Europe’s Green Deal makes sustainability a key business goal
Companies are expected to show how they can reach carbon neutrality
Climate change pervades every aspect of our society, economy and environment. The fact that protest movements occur around the globe, and many commentators now speak of a climate crisis, is a testament to the urgency of the issue and the high level of societal engagement. There are enormous challenges ahead. The actions needed to tackle this crisis will disrupt businesses across the board, creating both challenges and opportunities.
Governments are adapting slowly to the systemic nature of the threat by taking a more comprehensive approach to policymaking. Instead of sector-specific policies to trigger climate action, European Union policymakers are focusing on horizontal sustainability policy drivers (climate, environment and competitiveness) that target entire supply chains — from products’ raw material sourcing, production and packaging, to transport, recycling and possibly reuse.
The European Green Deal
After being sworn in on 1 December, the new European Commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, unveiled the European Green Deal — a new approach to policymaking that will include a wide range of commitments and initiatives for climate, environment, energy, transport, health, biodiversity and competitiveness. With this package, Europe is attempting to lead the way globally by turning sustainability into a competitive advantage.
The Green Deal will provide principles to guide the transition to a climate neutral economy, while ensuring sustainability, equitability, industrial competitiveness and security of energy supply. A number of concrete initiatives will be released as part of the Green Deal, namely an EU-wide 2050 climate neutrality law, a new circular economy action plan, the 2030 biodiversity and farm-to-fork strategies, and a comprehensive industrial strategy.
These initiatives are expected to have far-reaching impact across a variety of sectors, such as transport, energy, information and communications technology (ICT), packaging, health, construction, manufacturing, textile and agriculture. The unprecedented reach of the Green Deal signals that policy areas are more integrated than ever before.
Today, it is essential for organizations to align their advocacy strategy with this evolution — a key to successful interest representation.
Navigating the new policy reality
To explore how stakeholders can navigate this new policy reality, we convened a panel of experts for the second #WSTalks Climate Communications event to show how these changes will impact advocacy activities. The expert panel took a deep dive into to these issues to find answers, before an audience of representatives from the European Commission, EU Member States, industry and civil society.
They began with this premise: sustaining climate and environment ambitions, along with ensuring competitiveness and social welfare imperatives, must be addressed holistically. This near-total integration of areas, and related public policies, forces stakeholders to adapt and evolve their policy engagement (advocacy and communications) to ensure the successful representation of their interests. Public scrutiny is increasingly challenging the status quo, as one of the speakers noted.
Science, economics, and people reign
The main message? Sustainability is not an add-on, but rather a cornerstone of any business strategy and related advocacy strategy, requiring commitments and a clear action plan to fulfil them. Or in the words of panelist Philippe Tulkens, Deputy Head of Unit Climate and Planetary Boundaries at the Directorate-General for Research and Innovation in the European Commission: “The most impactful way for companies to engage the Commission is by showing that doable, affordable solutions are available and test climate neutrality as a viable business model.”
The Green Deal is holistic by design. It calls for an advocacy strategy that sets clear priorities and provides a robust implementation plan. Messages must be underpinned by scientific facts to compel action by policymakers and civil society. There must also be alignment between corporate and policy communication now more than ever.
According to Tulkens, three drivers are needed to achieve climate neutrality: science, economics, and people. As he put it: “Science-based decision making needs to be supported all along the process, the economic framework needs to favour the transition and people need to be involved in the decision making process and supported in the transition.”
Stakeholders also must lead the way by outlining how they can decarbonize. Panelist Belén Flor Villa, Head of European Regulatory Analysis at Iberdrola, stressed that stakeholders need to internalise the fight against climate change in their corporate strategy. Different sectors and geographies will require different solutions. As she noted, “European countries have different renewable capabilities, weather, industry weight… so there will not be a unique solution for the whole EU.” This applies to any large geography.
What else is essential for success? The formation of broad alliances that can tackle the issues at hand, ensuring flexibility and cooperation. In the words of panelist Nico Muzi, Director Communications and Campaigns at the NGO Transport and Environment, “NGOs sometimes have to partner even with ‘arch-enemies.’ When we agree, we need to tell policymakers that we agree, so we can all move forward.”
Stakeholders will also need to team-up in public-private and civil society coalitions to successfully navigate and contribute to the Green Deal, and the flurry of policies it will deliver. Single-handed advocacy actions with messages that only pertain to an individual interest are no longer an option. Stakeholder advocacy in the age of the European Green Deal will be most successful by focusing on collaborative, integrated and science-based solutions.
If you would like any further information on this issue, please contact Stephen Jackson at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Article edited by Emily Vander Weele and Sally Squires