Climate change now top social issue facing corporate brands

28 January 2020 2 min. read
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Climate change has replaced “a living wage” as the issue creating the greatest social pressure on corporate brands, according to recent research conducted by High Lantern Group (HLG), a strategy consultancy focusing on business leadership and reputation.

HLG’s second edition of its Brand Pressure Index tracked more than 3,000 “elite stakeholders” (activists, influencers, and political figures) to measure the social issues at the forefront of public discourse and with the greatest impact on corporate brands. The 2019 analysis included 6.2 million tweets across 300 top social issues intersecting with 1,000 brands.

Climate change became the number one brand pressure issue in 2019, with a 77% increase in mentions of corporate brands in relation to the issue. Sustainability issues saw a big jump last year, comprising 6 of the top 20 issues (climate change, plant-based food, pesticides, fossil fuels, electric vehicles, plastic pollution).

Plant & lab-based foods saw a massive 274% increase to become the number two issue, riding a wave of concern over food production and sustainability.

Top corporate issues - Top 20 business targets of stakeholder pressure

Aviation safety saw the largest jump (689%), driven largely by the ongoing Boeing 737 Max scandal. HLG notes that these issues tend to be incident-driven, and rise as flashpoints occur.

Tobacco & Nicotine products saw the fourth-highest increase, at 53%, driven by safety concerns over vaping, where deaths have been linked to vitamin E acetate in black market THC vape pods.

Gender equality jumped 18% in mentions, while sexual harassment and race equality mentions fell by 16% and 25% respectively.

HLG’s Brand Pressure Index found that issue-related pressure increased by 3.8% overall in the past year compared to the previous 12 months.

Facebook remained the top business target of stakeholder pressure by a fair margin, though its mentions dropped slightly, by 6%. Amazon and Alphabet rounded out the top three.

Boeing rocketed to fourth place (514%) on the back of the 737 Max crashes and subsequent grounding of the fleet. The firm announced it would suspend production of the plane from the start of 2020.

Other brands seeing notable increases in their mentions were Chinese tech firm Huawei (333%), Beyond Meat (218%), and Netflix (146%).

"Engaging on social issues is now a necessary feature of business strategy," said Rob Gluck, managing partner of High Lantern Group. "The decision every CEO must make is how to engage on these issues in a way that is true to their brand and leverages the core competencies of their business.”