Changing the Story on Climate Change: From Climate Pessimism to Climate Optimism

In the run-up to the Companies vs Climate Change conference, Olivia Sprinkel, Head of Salterbaxter North America, spoke with Christine Needles, Senior Director, Global Corporate Communications for Interface. Christine is one of the panelists at the conference speaking about communicating on climate change.

OS. Let’s start with looking at what Interface is doing on climate change. Interface’s updated sustainability strategy is called Climate Take Back. Why the focus on climate?

CN: Two years ago, Interface brought together our Eco Dream team members, including Paul Hawken, Janine Benyus, Bill Browning and others from the original group that worked with Ray Anderson to help guide our sustainability mission. We were not too far from our Mission Zero target of eliminating any negative environmental impact by 2020. So it was time to take a look at what to do next. And climate is at the center of so many different issues. It has a huge ripple effect, including societal impacts and welfare impacts. From where we stood, we saw that if we tackled this big issue, we would be able to have a much bigger impact on all of these other issues – and surveying our customers, our employees and other stakeholders reaffirmed our approach.

Climate change is the biggest threat to humanity and to our institutions. In keeping with the spirit and legacy of our company, we see this is an opportunity to have a positive, lasting impact. Climate Take Back is a direct evolution of Mission Zero, and in keeping with Ray Anderson’s vision of a restorative organization

OS: What are your areas of focus within Climate Take Back?

Our main areas of focus are:

  • Live Zero: take only what can be replaced. If other companies had that as their mantra, imagine what that could look like?
  • Love Carbon – see carbon as a resource, use it as a building block. We have launched a new concept tile, our Proof Positive tile, which has a negative carbon footprint. The tile is made with raw materials that store carbon, resulting in less carbon dioxide in the atmosphere than if it had not been manufactured in the first place.
  • Let Nature Cool – mimic nature’s strategies, help nature do its own job to cool. At Interface we’re exploring the idea of Factories as a Forest. What are some things we can to do to be a contributor rather than a detractor to the local environment? For example, we planted a wall of ivy on the side of a building at our manufacturing site in Australia; this helps to cool the building in summer, and maintain heat in winter.

Lead the Industrial Re-Revolution — This is about creating new business models that drive change, including the circular economy. Interface is well known for our Net-Works program. We have partnered with the Zoological Society of London and Aquafil to collect discarded fishing nets. This creates opportunities for fishermen to gain additional wages, as well as tackle an environmental problem.

We are now thinking about our own roadmap in these areas. We have also created a plan that is available on Slideshare (http://www.interface.com/US/en-US/campaign/climate-take-back/Climate-Take-Back-Plan-en_US) for other companies to use, and inspire and help them in their own journeys.

OS: Given where we are at, whether recent natural disasters or the political landscape in the US, why we should be talking about climate optimism?

The narrative is doom and gloom. Every single day, there is a new article about how we are heading off the edge of a cliff. The media has a tendency to look for negative stories, in order to get clicks and create debate. Optimism needs to be the name of the game. We’ve got to start getting in front of the media, to change the narrative to enable us to continue to persevere. Solutions exist. And with more demand, comes an improvement in the economy of the solutions. If we focus on what’s not working, that’s not going to solve the problem. Why would industry want to invest if there is no hope? We have to be optimistic. If not us, then who?

There are not a lot of areas where communications are at the front end of the spear. We need to have the real technologies and approaches, but real change first requires a change in mindset. In the case of climate, that starts with optimism and the belief that positive change is possible.

OS: What about communicating with people who don’t believe climate change is an issue?

We need to band together with people who believe. The science exists. I would prefer to spend one minute with a person who wants to make a change, rather than spend that minute trying to convince someone who doesn’t. We need to focus on people we know get it. And we know there are many out there who do. In our recent global survey we found that 95 percent of climate experts and 91 percent of emerging business leaders believe we can create a climate fit for life.

Paul Hawken’s book, ‘Drawdown’ has 100 examples of actions we can take on climate change. We could multiply that list by 10 or 100 fold. We need to build momentum around the actions that we can take with those that have the energy to do so, rather than waste our energy on those who don’t. Events such as Companies vs Climate Change are an opportunity to focus on what we can do, and rally together. We need that as an energy source of optimism.

To finish, what are your top tips for communications on climate change?

First, don’t be afraid to make a big statement. It’s OK not to know all the answers. We’ve got to tackle some big issues. If you don’t name the goal, you are not going to get there. Be bold, don’t be afraid.

Secondly, try as best as you can not to feed into the negative narrative. Support each other. Share. The more optimistic that we are together, the more successful we will be.

And finally, persevere! We all have a lot to juggle. As communicators, we are balancing competing priorities. We are not alone. We have to come together.

Come together and join with Christine Needles and a host of professionals involved in taking action on climate change at Companies vs Climate Change in Miami, 29 November – 1 December.

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