Facilitating Engagement for a Climate Positive World
With Gabrielle Martinovich, Director at CreativePivot, NSW.
There is little doubt that sustainability is important to stakeholders and ESG claims are driving our engagement. The recent IPSOS Climate Change Report highlights renewable energy as the environmental issue Australians would like to see most action on, however confidence in the energy transition leading to positive outcomes appears to be waning.
So, what does facilitating engagement for a climate positive world look like in our everyday engagement practice?
Ditch the Greenwashing, Transparency is Critical – and it’s Uncomfortable
At its simplest, greenwashing is where there is a gap between the environmental claim you make and the action you take.
At the other end of the spectrum, greenwashing is the use of vague and unclear terms – green, eco-friendly, responsible. And in the middle are claims that are absolute or unsubstantiated – 100% plastics free, zero emissions.
Many of our projects are investing in emissions reduction programs, tree planting or switching the focus to lower carbon options. However, for many of our stakeholders such an investment is small compared to business as usual.
In March 2023 ASIC released its first scan of the Australian market which places greater scrutiny on greenwashing and taking action to protect consumers. Following a scan of 247 businesses they found 57 per cent had made concerning claims about environmental credentials. Most recently infringement notices were issued to a renewable energy company in relation to statements and images contained in two ASX announcements which claimed that electricity produced would be carbon neutral.
The credibility of ESG claims relies heavily on transparency – of emissions, production methods and legacy options. Traditionally we have at times avoided talking about the things that detract from the work in progress which often creates a tension that can be difficult to resolve. No longer can we rely on stakeholders not to dig deep into the details or green statements to be accepted as given. Our engagement has to be clear upfront about what we can do, where we will focus our attention and how we will reconcile the rest.
Build your Technical Competence
ESG is complex and it’s technical – and whether we like it or not we need to be technically competent. We need to be able to join the conversations with legal, corporate affairs and sustainability teams to navigate these issues in order to find the best project outcomes.
Even though our main aim is to harness community participation and engage stakeholders, we need to be climate- literate in net zero, carbon neutral and how carbon accounting and offsetting work. It’s important as practitioners we understand the nuances so we can close the gap between claim and action in our engagement activities and avoid potential greenwashing.
Embed Climate in our Engagement Strategy
If you can’t support your project with details and a clear plan – don’t say it. The purpose of the strategy is to generate long-term value. Your credibility is in the detail – announcing emissions reduction without an accompanying plan and transparency of how your tracking doesn’t cut it. For example, when talking to our stakeholders and communities we can’t say we’re going to stop servicing fossil fuel customers at a community consultation only to have project teams and clients continue to do so.
Other evolving areas of sustainability focus are biodiversity, human capital, and human rights. We now need to factor in nature as a partner, be disaster prepared and keep an eye on the human impacts of our projects.
Projects that leverage learnings early and align to best practice in developing infrastructure assets will be best placed in the transition to a more sustainable and equitable future.
Governance Beyond the Compliance
In our projects we work with a range of governance frameworks such as ESG, Sustainability Development Goals and B Corp. Whichever we choose, the role of climate governance is to make locally implementable decisions that fit within climate action, including within the objectives of international agreements such as the Paris Agreement.
As engagement practitioners we are constantly pulled in many directions – by project teams, industry, clients, and community.
Governance is also about the choices we make that impact this myriad of stakeholders. Ultimately, we need to engage all stakeholders, and not just the loudest ones, to have conversations and participate in decisions which enable the best possible outcome for everyone.
In an ever-changing crisis of bushfires, floods, and El Nino, we need to continue to seek the opportunities in these risks. Facilitating engagement for a climate positive world is no longer a question of can we, we must.