As October approaches and the UK shifts seamlessly into Autumn, we mark the countdown to the UN Conference of Parties – COP26, which will kick off in Glasgow one month from today.

The two-week event marks a moment where leaders from the world of business, politics and the not-for-profit sector will convene to discuss the climate change crisis and our global progress. As with any major global event, organisations are vying for space to tell their story and share their own commitments as the environment continues to play an ever-important role in the future strategy, and success of global business.

However, despite the all-consuming nature of the event for those in the thick of it, there continues to be nervousness that, beyond those jostling for Blue Zone tickets, the significance of the event itself and what it is trying to achieve isn’t being played out on a wider stage – most notably with the public. Indeed, the latest Kantar data suggests that “tackling climate change and protecting the environment” remains a polarising issue, with only four in ten Britons thinking climate change should be more of a priority for governments than before the pandemic.

So, will this level (or lack of) of engagement continue as we run-up to the biggest moment on the global climate agenda this year? And how should those brands who want to get their story across be planning to engage around this period?

As with all big global moments – something we witnessed through the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games just a couple of months ago – the run-up to events of this magnitude are filled with a ‘pre-event vacuum’, creating speculation around how the event will be received and the level of engagement it should expect. But as soon as the action starts, the tables turn overnight and papers, TVs and social feeds are crammed with the latest goings-on.

Much the same can be expected at COP26 as it marks an important moment for brands to make real and concrete commitments on their sustainability progress. As a result, we can expect media and the public will be turning a close eye to those who want to be part of the action by sharing their own sustainability story. So, what do brands who want to communicate around this moment need to factor in?

  • Reporting the whole truth.
    Sustainability reporting has long been met with complex metrics and acronyms, making it difficult for those on the outside to get a clear, comparable sense of one set of reporting to another. But it is vitally important for businesses to be clear about the whole truth of their sustainability claims – being humble about the size of commitment they are making, and honest about the things they are not yet in a position to answer. The need for clarity around this communication has just been made more prevalent with the launch of the Green Claims Code from the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA). The CMA will be carrying out a full review of claims early next year, to ensure that firms making green claims do not ‘omit or hide important information’ as well as ensuring they consider ‘the full life cycle of the product’ within their reporting.
  • Moving beyond the numbers.
    As more and more organisations clarify their stance on their journey to Net Zero, it is no longer enough to state what you are trying to achieve, but importantly, businesses need to deliver a clear plan for how they intend to reach the targets they set. Any businesses reporting on metrics of this nature should be prepared to discuss the plans they are putting in place to make these targets a reality.
  • The long term vision.
    COP26 is two weeks. An important two weeks of course, but a limited timeframe in the grand schemes of things. What happens next? Any brands looking to be a part of the conversation around COP must also ensure they have their longer-term vision in place to avoid the potential of being seen to use this important moment for progress as an opportunity for their own promotion.

It is clear the next month will see a continual ramping up of news and conversation around COP26 as the event draws nearer. It marks a moment in time for business, government, not-for-profit and the public to come together to prioritise our response to the climate emergency. For those brands who communicate truthfully, authentically and with a long-term vision in mind, it also marks an opportunity to set a best-in-class example for others to follow.