The Decade That Matters

Nations, individuals and corporations

Contents

    Whether a politician, business leader, celebrity or ardent campaigner, social media has given everyone the potential to share their views, gain influence and attract a global following. 

    Given the power of social media to reach millions, and where multi-national corporations share the same stage as individuals, who is most responsible for carrying the conversation around climate? And who has the most influence?

    Who's carrying the conversation?


    Let us try to determine the kind of person most likely to discuss environmental issues. To find out, we have used Brandwatch to build a picture of the interests and occupations of people who speak out about climate change and the climate crisis.

    Skewing slightly male (54%), almost a quarter of people in this group describe themselves as ‘artists’ by trade – making that the largest profession to show interest in the subject by some margin. The leading interests these people have outside of the environment are – perhaps unsurprisingly – politics, but also family, which we can surmise points to a concern about the planet’s future on behalf of their children.

    If we contrast this with conversation criteria towards carbon (neutrality, footprints, etc.), we see this slightly more practically minded term is being talked about by executives just as much as artists. Based on our other data points, this supports our view that practical solutions are being more widely talked about, and by a broader demographic.

    When we look at mentions of renewable energy, we can see a more pronounced skewing towards male (66%) and share of voice shifting towards executives, who lead the conversation, and scientists and researchers who are equal to artists. Share of voice for teachers has grown, yet is still the lowest of the groups outlined here. Interestingly, business and politics are of equal interest in mentions around renewable energy (arguably unsurprisingly, due to the amount of governmental conversation around climate targets and how to achieve them). Technology is a key point of interest but is dwarfed by broader environmental interest (double to be exact).

    Influencers


    In terms of influence, we see clear spikes when leaders and politicians tweet. An example here shows the impact that a tweet from Joe Biden on Earth Day in April 2020 had on clean energy and renewable conversations overall.

    Because of this influence, it often appears that the world is leaning on input from a handful of super-influential spokespeople. The likes of Greta Thunberg, Bill Gates and Elon Musk, for example, are three big influencers who drive conversation but even they show varying volumes of tweets on the subject. For instance, analysis of Greta Thunberg’s Twitter account shows the lowest level of climate-related tweets in Q2 of 2020 (specifically between May and June).

    Focusing on the two years from 2018-2020, we looked at the top 1,000 Twitter accounts of global political figures – judged by total reach of their account, and must be either in or challenging for office in their respective nations. We found that those giving the most airtime to the issue of climate change typically came more from the left of the political aisle.

    The Attorney General of New York’s office Twitter account (held by a Democrat for the duration of this report’s scope) records most mentions of climate change as a percentage of all tweets: 29 of their 655 (4.4%) carry mention of climate change. 

    Below, we compare, for example, Democratic politician Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC)’s climate-related tweets since 2018 to Donald Trump’s.

    Elsewhere in the US, prominent left-leaning figures like Barack Obama may not show prolific tweeting around climate issues – 0.057% of tweets, thus comparable in that respect to Jair Bolsonaro (0.055%) and Donald Trump Junior (0.056%) – but they connect with a very high volume of impressions when they do:

    Looking at Europe, the picture becomes more nuanced. The politician giving the highest proportion of their feed over to the climate change conversation in Europe is, perhaps unexpectedly, Slovakian President Zuzana Čaputová: 18.3% of the leader of the centre left Progressive Slovakia party’s tweets have mentioned climate change (though from a lower baseline of activity: nine of the 49 tweets she sent out to her 93,000 followers between 2018-2020 mentioned climate change). However, most mentions of ‘climate change’ by a European politician or commentator is a title belonging to Carl Bildt, Co-Chair European Council on Foreign Relations and member of Sweden’s centre right Moderate Party – 89 mentions in the period observed, or 0.39% of his activity.

    Also scoring highly in terms of proportion of tweets are David Sassoli, President of the European Parliament and member of the Italian Democratic Party (a centre-left party) and Christine Lagarde, President of the European Central Bank and member of Les Républicains (centre-right) in France. Each have dedicated comparable levels of attention to climate change in their Twitter activity: 0.44% and 0.48% respectively of their tweets mention climate change.

    Celebrities are also a growing part of the conversation, and often boost conversational reach to audiences beyond those held by many of the more traditional activists, news outlets or politicians.

    Rare but impactful tweets on the subject from the likes of Leonardo DiCaprio, Kim Kardashian, Niall Horan and Jennifer Lopez garner impressions from a vast number of followers – eclipsing the reach of more typical climate spokespeople.

    When we compare discourse in the US with that in Europe, where politicians and those in the public eye enjoy less celebrity, we see another interesting trend emerge. To illustrate this, we have looked at references to the ‘Green Deal’, which was being discussed in the European Union, and the ‘Green New Deal’ that was being discussed at the same time in the US.

    The most prominent difference we see here is a stark dichotomy in sheer mention volume across the two phrases. Mention volumes surpassed two million mentions in the period from January 2019 to October 2020 in the US – a number far surpassing the sum total of all nations in Europe, where the majority (242,000) came from the UK, with Germany in second place at 91,000 and Belgium in third with 84,000 mentions. (N.B. Twitter usage holds a higher penetration in the U.K. and USA than it does in continental Europe; according to Statista, for the period observed here we note 38% of US based adults using the platform at least once weekly, 44% in the U.K., but a lower 22% in Germany). 

    Also, of note is the ‘clout’ of the people involved in each conversation, which differs by some order of magnitude on each side of the Atlantic. Top authors on the subject in the US include Leonardo Di Caprio (19,888,701 followers), Bernie Sanders (12,851,985) and James Corden (10,488,088). In Europe, by comparison, the top commentators include Emmanuel Macron and Greta Thunberg – each with just over 4 million followers. 

    We also see a marked difference in the way the two continents politicise climate issues. When we look at topics surrounding the Green Deal and Green New Deal conversations, we see Europe’s word cluster to be laser focused on environmental issues and making change, whereas those conversations and mentions in the US are being conflated with the differing views of political parties and a broader package of social justice causes, for example: #democrats, #medicareforall, #Congress and #Bernie (Sanders). We can observe, then, that environmental issues across Europe are less politicised on such a polarising scale.

    quote-marks

    It is increasingly evident that trying to overcome the objections of others by making a morally superior argument and expecting capitulation is a waste of time. It will only further polarise the debate and deepen the divide.

    Boaz Soifer, Director of Solar Trade AMER, BayWa r.e.

    Viewpoint piece

    There is more that unites us than divides us 

    Research shows that, compared with Europe, the topic of climate change in the United States is more politically polarised, and the prospect of finding consensus is fraught with political overtones. Climate change tends to be packaged with a host of other 'social justice' topics and, as such, is typically associated with a left-leaning political agenda.

    The depth of division in the US was graphically highlighted by the PEW research center in November 2020 - 89% of Trump supporters thought Biden’s election would lead to lasting harm for the US, and 90% of Biden supporters thought Trump’s reelection would lead to lasting harm for the US.   

    If we are to address climate, and the rest of our collective challenges, we will need to understand the root causes of these divisions and how we can bridge them. 

    The work of Jonathan Haidt is useful here. Alongside a group of fellow social psychologists, Haidt has formulated a moral blueprint common to all members of society: 'Moral Foundations Theory'. Two of Haidt’s insights stand out here:

    1. Establish commonality 

    Contained within Moral Foundations Theory are five elements common to all of us: care/harm, fairness/cheating, authority/subversion, loyalty/betrayal, sanctity/degradation. In this Ted Talk, Haidt argues that while conservatives and liberals may emphasise these elements to different degrees, the route to more productive conversation starts with acknowledging that our own perspective sits right alongside the same continuum as those with whom we engage in debate.

    Breaking out of the ‘moral matrix’ means recognising that our political counterparts are not amoral. From this perspective, meaningful dialogue can begin.

    2. Develop empathy  

    The prevalent ‘us versus them’ mentality relies on the categorisation of ourselves and others into groups. As Haidt says, to grow beyond that we need to see one another as individuals, and resist seeing individuals with opposing viewpoints as our ‘enemies’.  Instead, we need to practise empathy. If we can increase our understanding of one another's perspectives, our discussions will be far more productive.

    It is increasingly evident that trying to overcome the objections of others by making a morally superior argument and expecting capitulation is a waste of time. It will only further polarise the debate and deepen the divide. In this regard, we are at a critical juncture in US politics; despite over 70% of Americans (including a majority of Republicans) believing that climate change is real and wanting action, the competing visions and ideology of our political parties are causing gridlock on solutions. 

    In the face of such a challenge, the importance of cultivating genuine empathy and humility with our counterparts cannot be understated. If we’re to come together to realise great outcomes, we’ll benefit from recognising that there are many more things, and also more important things, that unite us than divide us.  
     

    Boaz Soifer 
    Director of Solar Trade AMER  

    Geography


    How do our opinions on climate and the environment differ by country? To get an indication, we have taken a close look at the conversation around a single global event – the 2019 Climate Action Summit – to see how volume and sentiment varies around the globe.

    Between 18th and 29th September 2019, we note a huge spike in mentions of #ClimateAction to tie in with the event – with volume in the hundreds of thousands from the US, UK, France, Spain and Germany.

    But this discussion is a global one, with a 66/34% split in conversation volume for the rest of the world versus those five nations. 

    Looking at volume as a per capita measure, meanwhile, shows that Northern Arctic Circle markets including Norway, Finland and Canada, and Southern Hemisphere markets including South Africa and Australia, have greater proportions of their populations tweeting about #ClimateAction than any other group of countries. 

    And whilst attempts to forecast the future effects of climate change on a regional level vary, a comparison can be drawn between the countries listed above (those where conversation around climate change is happening amongst the greatest percentage of its population) and the countries already experiencing the reality of increased temperatures.

     

    In this map from NASA below, generated using the Goddard Institute for Space Studies’ Surface Temperature Analysis tool, we see the territories which have reported the highest incidence of temperature anomalies in 2020 relative to years 1951-1980.  

    A trend for highest and lowest latitudes reporting both the highest conversation volume around climate change per capita and the most temperature anomalies is in evidence. 

    So what about sentiment? From a global perspective, the #ClimateAction conversation from January 2018 to date actually skews more positive than negative (20% positive versus 9% negative, with 71% neutral). This is promising since – and as with all our findings – it is worth bearing in mind that negative sentiment can often be more pervasive than positive simply due to people using language that describes climate change’s negative effects. 

    Of those markets mentioned above, the UK and USA are in alignment with 21% positive sentiment to 8% negative, while Spain is the least positive with 17%. These figures, in fact, track more or less unanimously – with little deviation – across North America, South America, Europe, Asia and Africa. Where things differ, then, is in Australasia/Oceania – where we see almost double the amount of negative sentiment at 15%.

    Overall, the 5.1 million mentions of #ClimateAction across the internet since January 2018 show an encouraging positivity – with more than three times the number of positive mentions versus negative. As the below chart shows, sentiments attached to #ClimateAction by users online are decidedly proactive in nature.

    Terms such as ‘joining’ (189,822 mentions), ‘urgency’ (150,190), ‘taking action’ (136,577 mentions) and ‘work’ (111,743 mentions) predominate – proactive terms often used to describe or commentate on protests, demonstrations and strikes.

    So too do we see a number of terms that point to one of the climate crisis’ most vocal demographics: younger people. #ClimateAction was used 172,290 times in conjunction with #FridaysForFuture on Twitter (one of the key hashtags used by students joining the weekly school strikes for climate, first begun in August 2018). There was a total of 3.1 million uses of #FridaysForFuture across Twitter since January 2018, supplemented by a further 889k mentions on Instagram, a key channel for sharing amongst younger audiences.  

    If we broaden further to look at all mentions of #ClimateAction in conjunction with ‘youth’ and ‘young people’, we see that almost a fifth (812,200) are attached to a message that explicitly invokes the concept of age. Again, these messages were three times more likely to be positive in sentiment than negative – evidence in many cases of a confidence shared amongst youth that change is possible and, in some quarters, belief from older generations that they are the ones finally equal to the challenge. 

    The business of climate change


    Brands big and small are under increasing pressure to prove their eco credentials, but does that manifest as conversation? Our findings indicate that corporations could be doing more to talk about the issues at hand. 

    To reach this conclusion, we investigated the top 1,000 verified organisations on Twitter, excluding politicians and journalists.

    Four big brands near the top of the resulting list are Instagram, PlayStation, Google and Amazon. In the last year, these four brands have all promoted environmentally focused campaigns or news, but they are still far from prolific in their output, especially when we look specifically at the percentage of tweets relating to ‘climate change’:

    If we look at the climate-related Twitter activity of these four big brands we start to get a clearer picture of the types of things they are talking about:

    Brands who put the environment more at the forefront of their business show a higher percentage of Tweets relating to climate change, but the figures are still low overall:

    So, we have seen how high profile influencers are talking about climate change and typically are driving the conversations around this topic. We have also seen that these individuals often make more impact than major brands, due to the scale of their ‘celebrity’. This is arguably not surprising given the nature of social media and that individuals can often connect better with audiences than brands. However, even allowing for this, our overall findings indicate that brands are talking about climate change far less often than they could, and arguably should, be doing. 

    To explore this further, we also looked at the topic of 'sustainability'. Set within this framework, it becomes easier to compare the level of potential demand from consumers for brands to engage on the topic, versus the amount of time they actually dedicate to talking about it.  

    To get a handle on this, we looked at the increase in search volumes around ‘sustainable brands’ over the past ten years. In September 2020, monthly searches for the term ‘sustainable brands’ reached a high of 10,600.

    Yet, despite a climbing demand for brands putting ‘sustainability’ at the core of their proposition, those who do Tweet proactively about the subject do so to an even lesser extent than they do about ‘climate change.’ In fact, the leading Tweeters around ‘sustainability’ (judged from a total percentage of Tweets perspective) are not brands themselves, but the consumer media that review their products and share their news.

    So, we see that across both the topics of ‘climate change’ and ‘sustainability’ brands are Tweeting at comparatively low volumes and, in the case of ‘sustainability’, it appears they are Tweeting less than the market is indicating that there is an appetite for. 

    That same trend can be identified across the consumer landscape, with the term ‘sustainable fashion’ (32,000 monthly average searches globally) tripling in volume in 2020 relative to late 2018, and others like ‘sustainable coffee’, ‘sustainable makeup’, and searches around ‘eco-friendly’ or ‘green’ cleaning products showing a similar upward trend.

    Despite that growing trend for consumers proactively researching sustainable products at an ever-accelerating pace, it is curious to see that brands tend only to give over a small percentage of their social media airtime to talking about this topic. 

    quote-marks

    Many brands, all things being equal, do want to tell their story. But, in my view, as those brands work towards their goals they struggle to tell that story – especially through social media.

    Andrea Grotzke, Global Director of Energy Solutions, BayWa r.e.

    Viewpoint piece

    Collaborating with brands to help tell their story 

    At BayWa r.e. we partner with many of the world’s leading brands to help them realise their renewable energy goals. Outside of these larger brands, we know the vast majority are still yet to start their journey. However, I don’t think that alone accounts for what we see in this report. 

    Many brands, all things being equal, do want to tell their story. But, in my view, as they work towards their goals they struggle to tell that story – especially through social media. There are a whole range of reasons for this, many pertaining to the difficulty experienced by brands in articulating that message in public forums:

    1. Not their core business 

    While brands certainly attach significant importance to their sustainable journey, it is outside their core business. The journey to renewable energy sourcing is a process involving many elements of a business’ operations. It is a difficult process that can make simplifying messages for communications purposes challenging. For a brand to confidently talk about its position publicly, a significant investment of time and resource can be required in articulating that message. This can reduce the ‘airtime’ a brand will give to the topic. Furthermore, in some cases, a brand’s communication team may be unaware of the good work being done elsewhere in their business, and therefore unable to best argue the case for talking about it.

    2. Brand perception 

    Through their sustainable journey and transitioning to renewables, brands are breaking new ground and doing something for the first time. This can lead to an inherent nervousness about ‘going public’ too early, and the reputational risk of communicating while still unsure of the success of those efforts. We see many brands, who have a good story to tell, keeping comparatively quiet about their progress and lessons learnt.

    3. The nature of social media 

    I think this nervousness is then compounded by the nature of social media. Where we see brands including messaging about their renewable energy targets and goals, that messaging tends to be clustered around key milestones and major announcements, rather than being part of the ongoing social media debate. 

    Here, I think there is nervousness about over-exposure. Brands can be easy targets and there are those who would see them as part of the problem. Understandably, brands then shy away from more socially led discussions. But, in doing so, the opportunity is lost to tell their story and show how they are part of the solution.

    All that said, I believe we are moving in a positive direction. As brands progress further along their journey, gaining confidence and experience, they are communicating more often. Encouragingly, we are also seeing brands recognising the importance and benefits of communications to the extent they are making it part of the procurement process when appointing consultants and providers. 

    How we can support them in their communications is increasingly something BayWa r.e. is discussing with brands. This year, we have successfully delivered projects and collaborated on communications for brands such as Budweiser, Tetra Pak and global property group Goodman.   

    What we need to see now is a transition from 'headline' stories focusing on major 'firsts' and milestones, to more stories about the journey itself and lessons learnt. We would love to see more leading brands feeling comfortable in talking about their renewable journey more often – and social media very much lends itself to this storytelling approach. No doubt this would also have a positive ‘trickle down’ effect on other brands currently more risk averse about sharing progress or who perhaps feel in the shadow of those major announcements. 

    In avoiding the worst effects of climate change, all voices and perspectives are important and there is much to be gained by sharing experiences, comparing notes and, ultimately, reframing the current discourse (online and elsewhere) around this concept of 'progress'. In the end, these efforts will all go towards growing the public consciousness around climate issues and demonstrating how brands are part of the solution. 
     

    Andrea Grotzke 
    Global Director of Energy Solutions