8 Jul 2020

After the 2008 financial crash, 16% of stimulus investment worldwide went into green initiatives. At this new economic juncture, as we seek to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, the UK’s commitment to reach net zero emissions by 2050 has been enshrined in law. For many, including the influential Committee on Climate Change and Climate Assembly UK, a body intended to be representative of the UK population, the UK’s recovery package should be explicitly guided by the net zero target – with accompanying policies to ensure their long-term sustainability.

It was against this backdrop that Chancellor Rishi Sunak today outlined his spending review including key policy announcements on the UK’s recovery from COVID-19.

The major announcement that was trailed in the media yesterday was a £3 billion “green investment” package, which the Treasury estimates will help support 140,000 green jobs. This includes a £2 billion grant scheme in England for projects such as insulation – a clear indication that the Government wants to be seen to be delivering green stimulus while helping consumers. The other £1 billion will be used to improve the energy efficiency of public sector buildings.

The response has been mixed: while many welcome the down payment on energy efficiency, others, including the Labour Party, have highlighted the exclusion of the private and social rented sector from the scheme. There is also a strong sense that while this is a good start, more needs to be done – and it is unlikely to end there as calls for more action intensify.

In a survey published this week by the Energy Institute, four out of five respondents confirmed they want to see a green recovery. Yesterday, the Common Wealth think tank published its proposals for a Green Recovery Act that would seek to ensure that climate action provides the core of the government’s stimulus package. A range of business sectors will also be eager to spur further action.

How have businesses communicated so far – and what next?

For businesses that want to help drive a green recovery, the Chancellor’s announcement should do little to change the approach to engaging with Government and the public. After more than 200 businesses and investors called for a green recovery in early June, some companies have used the green recovery as a hook to engage directly with Government and explain how they are already helping to deliver it.

Scottish Power’s chief executive Keith Anderson offered the perfect media soundbite in asserting that the Government should “electrify the hell out of everything right now”, while his counterpart at SSE, Alistair Phillips-Davies, was similarly quotable in arguing that “it’s easy to talk about a green recovery, but we’re putting our money where our mouth is”.

It is right that companies like Scottish Power and SSE, which can play a major role in decarbonisation, help to drive the green recovery. But they should not be alone in communicating their vision – they should be joined by companies from a range of sectors and sub-sectors, from construction to automotive to agriculture, which will be central to delivering the constituent parts of a green recovery.

Over the coming year, as the Government makes further decisions on the green recovery in the build-up to COP26 in Glasgow, engagement with relevant departments will be more important than ever. The Treasury, which is particularly concerned with net zero and green recovery currently, will be keen for companies to come prepared with evidence-backed solutions, fostering productive relationships with stakeholders and helping to inform decision-making.

Traditional and social media will be important channels for companies to complement engagement with political stakeholders. The way that this information is conveyed must be clear, concise and communicable to translate the technical into the digestible while placing it in the wider context. Statkraft, a Hanover client, has done this to good effect in the past week, turning a complex subject matter – an innovative project to manage grid stability and further decarbonise the power sector – into a story worthy of national media coverage in the Guardian.

In communicating publicly, companies should focus on the “I” and the “we” – what they can bring to individuals to aid the recovery from the pandemic, but also what they can do for society in addressing the climate emergency.

Of course, this will be no different to how most major businesses have been communicating since the 2008 financial crash. The difference this time is that the incentive is even greater – and there might just be a policy framework to support a green transformation.