Sustainability SmartPod

Mike Hower on Best Practices for Communicating About Sustainability

July 12, 2023 SmartBrief Season 1 Episode 11
Sustainability SmartPod
Mike Hower on Best Practices for Communicating About Sustainability
Show Notes Transcript

This episode is a little bit different. There are no segments from the Sustainability SmartPod gang. No debating what's sustainable or suspicious. No recap of the latest headlines. No roundup of cool sustainability initiatives from around the world. Instead, we're going to talk about one of the things that we like to hammer on every episode: the importance of communicating sustainability effectively. 

Mike Hower, one of the premier thought leaders on ESG and sustainability communications, joins the show to outline best practices when it comes to sustainability communications. Mike has an extensive background as a journalist, and now his firm, Hower Impact, helps companies shape their sustainability messages. As we've said many times on this show, it's really important for companies to understand that the messaging behind what they do when it comes to sustainability initiatives is almost as important as the initiative itself. Mike has got some great insights, so we think you'll appreciate what he has to say.

Highlights from Mike Hower

Consumer trust and ESG data - (1:33)
Tailoring communication for different audiences - (4:01)
Should sustainability communication be boring? - (7:23)
How companies in hard-to-abate industries can talk about sustainability - (11:28)
Are there times when companies should just stay quiet on sustainability? - (16:17)
Which companies are getting it right when it comes to sustainability communications? - (21:22)
The difference between accountability and transparency in communications - (26:49)
Advice for aspiring corporate sustainability professionals - (29:51)


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(Note: This transcript was created using artificial intelligence. It has not been edited verbatim.)


Evan Milberg  00:09

Hello, everyone and welcome to the Sustainability SmartPod. I am your co-host, Evan Milberg. And today we're going to be doing things a little bit differently. We're not going to tell you what's sustainable or suspicious. Instead, we're going to talk about one of the things that we like to hammer on every episode, which is just how important not only sustainability and ESG are, but how you communicate them. And they're so important, in fact that we're going to do a whole episode about it today. 


Sean and I had a chance to catch up with Mike Hower, one of the premier thought leaders in ESG, and sustainability communications. Mike has an extensive background as a journalist, and now helps other companies shape their sustainability messages. And one of the reasons we wanted to talk to Mike is we think it's really important for companies to understand that the messaging behind what you do and sustainability and ESG is just as important as the initiative itself. We thought he had some really interesting things to say check it out. 


Today, we're joined by Mike Hower, founder of Hower Impact, and one of LinkedIn’s premier thought leaders on sustainability and ESG. Mike is also a journalist who contributes to GreenBiz. Mike, thanks for joining us.


Mike Hower  01:32

Great to be here today.


Evan Milberg  01:33

So on a few episodes of this podcast, we've talked about a recent IBM study that found that one in five consumers trust ESG reporting. IBM said data deficiencies widen the gap between a company's sustainability progress and the perception of that progress. Do you agree with that? And if so, what advice do you have for companies seeking to rebuild trust?


Mike Hower  01:55

So I took a look at that study. And what I found interesting was that they were even polling consumers about ESG reporting. I'd be surprised if one in five consumers even knows what an ESG report is, which I didn't take a look at their methodology. But I would be curious to see how many people actually knew what ESG stood for much less what a report was. Because an honestly issue reporting is not for consumers, it's it's meant for investors and rating agencies, and maybe policymakers, consumers are not the main audience for reports. That being said, if you're an investor or rating agency, you're going to want to see, you know, consistent data, comparable data year over year. So if you're that audience, then yes, data deficiencies are a big issue. And, you know, right now, I usually tell people, it's the wild west of the issue reporting, at least in the United States, Europe is always ahead of us, but they're currently ahead of us on that department, and we're slowly catching up. But you know, since it's all voluntary, right now, companies are kind of just putting out what they want. And yeah, there's increased alignment with frameworks like SASB, GRI, TCFD, which does, you know, increase comparability, it's still not where it needs to be. And a lot of investors do struggle, you know, to compare, you know, if you had two different companies putting out a report, it's very hard sometimes to compare. And so they come up with their own, a lot of the ratings agencies have merged to develop their own proprietary ways of of kind of creating scores that make it easier for investors to decide what to do on the consumer front. ESG really isn't the right terminology to be using. Even my friends don't even know what I do. If I say I work in ESG, they really have no idea. They don't know. I mean, maybe in the last year, since there's been kind of more in the news on it, more people have heard about it. But I would say, when communicating to consumers data is it's important, it's important to make claims that are better rooted in data. But leading with data is not I don't think that's really the problem. And I think it's just finding ways to tell stories that really connect with your consumers. That being said, focus on the data, but try to derive stories that your consumers are actually going to care about.


Evan Milberg  04:01

I've seen you right that investors tend to care more about ESG data than case studies about the human elements of sustainability strategy, while customers and employees love the ladder. So beyond the type of content you use, what advice do you have for how to tailor that ESG communication to both of those audiences? How does your voice need to change?


Mike Hower  04:24

Yeah, well, I would say your voice doesn't necessarily need to change overall, you should have a consistent narrative throughout all of your communication. You don't want to be saying one thing to one group and another to another group. It's just really how you're sharing it and maybe what you're sharing a lot of companies out there and you know, I work with a lot of them, they don't have the resources to do the kind of communication that they really need to be doing. So you know, a lot of my clients, for example, they give everything they got to put out an ESG report once a year, and then they try to make the best of it and use that to engage all their audiences. In a perfect world. They would have the investment to be able to I invest in year round communications. So they're not just talking about sustainability once a year around Earth age, right? I know those people, I lose my mind on Earth, because I think it's birthdays great, it's great. But it's like every company comes out with something on Earth Day. And it's, it's, it's like, you know, like, you should be talking about this all year round. And like, my background is PR originally. And so like, I get it like moments in time, you're trying to find times when your audiences are thinking about a certain topic to talk about it. But really, the most effective companies are embedding sustainability communication with their corporate communications, so that it's actually indistinguishable. And not many companies are doing that yet. But that really is leadership.


Sean McMahon  05:40

Yeah, well, just one quick follow up on your comment about Earth Day, you know, I'm right there with you, I get a flood of press releases in the week or so building up to Earth Day. And a lot of journalists, either publicly or privately in my group texts, kind of complain and roll their eyes about that. I don't know. I'm not as cynical about it. I think it's a sign of the times. And I think 20 years ago, those inboxes weren't as full. And maybe it's better off the companies or at least trying, but I get your point, like they should be doing a year round. But I still think there's a sign of the times there. So I'm trying to I try to see that as a signal of things that are in the right direction.


Evan Milberg  06:16

Those inboxes also didn't have as much bandwidth 20 years ago, too, that's a sustainability issue.


Mike Hower  06:22

Well, and I sometimes I try to remind myself that I do live in a sustainability bubble, where you know, the people I interact with, were kind of ahead of where the general population is and where we should be. So I feel impatient, but like, you're right, it is progress. And we got to, we got to accept progress, where we can take it, but I would also say, you know, as a journalist, myself, I also do get I still get these, even though I'm not really a kind of a journalist. Still, I don't I write for my rights on the side, but I'm a little bit everything these days. But I still get these emails where they're trying to make sustainability cute. And like, it's not cute. It shouldn't be cute. It should be boring. That's how I always tell people it should be. It should be no different than like, we paid our taxes this year. I guess not all companies do that anymore. Anyway. But you know, it shouldn't be this like, oh, it's like a cute thing we do on the side. And I think that comes from the fact that corporate stainability issue today is an outgrowth, originally of corporate philanthropy, which was always seen as kind of like a, we're just doing this out of the kindness of our heart versus this is like imperative to our business success, which is what ESG is.


Evan Milberg  07:23

So you mentioned the word boring to describe what sustainability communications should be. But you've also coined the term green bumbling to describe a sustainability story. That's true, but kind of reeks of so what? So what are the best practices you can think of for communicating sustainability in a way that's truthful and compelling?


Mike Hower  07:46

Yeah, so I kind of made this term up actually, a few months ago, and I was joking around with some friends. You know, we were talking there was this summer put out a list about all the new green whatever words you know, there's obviously a greenwashing there's green. hushing, green hushing. That's the one I'm thinking of, and a couple other ones. Green Hatching is like the hot term now. And I was thinking like, okay, throughout my career at YouTube, especially when I was writing for GreenBiz, and a couple other publications earlier in my career, I would, you know, like you guys, were saying, you still get these press releases that are not news. And you're like, alright, like, great, you put out an ESG report. Wonderful. I've noticed this, as I've kind of transitioned to advising clients on this stuff. A lot of clients sometimes, like if they are not coordinating with their corporate comms teams, which most aren't like the sustainability teams and the corporate comms teams are often siloed, the corporate comms people, they'll put out a, you know, a blog post or a press release, thinking something is groundbreaking, even something like net zero, which sounds super wonky, but in the sustainability, world, Net Zero has become like just table stakes, like saying you're going to achieve net zero is not exciting anymore. And I think that's where I thought the term green bumbling because it's it's showing that a lot of companies because they don't have dedicated sustainability communicators like they, increasingly there are, there's a cup, there's rules popping up now or it's people that are both comms and sustainability. But generally, you have sustainability practitioners who can be variety backgrounds, but they kind of lean towards more technical or people doing reporting aren't necessarily creative comms types. And then you've got corporate comms people who, you know, are very smart and creative, but they maybe they understand the business, but they don't they don't understand the nuances of sustainability. And so when you're trying to make claims about it, you know, there's lots of things that happen often sometimes a connection, greenwashing can happen unintentionally, which is bad, but also this green bumbling where they put out something and they think it's a big deal, because they don't know any better, but it's not. And that's also a missed opportunity. And so, you know, some examples would be, you know, companies, you see this on LinkedIn all the time, you know, companies putting out these big announcements about oh, we published our 2023 ESG report. Big deal, like wonderful. What exactly are you doing? to advance your sustainability strategy beyond that, like, I'd say the next phase of like, what's groundbreaking is going to be the companies that are really willing to align their government relations with their ESG teams, which a lot of them aren't currently, or, you know, this is a topic I'm actually very passionate about, because I spent some time in DC. And I know and that's where you're based, where, you know, you might have companies that have like a very sophisticated corporate sustainability team. And then they have a gr team that's like, given money to people that are anti climate action. And so it's, it's very messy, and that's gonna, that's gonna be I think, the next wave. And I think that's some point I really want to drive home is that what constitutes greenwashing and green bumbling, and all these green terms, it's constantly changing, like what's considered greenwashing today, maybe wasn't a few years ago, but even something today that's considered a good action. Like, you know, setting goals is great, right. But if you're not setting science based targets, and 10 years, that's going to be considered greenwashing. If you just have like, random goals you're setting out which currently is considered. Okay. So it's such a dynamic field that's constantly in flux. And I think it's also so Waukee, that outside of like, a small group of sustained people that work in sustainability, who really get it, and I think that's where communicators need to come into play, like, that's kind of what the role I play is, how do you translate all these nuances to general audiences, because we can't expect everybody to be a sustainability expert, but we should expect everybody to at least have a general understanding of what progress is.


Sean McMahon  11:28

Okay, now, I want to kind of delve into certain industries, or certain companies that might quite frankly, have a difficult time telling you a sustainability story based on what they do, right? You know, oil and gas sector, there's tobacco, there's things like that when when people think of these companies, they might not have like the best, they might not conjure up the best feelings and emotions about that company. But some of those companies are nevertheless still trying to implement sustainability strategies and kind of set some goals, even science based articles, like you said, so if you're a communicator for one of those companies, how do you how do you thread that needle? Or how do you toe that line between getting people to listen to your sustainability story? And while understanding that, hey, we also do this other piece of our business?


Mike Hower  12:08

Yeah, this is something I think about very often. And it's not an easy answer, I would say, from a high philosophical point of view. You know, sustainability is not about perfection, and it never has been like, there's no such thing as a company, that's going to be perfect, perfectly sustainable, it's just not possible, there's always going to be a way you can do better or worse. And from that point of view, I would say companies that are actually taking sustainability seriously or take you know, they've conducted materiality assessment, they have established goals, they have a strategy in place, and they're working to improve. I don't care if they're the worst company in the world, if they're doing that I think that's worth talking about. So where it gets tricky is, you know, if you're a fossil fuel company, your entire business model is built off extracting fossil fuels hydrocarbons. Yeah, you can make that better. But ultimately, you're going to have to wean off. And I know a lot of the major oil companies like they've rebranded themselves as an energy company. So you know, they're like, oh, down the road, maybe we won't sell fossil fuels. But yeah, they're still investing billions in exploration, which, you know, we don't get the topic of like, stranded assets, but like that none of those reserves that they're currently exploring, can actually be tapped if we want the world to be habitable. So it gets really messy on the the fossil fuel topic, that's a tough one. I do know, you know, a lot of these companies are investing billions into renewables, which is great. So I wouldn't want them to stop doing that. But I also think, companies, we tend to think of them as like, individual actors, but they're really like a broad ecosystem of different stakeholders with even within a company. So you know, like, I know, people that work in clean energy or sustainability within the fossil fuel companies, they believe in it, they really want to transition the company into fully renewables, whatnot, whether the people running the companies actually believe that I don't know, my gut tells me maybe not. And I know, at the end of the day, unless policy changes, I don't think it's we're going to we're going to get where we need to go. Because ultimately, private sector innovation, it's not ultimately good or bad. It's, it's kind of neutral. And that's where I believe we need, you know, proper government policies to kind of set the rules of engagement that will unleash innovation. And you know, I'm a big fan of maybe people don't like the word tax, but you know, price on carbon, like that's one of the fastest ways we can get there. And I know this is what we're supposed to be focusing on comms here, but I think outside of the fossil fuel industry, you know, like I've worked with, like major paper companies, where do they get a bad rap? Because people think, oh, paper, you're cutting down forests. But actually, a lot of these paper companies are investing in responsible forestry. And so a lot of times, they're using ScienceBase methods for managing the forests. So you're not they're not just it's not like FernGully your avatar where they're just like running through and destroying the forest there. Harvesting the forest in a way where it can regenerate over time. Because you know, people, people want their products, people want to keep using paper and having cardboard boxes and things like that. And so, through responsible forestry, you can not only ensure that people can keep getting the products they need, but also they're creating local economies where, you know, local people who might normally turn to the forest or clear cutting or for cattle raising now have an economic incentive to maintain it. And so, you know, I've worked with brands on that where, you know, it is hard where, you know, you think, oh, paper, that's evil, but then when you kind of walk them through, like, oh, like, it's not just like, going through and burning the forest down its act, this is what it actually looks like, through, you know, engaging videos or content or stories of the people that are actually benefiting from it locally, that you can start to kind of change perceptions.


Sean McMahon  15:47

Yeah. Are you suggesting that everything we saw in Avatar isn't completely accurate? Like?


Mike Hower  15:53

I mean, I really, I really wish I could, I could travel to another planet and, and talk to whales, but I don't think that's possible.


Sean McMahon  16:00

Yeah, no, and your point, take it out on paper companies. You know, we a couple episodes ago, Evan, and I and the rest of the team had a discussion about warehouser. And you know, what they're doing so along those same lines, so I didn't mean for that last question to kind of get stuck in the oil and gas sector. And then I got to paper. But are there any times where a company just staying quiet is better? And I asked that because with the rise of cryptocurrency, people like, Oh, this is great. This, this is rad, new technology, and then the story of all the energy they were using caught up to him, right. And so then now we fit this crypto winter, and you know, whatever, you know, the topic du jour is artificial intelligence. And all those computers run and all that guess what they're sucking out of the energy grid, right? So, you know, if I'm one of those companies, should I already get ahead of it now and be like, Hey, I know we use a ton of energy? Or should I just stay quiet? And let people not realize that that's what we do?


Mike Hower  16:54

Yeah, I mean, depends on who which stakeholder at the company, you're asking. If you're, if I was the sustainability guy at that company, I would say, it's better to get ahead of it and talk about it now, then wait till it comes out later. Because you're gonna you got, you know, you guys are all journalists, like, things don't stay quiet ever anymore thing, the truth comes out, it's gonna come out eventually, it's impossible for companies to drill to truly control the narrative anymore. It's actually you know, it's a very big shift from like, you know, I was called the madman era of, of marketing, where it was very much like, let's just make things sound as great as they can and minimize how bad they sound. But really, in this modern era, and I think it's also with Gen Z and millennials, and I'm a millennial, you know, we expect transparency, and we were already came of age during a time where we already were kind of raised to be kind of suspicious of big companies in particular. And so, you know, if you have a company that, you know, that comes out, you know, if they're an AI company, and they're like, yeah, like, you know, this is gonna take a lot of energy to build our product and scale our product. But you know, what we're doing XY and Z to, you know, we're investing renewables, we're investing in energy efficiency. And we're, you know, we have this plan to make sure that as we're scaling, we're not, you know, we're not minimize, we're minimizing our footprint. You know, I've had few clients in the past at our data center companies, their plan is to scale and to increase the number of data centers that they maintain, but their goal is to not grow their energy usage. So they're doing that through a lot of different walkaways. I won't get into here. I personally believe that it's always better to own the narrative. And, and the narrative is always going to be about trial and error and failure and success. And actually, you know, it's funny, because he or anyone who's taken a creative writing class knows, I mean, I guess not everyone does, I have, you know, everyone knows, like, elements of a good story is you have a protagonist that is flawed, goes on a journey, try some stuff fails, overcomes it. And then while you as the as the person consuming the story, as you join that protagonist in their adventure, you learn to kind of love the character, because they're like, Oh, I've been there through with them through all these trials. You know, nobody likes a character that's perfect, or a company that's perfect. So going out there and being like, we're so great. It doesn't really serve you at all, it doesn't. At least, you know, this is where I think there's a wrinkle like, I was at a grievous conference a few months ago, we had there was a comp summit where they got together a bunch of comms people, stainability people and some lawyers, which is interesting, because often it's the legal team, that is the most concerned with what you're saying or not saying, for good reason. But sometimes, you know, there's a lot of Miss storytelling opportunities, because, you know, the lawyers are like, oh, you can't, you know, we can't say we're going to set goals because what if we don't achieve them and it constricts the company's ability to not only tell their story, but also actually proof and then increasingly so like I was reading this week in the UK, there's going to be increased scrutiny around greenwashing claims or you can actually be held legally liable, which I think is a good thing. But I think this just means you need to have better collaboration between your sustainability team, your comms team and your legal team doesn't mean like let's just be quiet all the time. That being said, going back to my earlier point about green bumbling Yeah, not everything needs to be a huge announcement, you know, you could put out a blog post saying, Yeah, we put out our ESG report, yay, you don't have to be going on these massive PR campaigns to try to generate interest in how great you are. Not everyone needs to be a leader either. I think that's also something some companies have a hard time with, like, the corporate sustainability movement in general is a big, it's a shift in capitalism and sense of like, we're all in this together. And that's something that I like about, you know, I go to these sustainability conferences. You know, a lot of people work at different companies, sometimes they're competitors. But yeah, maybe they compete in business. But you know, we're still all on the same team trying to save the planet. So it's, it's this, it's this weird kind of transition, which I'm really curious to see over the next decades, how that changes, just how we approach business in general, and moving away from this kind of sort of, you know, survival, the fittest to like, hey, if we all collaborate, and you know, even in pre competitive collaborations are proliferating, you know, we actually are all better off versus let's just like, you know, undercut our enemies all the time.


Sean McMahon  21:03

Yeah. So I mean, I think one of the reasons we were doing the show, is to bring senior level sustainability leaders together, listen to the pod, and quite frankly, steal ideas from each other. You know, if it's working across this business, or even within the same industry, to your point, like, we're all kind of pushing towards the same, you know, finish line on this. So that brings me to my next question. I know, you talked about your clients, you know, datacenters, trying to stay energy efficient and renewables. But I'm wondering if there's any companies out there that have told us sustainability story, and our companies that are not your clients, but you saw how they told that story? You looked at that and said, Wow, that was that comms person. Hit that out of the park. So any examples of that? And what really made it so successful in your eyes?


Mike Hower  21:49

Yeah, and I would say, I can't think of any specific campaigns in mind. But I will talk about companies that I think are doing a good job of integrating their sustainability comms just with everything they do. And unfortunately, the companies that do it best tend to be the private companies, because they don't have they can take more risks than a publicly traded company. And good examples. Like everybody knows Patagonia is all you know, they're just thoughts. Everyone holds up. There's just They're awesome. You know, they can they actually put on their website, they're only shareholders Earth mount, like, no one else. You can't do that if your public right. And, you know, everything, everything on their website just shows like there is no there is no corporate comm strategy and sustainability, comm strategy. They're like one in the same. I guess


Sean McMahon  22:30

Earth is a pretty big stakeholder. Right?


Mike Hower  22:32

Right. Exactly. Stakeholder. Yeah. And it's funny, because I did work with a competitor of Patagonia a couple years back, who was publicly traded, and they were always like, Oh, my God, we really, you know, why can't we be like Patagonia, we want people to love us, like Patagonia and and every time we came up with interesting stories or activations, they'd be like, Oh, no, we can't do that. We can't do that. Because that'll that'll piss off some of our customers or, and, you know, they didn't want to take a strong stance on Well, this was now they do but back then even talk, even taking a strong stance on climate was controversial. And a lot of it had to do with, you know, a lot of these companies are held by very conservative holding companies, and not not necessarily politically conservative, but just in the sense of that they're very, you know, they're very wary of risk. They see, oh, you know, especially the way the political winds are about ESG. And climate, oh, we'd rather we'd rather stay away from that we don't want to make anyone mad. And I think you've seen a lot of this recently, with the rise, I call it the ESG, anti ESG rabble, you know, I don't call it a movement, because it's really a small minority. But an amazing amount of companies are stopped starting to draw the ESG terminology, because they're terrified. And I think that's really disappointing, because, but it also is very telling, it shows the companies that truly believe in it. My big worry is, you know, the last two years has been just this amazing shot forward for ESG and sustainability. And so a lot of companies that were finally coming on board that were you know, okay, we're gonna start doing this. Now. They're, they're kind of getting the cold feet, wet feet, I don't know, if the term is, they're afraid of what's going to happen. And so they're backing off, it doesn't mean that they're there, they're still like doing the work. They're just not calling it ESG. But from as a communicator, I mean, I would like to see companies to be more bold and to just to stand up to these bullies, because it's not, you know, just because you have a couple people saying, Oh, yes, she's Wilk or whatever. It's like, if you actually knew what you were talking about, you wouldn't say that. And so that that as a as a communications guy, I would say, I try to push my clients to, to be as bold as they they're comfortable with, but but I think there's also a lot of waiting and seeing like, you know, if if you're in a certain industry, and most of your competitors aren't saying anything, you probably won't say anything, either. A lot of companies want to hide in the pack versus being the leader. But then if there's no leaders, where's the pack going?


Sean McMahon  24:51

So in addition to Patagonia, yeah, any publicly held companies that you think are doing it, right,


Mike Hower  24:57

yeah, I mean, you know, everybody, I was actually thinking about this question for a while, and I mean, Unilever's, like you kind of held up is like the best one. And I gotta get tired of talking about Unilever. But the other day, they clearly have embedded it in everything they do their sustainable living plan, other publicly traded companies, I mean, there's lots of poultry companies that are doing really good job, like with disclosure and reporting, they've got lots of good ESG strategy happening. They're, you know, investing in reporting programs, you know, like another one company that comes to mind is your city, they do a really good job with their disclosures. And actually, generally with their communication, I'd say all around, although their audience there, they're actually they have multiple stakeholder audiences. But you know, they're trying to reach you know, people like you and me, that bank with them. But also they have several other stakeholder groups they care about. I think we're also increasingly seeing companies that are thinking about IP owing are realizing that they need to start talking about this stuff before they go public. And it's something I wrote about this actually, a couple years back, I want to say is before it's time, but I was just like, you know, all these companies, they go public, and all of a sudden, they panic, because there's their investors and board members are like, where's our ESG report? And they were so focused on going public, they didn't think about that stuff. And so now more and more companies are like, oh, you know, we actually need to think about our, you know, our, our, our shared value creation strategy, and all that before we go public, and it actually can help their evaluations, like there's some evidence that that could happen. And I think, you know, with that the pending SEC rules that everyone's waiting to see what happens like that, actually, once that does pass, then we're gonna, every company that's public or thinking about going public is going to have to be thinking about these issues and talking about them.


Sean McMahon  26:37

Yeah, that's funny. There's so much paperwork involved in the IPO. And then they're like, Wait, now we got to do an ESG report.


Mike Hower  26:43

Right now. It's, I don't envy them. But that's why that's why consultants like me exist.


Evan Milberg  26:49

Just had a follow up question real quick. So your colleague at GreenBiz, Grant Harrison, recently published, I thought, this really great piece about how accountability and transparency shouldn't be viewed as synonymous. And one of the points I love to drive home on this podcast is that semantics matter? Can you touch a little bit on what you think of the difference between accountability and transparency in communications?


Mike Hower  27:20

Yeah, I read read Grant's article really liked it, too. When I think about transparency and accountability, I would say, transparency is just about showing what's under the hood, it's an accountability is making sure that everything under the, under the hood is as it should be. And I think that, you know, today, like, you know, I've been talking a lot about companies should be willing to talk about their failures, or the things that aren't going well, or the or, you know, the aspects of their business that are maybe not sustainable. They're working to improve. That's great. But like, if I'm, if I'm a company, and I'm like, oh, yeah, like we, you know, our, you know, our scope three emissions are, you know, which are your missions that are driven mostly by your supply chain, or scope three, emissions are pretty high, and we're doing XY and Z to try to address them. But you're, we're not there yet. But we're working on it like, that's fine. But that's not going to move us fast enough accountability, in my mind would be government set some rules, saying you have to reduce your scope three emissions by 30%. By whatever year, you'd be surprised these companies all of a sudden would find a way to do it. And so I think, for me, that's the difference is, I think they go hand in hand. And I think the voluntary transparency we're seeing right now is a good thing, because it's paving the way for companies to be more comfortable with the accountability that will come later through more regulation. And that's kind of like what I bet my career on. Like I thought, you know, early in my career, I thought a lot about like, oh, do I want to go the policy route, I want to, you know, work environmental policy or climate policy. And I talked to lots of people in different roles. And a lot of people even that worked in DC for a while, like in the pre Obama years, when people forget, the climate change wasn't a controversial topic, pre 2008, Republicans had their own climate action plan and became that and all that. And this guy was talking to he now runs, I think, at least, this was years ago. Now. He runs a solar Institute now. But he was he was working for some member on some big climate legislation before I think was before the 2010 elections. And they were almost there. And then the political winds changed and everything went went away. I think that's what made me decide to go the private sector route, because I think money talks and if we can get enough businesses to realize the value in this and realize that it's not about hugging trees, like this is literally about long term value creation. And more and more companies are coming around, then eventually, politicians will follow suit and then it'll kind of create this, this positive feedback loop of more a better policy will then encourage more companies to innovate and you know, we'll get to where we need to go.


Evan Milberg  29:51

One of the other things that I know you do, in addition to just informing strategy is helping to shape the next generation And of sustainability professionals. So what advice do you have for aspiring corporate sustainability professionals or people looking to change careers? And what's become a burgeoning field?


Mike Hower  30:11

I think I've learned a few things that a lot of people, you know, they think that talking to people and asking about their career journey is gonna give them tactical advantages. It's not really, you know, I could tell you, you know, actually on my, it's on my website, like, I have, like, my whole sustainability journey on there. It's very circuitous and unique to me, like, it's not necessarily going to help people, like, you know, I quit my first corporate job at a college to volunteer in South America for a year, I wouldn't say everyone should do that. That was just my journey. You can look at like, okay, what are the, you know, if I want to get a certain job, especially a technical job, what are the certifications or whatnot. But I think ultimately, what people need is just to know that you need to develop a really thick skin, and a growth mindset about these things, because, and this, I think this would apply to any career, honestly, you know, no one's got it figured out. And I think that's something that I learned in the last few years, especially as I've kind of, you know, made it to kind of more senior level roles. And I realized that like, even the senior people don't know what they're doing. Really, everyone's everyone's kind of making it up as they go along. Doesn't mean that they're not qualified. But that's not the point is to know that you can constantly learn and actually I was I got I got a coffee with a sustainability friend the other day, and he's, he's a little further his career than me. And he was saying, experience is really just just means that you failed a lot. And it's I like, I like that mindset, like, and it's same for me, you know, like, when you're early in your career, you're, you're really afraid of failure, because you have me, especially, you know, a lot of a lot of the pressures we put on young people today to be perfect and get into the perfect college and whatnot. They fear failure. But I think, you know, I fail plenty in my career, too, so far. And once you've overcome failure, you kind of achieve this once a Zen, but like, you just get more comfortable with everything, because you're like, Hey, I've got you know, I've, I've fallen on my face before, and I got back up, and I can do that. And so I think people pursuing a career and impact, they especially need to have that mindset because it's not as clear cut.


Evan Milberg  32:05

Alright, so Mike, if folks want to get involved with the Impact Hour or anything else you have going on? How can they reach you,


Mike Hower  32:13

you go to my website, HowerImpact.com Feel free to reach out to me, I also have a newsletter that you can find through my website, or feel free to email me and I'm happy to keep you posted.


Evan Milberg  32:23

And I will just say, I am a subscriber of the newsletter, and it is very good, highly recommend.


Mike Hower  32:29

Oh, thank you. Yeah. And it's called I'm calling it the Engage newsletter. So it's, it's basically everything that I like doing. So it's mostly focused on sustainability communications, but also I'm highlighting and people's careers and also people looking for jobs. So it's a little bit about like, how to stay focused in sustainability and how to communicate sustainability.


Evan Milberg  32:48

Well, this has been really informative, Mike, and thanks for joining us today.


Mike Hower  32:51

Thanks for having me.


Sean McMahon  32:59

All right, everyone. Well, that's our show for today. Thank you all for listening. And if you haven't already, please subscribe or follow this show on Apple, Spotify, Google, or wherever you listen to your podcasts. And as always, please be sure to share it with your friends and colleagues. Have a great day.