Talking about the climate crisis can be tricky (boy, do we know it). You want to communicate a sense of urgency without freaking people out; you want to encourage action without making people feel guilty. For business leaders in particular, with employees all experiencing and thinking about it differently, the climate crisis can be a bit of a communication quandary.
So this week, Pawprint’s Founder, Christian, explains how he would approach the tone, mood and content of climate communication with employees.
Watch the video or read the transcript below.
Beth: Why do you think it’s important for business leaders to engage with employees on the climate crisis?
Christian: It’s the biggest challenge facing our generation of business leaders, and one that has existential consequences for businesses and for people. True leadership is about taking on those big challenges. Business leaders should have an opinion, have a plan, and engage their people on it.
Beth: In terms of climate communication, is there anyone that you look up to who you think is getting it right?
Christian: The person who has inspired me hugely in terms of tone is Mike Berners-Lee, Scientific Advisor at Pawprint and author of several notable books including How Bad Are Bananas? And There’s No Planet B. Mike manages to combine real, deep concern with a very empathetic, human approach. He respects that everyone has a different level of understanding and readiness to make changes, and gives people the information they need to make their own decisions. At Pawprint we try to ape his tone.
Beth: Absolutely - we talk a lot about not being judgemental. Do you think you naturally lean towards a tone like that, or is it something you’ve had to practise?
Christian: Definitely not. I think I’m quite a judgemental person—it’s something you’re taught to do in business, to make quick decisions. [Being non-judgemental is] tricky to cultivate and to stick to, especially when it’s something you feel strongly about. But I have a strong sense of conviction that we need to maintain that non-judgemental approach if we’re going to reach a broad church. One of the major challenges we’ve seen in the world—in politics—is polarisation or tribalism and what I’d like to see is people coming together against this threat, putting our differences aside and moving in the right direction… Then we’ll be able to secure a good place for our children and our children’s children to live in.
Beth: Totally - it often comes from a place of passion, but it’s about trying to rein that passion in and let it come out as compassion. So, we’ve chatted about tone or mood. Now I want to ask about content—what should leaders be aware of when discussing an issue which impacts everyone but not everyone in the same way, or not even equally?
Christian: Yeah, that’s a really big one. The content needs to be considerate, for people coming at it from very different angles. Be aware of the impact of climate change in different countries. It also needs to be respectful of different attitudes to different areas of life, whether that’s diet or personal freedoms, etc. I think we need to be careful about sweeping statements; presenting people with scientifically-valid information and a personal view that doesn’t come across as moralising is important. But not shying away from discussions, because radical change in situations is needed. It’s a really difficult communication quandary.
Beth: I think you touched on it in a couple of places, but to round off can you summarise Pawprint’s approach to communication and why you think it engages our customers’ employees?
Christian: Our approach is probably best embodied by Bjorn the Bear, our non-judgemental polar bear. When you get your Pawprint, the first thing I imagine him saying to you is ‘Don’t beat yourself up, we can only do what we can do’. Then he’d say, ‘It’s about small steps, and what’s right for you’, because we all have slightly different beliefs and constraints. So Bjorn sums up our approach—we try to inject some humour and some character and make it feel human and achievable. It’s about everyone working together and doing little bits on an ongoing basis.