Cause and Effect: How global media brands can engage audiences for action around climate change

April 22, 2020

By Katya Ionova, Creative Director, UK & EMEA, Business Insider – Member of the World Media Group

With the COVID-19 pandemic presenting an existential threat to many areas of economic activity and human development, it’s no surprise to see governments worldwide prioritising economic recovery above all else. But as we mark the 50th anniversary of Earth Day today, let’s not forget another of our existential threats – climate emergency.

In late January, when COVID-19 was beginning its global assault, we were embracing the Decade of Action with a renewed commitment to sustainability at the World Economic Forum in Davos. Climate change and sustainability were the most discussed topics. For the first time, WEF’s Global Risk Report was dominated by the environment, with “failure of climate-change mitigation and adaption” cited as the year’s number one long-term risk, according to impact, and top second risk when measuring event likelihood.

Now, just three months later, we’re approaching Earth Day with 2.5M confirmed cases and 175K dead as a result of coronavirus. What may not be so apparent is the direct cause and effect relationship – both positive and negative – between these two existential threats. Global warming has been linked to an increase in diseases that could transfer from animal to human, and mass globalisation has facilitated the spread of such diseases. With more than a fifth of the global population under lockdown, however, COVID-19 could trigger the largest annual fall in CO2 emissions ever this year, due to interrupted energy demand and reduced economic activity.

In 2019, the “Greta effect” elevated climate change onto the global stage and into our collective consciousness. Now, COVID-19 has taken that a step further by enforcing behavioural change on a global level. As we prepare for life after COVID-19 – whatever the “new normal” may look like – we have a real opportunity to impact long-term change. As media organizations with global footprints, we have a responsibility to think about our own cause and effect: the critical issues we choose to cover, from pandemics to sustainability, have the potential to empower audiences into making meaningful and positive change.

At Business Insider that can be seen in our dedication to reporting on companies that balance profit with purpose. In 2018, our CEO and founder, Henry Blodget, issued a call for “better capitalism,” saying that sustainable economic growth comes from providing value for all stakeholders: employees, customers, and society. Since launching the Better Capitalism platform, sustainability has been a core editorial pillar of the company, with a focus on companies that deliver practical outcomes, not just PR hype.

We tell stories about the people and organisations working to solve our biggest problems. One of our most popular series was Saving Our World, a 2018 in-depth newsroom examination of how climate change is altering the way we eat, live, and power the world. This resonated deeply with our audience with engagement far surpassing our expectations.

In 2020, our focus is on the Circular Economy. Coinciding with the UN General Assembly in September, we’ll be launching Closing the Loop, a series about how corporations are operationalising closed-loop systems, and what it will take to make these practices widespread.

We’re not alone in our efforts. Many other World Media Group brands are dedicating more time and resources to ‘impact’ or ‘solutions’ journalism. The New York Times, for example, delivers a comprehensive weekly newsletter from its climate team with stories and insights about climate change, and tips on how to help.

The Washington Post launched Climate Solutions in partnership with Rolex last year, with a focus on individuals, companies, and other organisations that are exploring ways to address our most significant environmental problems. The series highlights people who are committed to reducing their own carbon footprints, and its Climate Curious feature provides readers with ideas for doing the same.

Last September, The Economist dedicated its weekly edition to climate change, with Editor-in-Chief, Zanny Minton Beddoes, saying, “Climate change is sometimes portrayed as something capitalism cannot deal with – or worse, does not want to deal with. That is not our view. Our reporting clearly shows the scale and scope of the problem; we accept that it cannot be solved simply; but we think free markets, smart regulation and liberal values are the key to an effective response.”

 The Economist continues to report regularly on climate change and produces a fortnightly newsletter featuring climate-change analysis. The Economist Films has produced three series of ‘The Protectors Oceans’, examining the science and radical thinking at work in tackling the crisis facing the world’s seas; and The Economist Group’s World Ocean Initiative (WOI) fosters a year-round global conversation on the greatest challenges facing the seas and the progress towards building a truly “blue” economy.

Bloomberg Media launched Bloomberg Green in January, a new editorial platform dedicated to the business, science, and technology of climate change. Focussing on climate change news, analysis and solutions, it includes a website with a global, interactive climate data dashboard, a daily email newsletter, a podcast and a magazine.

Finally, National Geographic has created its first ‘flip’ issue this April to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. The issue features two magazines in one, revisiting environmental milestones of the past half-century and looking ahead at the world our descendants will inhabit in 2070. The magazine presents two possible outcomes – firstly, a verdant green earth in which we have successfully reversed climate change; then a browner earth suffering from longer droughts, deadlier heat waves, fiercer storms, and more.

As we approach this year’s Earth Day, ask yourself, which outcome do you want to be responsible for creating?

The next few months will be key. As we search for the path towards the strongest possible economic recovery, media companies have a choice about the causes we continue to spotlight. The COVID-19 outbreak has given us a unique opportunity to heal the planet, but will we be prepared to socially distance ourselves from unsustainable business practices needed to flatten the curve of the persisting environmental crisis?