- Corporate Communication
Diogenes, the Greek philosopher who went about ancient Athens with a lantern in the daytime, looking for an honest man, was the most noted of the Cynics, a school of philosophy that preached that virtue was better revealed in action than in theory.
In the business world today we have the Diogenes of corporate greening.
We have greening evaluators, we have scoring systems that look at companies and their environmental performance, with special emphasis on carbon reduction.
The Diogenes of corporate greening looks for action rather than theory.
Performance over promises or mission statements.
Green scoring systems are becoming more sophisticated. We still have some basic, simplified, Web-ready cartoon approaches. Look at http://www.climatecounts.org It’s a neat site. Cleverly done. It puts companies into categories based on field track. Companies are either stuck (squatting but not running), starting (pushing off the starting blocks) or striving (running on the track).
This is not a bad tool for a company communicator to use to get some sense — a snapshot — of how other companies are doing, and to test their scores against how your company would be scored.
Beyond this simplified level are the disclosure and measurement systems.
The Carbon Disclosure Project, which is the largest system, started in Great Britain, and is now forcing many companies to reveal their carbon emissions. And there are the very large, accounting based systems put up by the International Standards Organization — ISO standards are the most recognized in safety and environment in company operations — as well as the ASTM and other statistical based systems.
The bottom line of all this is that what companies asked for many years ago has come to pass.
Business speakers at the UN Conference in Rio in 1992 asked their critics — at that time, burgeoning green activism movement — to apply to American companies, at least, what might be called the Ronald Reagan approach. Trust but verify.
Specifically, our speaker from business at that international conference on sustainable development told the critics: “Don’t trust us, track us.”
And we unveiled our own voluntary tracking system to measure operational emissions.
This was the first, unified attempt at an international level to put corporations into the greening game, to have something to say about the rules of the game — and, my observation is, they achieved some success. They got in early, helped shape the terms of the debate, showed the would be Diogenes where and how to look for facts and honest reporting — and achieved a position ahead of the game beginning in 1992.
Now, 17 years later, it’s a new game.
Companies are still open to emissions tracking.
But the new game, not activated or seriously contemplated in 1992, is all about measurement of carbon reduction, of greenhouse gas emissions, of the impact on climate change.
This drives to the heart of power generation, industrial operations, and ultimately to the carbon values and pricing of virtually all products.
This new greening game — call it Corporate Greening 2.0 — is in effect about carbonomics. A new kind of economic and financial thrust which will, in all likelihood, be regimented through cap and trade regulations, where government sets the cap on climate-related emissions and sells permits, at some price per pound of these emissions, and effectively creates a market controlled largely by government to reduce emissions.
And this has drawn new interest and created a new market for the evaluators — new Diogenes searching — for honest, quantifiable data.
What are the corporate communications implications?
Obviously this changes our game — or rather our deal between companies and their stakeholders — to deliver information, to generate confidence that is reliable, leading to the trust that sustains these stakeholders. Anyone involved with companies needs to be expanding transparency and accountability on carbon reduction and climate change implications, in order to help the evaluators as they evaluate and report on the company’s numbers, intentions and relative standings.
Maybe the chief communications officer needs take up the lamp of Diogenes in the C-suite. Part of the CCO mission in the new game may at least be to encourage the appropriate people to take their lamps into the company’s operations and disclosures on energy, carbon and climate impact.
Companies need facts of the new game readily available. This follows Arthur Page’s principle of tell the truth and back it up with evidence.
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