Climate Week – What It’s Really About
March 21, 2011 § 2 Comments
So here it is, Climate Week has started.
If you’re involved in the climate movement, you’ll have had a discussion on this, no doubt.
When I first heard about it last summer, I assumed it was a London version of the New York Climate Week championed by Mayor Bloomberg over there for the last couple of years. But this Climate Week is a different kettle of fish. It positions itself as a –
supercharged national occasion that offers an annual renewal of our ambition and confidence to combat climate change. It is for everyone wanting to do their bit to protect our planet and create a secure future.
And looking at the map of events – this is the kind of engagement that organisations like Stop Climate Chaos could only dream of. Schools, offices, community organisations – all sorts of groups are hosting an event of some sort. In the face of disappearing media coverage on climate change, this is something that should be praised.
So why now? What’s the strategic reason for doing this in the last week of March? Is it the highly important/under-reported Energy Bill in Parliament? Is it pushing the government on Sustainabile Development Commission, the Green Investment Bank, or the EU’s stance on the second Kyoto commitment period?
Perhaps it was all about coinciding with that epitome of public engagement/media friendliness WWF’s Earth Hour happening on Saturday March 26th. And yet there seems to be no evidence of a formal partnership. Was the idea of Climate Week’s sponsors just too unpalatable, and too damaging? After all, RBS, EDF Energy and Tesco’s are perhaps three of the most ‘love-to-hate’ corporates for climate activists.
Indeed, for the corporates funding Climate Week, this is partly about brand management. Immediately Naomi Klein’s voice rings in my head – “this is how they undermine our work, by claiming our public space.” And that remains largely true.
BUT – if we move beyond seeing Climate Week as a movement or political tactic – and instead if we understand Climate Week to be a tool for those inside corporations to be able to gain enough clout to push sustainability messages through to their customers – that’s a different conversation. We sometimes forget that there are many sustainability advocates within corporations who want to see it do less harm. But without persuasive business arguments, it’s hard to win those debates. Showing public support for climate action, in association with their brand, gives these internal champions much more fire power. And we need those people to be winning those arguments.
Don’t get me wrong, I want a total transformation of what business is, and how it does it, but from little things, big things grow.
And think of the public outreach potential.
Imagine – if every one of the 2,000 Tesco stores, with their hundreds of thousands of customers, had some sort of bold climate-related message at the check-out counter. Something about the fact that Tesco’s is reducing it’s supply chain carbon emissions by 30%, about how climate change matters to them as a company (and should matter to you too). Talk about reaching a new audience! Do not underestimate the power of a trusted brand bringing this message to those outside our (campaigner’s) spheres of influence.
So this for me is the real test: through Climate Week, do we see meaningful public engagement that then becomes part of the brand message? And do we see internal changes in the sponsor’s products, and ultimately, in their business model?
Climate Week isn’t really about the climate movement, it’s about a conversation about the future of business.
Other views on this question –
- Danny Chivers in the New Internationalist.
- Jo Clarke on the Otesha Project blog.
- People & Planet greenwash campaign. (As an aside, the CEO of Climate Week is a former Director of People & Planet…)
- Adam Ramsay in Bright Green.
- Bibi van der Zee in the Guardian.
- Peter Lipman in the Transition blog.
- Matilda Lee in the Ecologist.
- Martyn Williams in politics.co.uk.
- Damian Carrington in the Guardian.