Climate comms is failing, the industry must do more

It’s preachy, contradictory, and often abused for marketing glory, argues The Romans' Joe Lipscombe

Yesterday, the country witnessed its most dramatic rainfall in 75 years. As the storm collapsed roads, forced flights into holding, and washed away buses, it also dominated the online conversation. The climate was at the very centre of the nation’s thoughts.

And it got me thinking…  climate change communications is a mess. It’s preachy, contradictory, and often abused for marketing glory.

Thanks to social media, it’s cooler to be publicly angry about the climate than to be silently doing something about it.

The influencers sprouting sustainability practices on behalf of brands are the same influencers jet-setting around the world for clout.

The creatives of the world would happily burn to death while clutching their Cannes Lion for a sustainability campaign that achieved nothing of merit.


Critical climate communications (public health, for example) require messages that are understood and accessible around the world. Historically, these have been boring.

Long-term sustainability communications require collective action. The trouble is, on such a heavily politicised topic, we’ve never felt more divided.

Data from Yale in 2022 showed most of the world is “very or somewhat concerned” about the climate issue. Yet, according to the Global Carbon Budget, we’re emitting 40 per cent more carbon annually than we did in 1990.

So, our campaigns are working. To a degree. But alone, they’re not quite enough to move the needle when it comes to action. Even if they are winning creative awards.

What we need is lasting behavioural change. That requires clever interventions and nudges that are often no-thrills.

Behavioural science 

 The emergence of behavioural science in communications is still relatively new. As our skills, investment, and willingness grows, it’s an ideal time to apply behavioural communications to the climate crisis. To create fresh links between science and the people.

But this cannot be done with the bright lights of Cannes disrupting our view. It requires a selfless, collaborative, calculated approach to sustainability.

Capability, opportunity and motivation

By integrating behavioural science with accessible communications. Committing to single behaviours with long-term campaigns that are rooted in research. By channelling energy into not only promoting effective measures, but creating opportunities for those measures to be adopted seamlessly.

Behavioural scientists often use a model known as COM-B. It suggests that for an audience to engage in a change of behaviour, it needs to have the capability (can it actually do the behaviour?), opportunity (are the circumstances in their favour?), and motivation (do they actually want to do it?).

Historically, communicators have spent much of their time focused on capability, and with good reason. Raising awareness, educating, and knowledge-sharing. But the world needs more. And communicators that can now cross the threshold and contribute to the opportunity and motivation of desired behaviours can be very valuable indeed.

Piling creative energy into these effective yet often uninspiring solutions might not scratch the itch of classic creativity… but they might just help us reduce our impact on the planet.

By Joe Lipscombe, Partner & Head of UAE, The Romans