Effective municipal climate action requires co-operation between climate experts and communicators

Press release 2023-01-09 at 8:06

New research reveals a gap between climate action and communication in municipalities. With limited resources, climate communication is mostly done by those doing climate work, not communication experts. Internal exchange of information on climate issues is often low, further complicating climate communication. A quick way to improve the effectiveness of municipalities’ climate communications is to strengthen cooperation between climate experts and communicators.

The research article titled "Municipal climate communication as a tool in amplifying local climate action and developing a place brand", written by researchers of the Finnish Environment Institute, was recently published in Environmental Research Communications. To date, there have been few studies on the connections between municipal climate action, communication and branding.

According to the study, climate actions and communication should be seen as a whole. Building communication and branding around climate action without real actions to lean on speaks to greenwashing and can lead to a reputational crisis.

On the other hand, if climate actions are implemented but not communicated, their catalytic and image-improving effects remain unexploited. Climate networks have previously been proven to enhance local climate action, yet members still face challenges, for example with public engagement.

"Climate work is boosted when it is seen as a central strategic part of municipal activities and is clearly linked to the municipality's brand and communication. Climate communication can be seen as an investment that amplifies climate action," says Coordinator Venla Riekkinen from the Finnish Environment Institute.

According to Riekkinen municipal climate actions not only lay foundations for companies and residents to reduce their own emissions but by showing an example, encourage different actors to participate in climate work. Indeed, over a third of survey participants agreed that a climate brand can affect citizens' actions.

A strong climate brand supports municipal vitality

The study also investigated the municipalities' interest in building their brand around climate work. The idea has sparked interest among municipalities, but climate issues are not yet a key brand theme in many municipalities. Nevertheless, the study showed that placing climate issues at the center of the municipal brand can be beneficial for the municipality.

According to research participants, a climate-friendly brand indicates that the municipality is modern, positive and future-oriented, which strengthens its image as an attractive municipality for residents, businesses and visitors.

More than half of survey respondents agreed that a climate brand affects municipal decision-making and that attitudes towards climate work have generally become more positive.

The studied municipalities reported that a climate-focused brand has positive effects on the vitality of the municipality. More than anything it had brought visibility and recognition locally and nationally, sometimes even internationally.

The study involved targeted interviews and a broader survey of climate and communication experts from 53 municipalities belonging to a Finnish network of climate mitigation forerunners known as Hinku. While the research findings are from one network, they can resonate with cities elsewhere.

In the Finnish capital city, Helsinki, the goal is for decision-makers to always consider the impact of their decisions from a climate perspective, regardless of the kind of operations in question. Esa Nikunen, Director General of the Environment Services of the City of Helsinki, recognizes the need for developing climate communication also from the perspective of the capital city.

“In Helsinki, certain special events such as the Helsinki Energy Challenge competition, have been communicated internationally in an effective way. However, normally the communication experts concentrate mainly on the everyday activities of the city related to decision making, construction works et cetera. It could be beneficial to have persons who really could concentrate on climate communication and cover the broad area together with climate experts”, Nikunen says.


More information

Coordinator Venla Riekkinen, Finnish Environment Institute, tel. +358 29 525 1942, firstname.lastname@syke.fi

Director General Esa Nikunen, Environment Services of Helsinki City, tel. +358 40 504 5175, firstname.lastname@hel.fi

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