Business needs a win:win mentality to tackle climate change

Winning has been all over the news lately. It’s an Olympic summer after all.

And winning is integral to the way we talk about business. We win new business, win awards, beat the competition, smash our targets.

But is ‘winning’ always a zero-sum game? I win means you lose.

Some of the stories told at this summer’s Tokyo Olympics suggest this is not the case:

  • Mutaz Essa Barshim of Qatar and Gianmarco Tamberi of Italy, two high jumpers who opted out of the jump-off and agreed to share the gold medal
  • Team GB’s Giles Scott won gold in the Finn class sailing despite coming fifth in the final race of the series
  • Simone Biles withdrew from many of the gymnastic events, allowing her colleagues to collect golds of their own. She received plaudits for protecting her own mental and physical wellbeing on the biggest stage of her career

It all depends on how you define ‘winning’.

In business, we look beyond the “I win, you lose” mentality when we speak of ‘win:win situations’. Over the past few years, especially since the pandemic took hold, we have seen far more collaboration. Businesses understand that, by and large, we cannot thrive in isolation.

This has been demonstrated by business opening its processes to create PPE and sanitiser and even donating to food banks. Astra Zeneca’s decision to sell the vaccine at cost in the developing world is another factor.

This isn’t just responsible business sense, it’s great communications.

Public relations is a win:win

The definition from the Chartered Institute of Public Relations has win:win at its heart. PR is the “planned and sustained effort to establish and maintain goodwill and mutual understanding”.

Mutual. Understanding.

That’s a far cry from the aggressive message control we hear about from corporate and political PR gurus.

The essence of good media relations is win:win. PR practitioners like me negotiate between the client and the journalist to secure a story which benefits both parties. The business or celebrity conveys their position and the journalist asks tough questions which help his or her readers understand the complexity of the issue more clearly.

To succeed in PR, business leaders must take risks – calculated risks – and give the journalist something they need.

Academically, this is called symmetric communications – a good example being the way in which MacDonald’s accepted a challenge from Greenpeace and worked with the pressure group to remove Amazon soy from foods around the world.

Clickbait headlines and the need to create immediate engagement can hinder understanding. This is something that frustrates journalists as much as it does PR professionals. Nuance and context are not valued enough in modern discourse.

Climate change needs fresh thinking

Why does this matter?

We have an existential threat, which only extensive collaboration is going to solve. Climate change, not football, is coming home. Floods in Germany and the UK, fires in Turkey and the USA – the threats are no longer remote (although the impacts on developing countries remain more devastating even than the events we see in the north and west).

The next last chance comes this autumn during COP26 in Glasgow. Governments are being urged to collaborate, putting competitive, self-serving and domestic political needs aside. The chances of success are not great, as Alok Sharma acknowledged when a pre-conference deal on eliminating coal power proved beyond his reach.

While government action is key, business has a massive part to play. The new products, services and employment opportunities the world needs to solve the crisis will come from business. And we need business to share those products, services and opportunities equitably around the world.

The mantra of overcoming coronavirus “No one is safe until we are all safe” is just as relevant for the way we fight climate change.

If we successfully tackle climate change, global business will have shown it really does know how to create a ‘win:win’.

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Picture Credit – Vector Art by Epic Top 10

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