October 3, 2022

How to Communicate Net Zero to 3 Key Groups

Your net zero messaging will have more impact if you follow these principles.

You’ve outlined a net zero roadmap and your journey is underway, but how do you message your progress and achievements with your intended audience? Oil & Gas operators executing or planning net zero commitments should tell a story that paints a cogent, transparent picture of how the company is meeting or exceeding specific stakeholder expectations. Many times, communicators understandably share the information they would find interesting themselves, narrowly missing the key interests of their stakeholders. Instead, meet your audience where they are and align their interests with your company’s net zero messaging.

So how do you craft the right message? This depends on the audience.

Each group responds to different messaging

Capital Providers: Debt and equity sources differ slightly in what they will find compelling. Debt providers care about material risks to your company breaching debt covenants. Broadly speaking, public and private equity will care about risks to the liquidity of their investment.

  • For public equity holders, they will look favorably upon forward-looking compliance with SEC reporting and proactive management of carbon emissions, just as one would manage financial performance.
  • For private equity, your ability to execute on net zero commitments could impact their ability to realize their investment / raise additional capital (i.e., transfer their ownership to another private equity firm). If the would-be buyer has investors with net zero commitments themselves, your financial sponsors will appreciate the flexibility of a solid ESG profile during the sale process.

Overall, capital providers will want to see consistent, detailed tracking of metrics over time at an, ideally, monthly frequency for analysis. The concept of the triple bottom line is a critical approach to sharing your progress towards net zero with capital providers. As you would discuss earnings and capital projects updates during quarterly meetings, so will you also discuss information on carbon emissions and reductions.

Customers: For B2B industries like oil and gas, your customers' carbon reduction demands are being driven by their investors or consumers. This is critically important when your customers are B2C companies servicing the general public. Take the opportunity to understand market pressures regarding low-carbon products:

  • Are your customers in a region with a carbon tax or cap and trade scheme?
  • Does your customer look to have a premium market presence with low-carbon products?
  • Are your customers’ investors demanding moving away from higher-emitting suppliers?

Partners will want assurance that you are aligned to their net zero goals, so pay special attention to how they track and present their metrics. Work with your customers to outline what metrics are relevant and how often disclosure of this data is required. Know if your customer is working towards marketing low-carbon products, and if they will depend on your own carbon emissions reductions. To the extent possible, align your reporting with theirs and industry-standard frameworks and they will love you for making like-for-like comparisons easy. Remember that your Scope 1 is their Scope 3, which will become more important as this space evolves.

NGOs / General Public: For the general public, the oil and gas industry has been cast in a negative light regarding their impact on the environment and social justice. Some of this has been reinforced by the absence of a transparent and clear story of how many oil and gas operators are reducing their carbon emissions. Coupled with the proliferation of methane detection technology and access to data, NGOs are oftentimes moving quicker than oil and gas operators at tracking and reporting carbon emissions and sharing this story with the general public. For oil and gas operators, this means they no longer control the narrative or data and are placed in a defensive position.

  • These stakeholders, organized around public interest, will respond best to data and communications that bring your net zero progress to life. The data are the data, but sharing the positive outcomes of your company’s work in supporting the energy system and fostering the community will be important for these stakeholders.
  • They also need to feel confident that you are not trying to pull the wool over their eyes. Make sure there are simple, defensible metrics to support all of your claims of progress. Once you lose their trust, it can be nearly impossible to win back.
  • Don’t forget that reducing your company’s carbon emissions and going to net zero is a journey that will ebb and flow. As your company makes acquisitions or divestments or brings additional production online, you must communicate the impact on your targets. This means providing information as a snapshot only does you an injustice; stakeholders need to see how you are performing over time and across the entirety of your company’s portfolio.
  • The right visuals and granularity of data, presented in a digestible format, make all the difference.

As we all know, “what gets measured, gets managed” but just as importantly, “what gets seen, gets acknowledged.” So make sure you and your company are getting acknowledged for reducing your carbon emissions and becoming a net zero operator.

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