Business and climate change: A special Edelman Trust Barometer report

Climate change has been a hot-button topic for decades. Even now, it remains a divisive subject, with many environmental activists calling for stronger action while some political figures and business leaders refuse to get involved. As climate fears worsen and government, business, and media are not trusted to do what is necessary to respond, a special report of the Edelman Trust Barometer shows there is a path forward to earn support and engagement with decisive climate action. 

Data from Edelman's Trust and Climate Change report reveals that institutions are struggling to form a response to climate change. For businesses, whom many consumers believe are the most trusted institutions to do what is right, the message couldn't be clearer: it's time to step up and start earning the trust of all stakeholders by taking action on climate change. Interestingly, these findings align with LRN's own research, highlighted in the LRN Benchmark of Ethical Culture. The report notes that employees in organizations with healthy ethical cultures are 1.8x more likely to speak up about misconduct—a strong indicator of trust that signals employees have faith that their concerns will be heard by business leaders who respect their needs. Overall, Edelman's report highlights a new organizational mandate: business must meet the moment to help save our planet. Let's explore some of the key findings.  

Climate change is a major concern, and people aren't optimistic about current sustainability efforts 

Edelman's data reveals that most people are concerned about climate change and want businesses to take decisive action. Seven in 10 respondents agree that we must move faster to address climate change. While most (54% of those surveyed) want those in national government to take the lead, they also lack the confidence government leaders will force change (57%). For those looking to overcome those barriers, earning trust through action is the path to take. These numbers are supported by other recent research, including an April 2022 poll from the Climate Change journal, which that noted 69% of people around the world agree that climate change represents a very real threat.

Furthermore, over 77% of respondents from the Edelman special report said that they worry about climate change, and more than half (57%) agree there has been little to no progress made to address it. The majority also fear that climate change will make the world less just and lead to displacement.   

Companies are fumbling their climate change responses and sustainability initiatives 

The numbers tell a sobering tale. People all over the world, in organizations both large and small, are worried about climate change and want something to be done about it. Historically, Edelman's research shows that business is generally the most trusted institution to do what is right. Yet, something is getting lost in translation. When it comes to climate change action, business leaders are falling well behind what many believe that they should be doing. 

According to Edelman's research: Almost two in three people globally say companies are doing mediocre or worse at keeping their climate commitments, though it should be noted that 76% say renewable energy is among the most trusted industry sectors to do what is right in addressing climate change. If business leaders can close these gaps through confident, decisive action, then it has the potential to inspire significant change at a truly impressive scale.

How business leaders can overcome barriers to climate change action 

Ultimately, institutions leading climate action must show the benefits to individuals, because people recognize the positive impacts of current climate change solutions on a societal level more than on a personal level. Edelman recommends three steps that businesses should be considering:

  • Take action. When business is seen as doing well in adopting science-based climate targets and ensuring suppliers reduce their climate impact, it is 4.5% and 4.3% (respectively) more likely to be trusted to address climate change. Innovation also remains essential. The research shows that when a business is seen doing well in investing in climate-friendly products and technologies, it is 4.1% more likely to be trusted to address climate change. Those surveyed in the special report point to an inherent lack of institutional support as being one of the biggest barriers to achieving and maintaining the environmentally-friendly lifestyle they want. Therefore, businesses that promote climate-friendly solutions and options for employees and clients will be seen as innovators and enthusiasts for climate change awareness. 
  • Educate. Businesses that do well with educating people about how to reduce their own carbon impact are 5.6% more likely to be trusted to address climate change, as seen in the Edelman report. Considering the information gap that exists with climate change, this makes sense. It can also serve as a rallying cry for businesses to educate their customers and employees about climate change solutions and how they can all make a difference. 
  • Inspire with solutions. As much as people crave information, they are hungry for solutions as well. A staggering 59% of respondents on the Edelman report noted that there isn't enough information in the media about how to positively affect climate change. This is a 4-point increase year-over-year. Businesses have a distinct advantage, to offer up tangible solutions that can give people the information they need to adopt carbon-friendly behaviors and sustainable living solutions. Also important is the messaging around this. Businesses should double down on the message that climate-friendly actions don't mean that personal joy or luxuries need to be sacrificed. Rather, sustainable lifestyle choices are healthy for your environment, your community, and your own life, and that's a message that every business should promote.  

The key takeaway 

The greatest results are spawned from partnerships. Businesses who want to take control of the narrative and rebuild trust in their ability to combat climate change should set about creating joint endeavors between themselves and individuals. When these businesses provide the information, inspiration, and infrastructure to make climate-friendly decisions easier, people will respond with enthusiasm.

Download a copy of the LRN Benchmark of Ethical Culture to learn more about how business leaders can improve trust within their organization and wider society.