See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil
This article was originally published on Corporate Citizenship and is republished with permission.
I’ve got some good news and some bad news … First, the good news is that two-thirds of Americans are interested in global climate change and consider it personally important – how wonderful!
Now the bad news.
Since fewer than half of Americans are exposed to news coverage on climate change with any regular frequency, a stubbornly high proportion of the country (nearly 70%) report rarely ornever talking about climate change with their family or friends.
This is actually very bad news.
And even when people really care about the issue of climate change, they are shying away from discussing it because it’s not being covered widely or vigorously enough by the media.
News coverage of any issue can have a huge effect on public opinion – and climate change is no different.
The actions (or inactions) of the media can determine if an issue garners the attention it deserves or if an issue fades behind others.
We’re seeing this effect play out in the political sphere as well. Despite the stark differences between Hillary Clinton’s and Donald Trump’s views on climate and the environment, the two only spent a total of 82 seconds talking about climate change in last week’s Presidential debate– and it’s not because both candidates think that climate change is a hoax (spoiler alert: only The Donald thinks so).
Hillary Clinton’s platform calls climate change an “urgent threat” and a “defining challenge of our time … that threatens our economy, our national security, and our children’s health and futures.”
But in this strange tail-wagging-the-dog scenario, because the media isn’t broadly covering climate change, Americans (including our potential future leaders) are shying away from discussing it.
A report by Media Matters for America confirms that the media has been failing to inform the American public on this most important issue of our time.
2015 was a banner year: the hottest on record by far. It was a year in which the Pope delivered his historic climate encyclical. A year where the New York Attorney General launched an investigation into claims that ExxonMobil lied about climate change risks. Where President Obama launched the Clean Power Plan and rejected the Keystone XL pipeline. And where leaders of 195 countries gathered in Paris and agreed to cut carbon pollution to stem runaway global warming. Yet the combined climate coverage by leading American media outlets actually decreased five percentage points from the year prior.
Worse, where there were slight regional increases in the coverage of climate change, it was due to the airing of more segments on climate denial. CNN chief Jeff Zucker was even quoted saying that his network doesn’t cover climate change that much because “the audience isn’t interested”
But how can this be?
Almost a million people participated in the People’s Climate March in New York City in 2014; opposition to the Dakota Access Oil Pipeline has grown massively and become a national movement; and just this week, a critical number of nations, including European countries, Canada, and India joined the 62 countries that already signed the Paris Climate Agreement, tipping the accord over the threshold needed to be ratified.
Clearly, interest in and demand for more discussion around climate change exists; it’s just that the American media isn’t covering it.
Perhaps it’s up to the younger generations to break this media & climate change stalemate.
We recently conducted a survey seeking views from the Millennial generation (those born between the early 1980s and 2000) on how business can contribute to a more sustainable future. 81% of Millennials said they believed that the private sector has a very important role to play in solving global challenges like climate change, by helping to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Rather than relying on the media or other traditional channels to engage on important issues like climate change, Millennials are expecting businesses to step up to the plate in tackling major challenges, by communicating directly with them and by engaging in cross-sector collaborations.
A recent global survey by Nielsen found that 66% of people are willing to pay more for brands committed to making a positive social and environmental impact, and of those people, three-quarters were aged 34 and under.
These findings reinforce the message that not only do Millennials want to engage on topics like climate change and the environment, but consumer brands that demonstrate a commitment to sustainability outperform those that don’t.
Proof of this can be found with Unilever’s Sustainable Living Brands’ – a stable of brands under the Unilever umbrella which include Dove, Hellmann’s, and Lipton and have “integrated sustainability into both their purpose and products”
While only constituting a small portion of Unilever, these brands have delivered half of the company’s revenue in the last year and have grown almost 50% faster than Unilever’s conventional brands.
Instead of shying away from topics like climate change, Unilever has chosen to embrace it, understanding that business can and should play a leading role in disrupting markets and contributing to a more sustainable future.
By shifting away from skirting serious issues to facing them head-on, businesses are finding opportunities to connect with consumers, improve their reputations, and make meaningful contributions to addressing global challenges.
In an increasingly interconnected world, businesses can no longer ignore global challenges like climate change, resource scarcity, and pollution – they are now expected to be an active part of the solution.
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