Sustainability and Reputational Risk Management

Perception and Risk Management

For the last 2 weeks COP15 has been in the newspapers, prime time tv and on the radio. But I am not talking about the political leaders; I am talking about our client Jan-Christian Napierski – the head of sustainability for COP15.

COP15 Media Center

The multi-lingual diplomat, has become a superstar in the last 14 days having been interviewed by over 31 different press crews. Why? They want to know what the Danish government is doing to reduce and manage the environmental impacts of the event.

Most of the interviews are friendly and the reporters are generally interested in the far reaching efforts of Jan-Christoph and his team to push the knowhow of sustainable event management. However out of the 5000 accredited journalist (see photo of the media center) there is a developing trend of reporters who are more aggressive and want to really push the question of the considerable carbon footprint of the conference.

This high level of press coverage has done a wonder for spreading the word about event sustainability, but it also creates an issue over reputational risk management. Managing this reputational risk is and will become a huge driver for event greening in the future. Failure to have a good story and to tell the story correctly could have severe knock-on impacts for the reputation of the organization.

The Danish government always realized that there was a risk of press pressure, and so has incorporated these issues into the management of the event. Successful techniques used to lower this risk included:

  • Excellent stakeholder management. Get your critics involved in designing the processes. Get their impact and make sure they feel heard.

    COp15 green team

  • Proactive communication: Reach out using the web, blogs and speaking engagements to highlight your sustainability initiatives
  • Don’t be perfect. Claim to be imperfect at all times. Ie Underpromise and over delivery. Don’t pretend that you will have the greenest event ever. Be humble
  • Hire a person with excellent engagement and diplomacy skills
  • Use an international recognized certification and get it externally certified. In this case it was BS8901
  • Get your carbon calculations assured by a recognizable third party. The Danes used Deloitte.
  • Make sure that the highly visible aspects of the meeting are sustainable: Limos, Vans, Food etc
  • Recruit and manage a highly visible green team to engage participants and share the sustainability story.

Jan-Christoph also did press management training – which is a crucial skill when working on an event of this profile. Some of the press will try to catch you out. They will try and get you to use short sentences that they can edit and perhaps use out of context (of course they never do things like this). Below the friendly Dutch journalists are asking a delegate why he is photocopying his papers, when he could use a PC. To the right the crew ironically are asking about the huge electricity consumption of having so many journalists in the building..

These and other lessons from COP15 will be included in the Copenhagen Sustainable Meetings Protocol – out for release in March.

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