representative accountable for and championing the nature-positive strategy can also lead to consistent outcomes when it comes to communications.

7. The power of the collective

Emphasizing the importance of collective impact and partnerships is key to halting and reversing biodiversity degradation and collapse. Well-constructed communications plans can encourage collaboration across sectors and organizations. Linking communications to the nature-positive movement and global frameworks, such as the Global Biodiversity Framework, can help underscore that this is a topic that will require everyone’s involvement. Only by working together can we demonstrate meaningful change and encourage others to act.

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The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

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