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Four Key Trends Shaping Sustainable and Responsible Business in 2024

January 30, 2024
By Mandy McAnally

The world is bracing for a 2024 that brings the unpredictability of unprecedented global elections, disruptive AI technology and an onslaught of environmental, social and governance disclosure rules. All of this will shape how companies operate sustainably and responsibly now and in the years to come. Below are some of the top trends that communicators will need to navigate in 2024. 

Climate disclosure requirements will become a reality, and companies must be prepared. 

New disclosure rules have serious implications for corporate reputation, company culture and operations, and legal and financial matters. The throng of disclosure requirements hitting thousands of companies will significantly change the approach to communications for many of the world’s largest brands. Companies operating in California, whether headquartered there or not, will be impacted by three climate reporting bills, requiring certain organizations to back up their public sustainability claims with third-party verified data. For many companies subject to the EU’s Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD), FY24 starts the clock ticking as the basis for comprehensive disclosures that go well beyond climate and will need to be included in their 2025 reporting.  

Compliance is a massive undertaking and will demand new models of internal communications, culture change and collaboration just to navigate the process, along with skilled communication professionals who must plan now for the impending era of unparalleled transparency. Learn more in FleishmanHillard’s brief on EU and U.S. Sustainability Disclosure Requirements

Climate action commitments and challenges loom large as countries look to COP29. 

COP28 marked progress in addressing the climate crisis, including creation of a loss and damage fund and first-ever reference to transitioning away from fossil fuel, but reinforced the formidable challenges to reaching a lower and then zero-carbon future. We also saw an elevated focus on biodiversity and health equity as climate change increasingly impacts public health. The implications of COP28 will be significant for companies addressing disparate legal and regulatory frameworks, managing political expectations and communicating with stakeholders and the public about climate action.  

Expectations for COP29 in Azerbaijan will be equally high, and eyes will be on the need to increase public and private sector financial commitments. Companies should prepare to communicate tangible and forward-looking climate action and manage questions or challenges related to the direction and pace of change.  

2024 elections will profoundly influence future action on sustainability and social responsibility. 

Elections are scheduled in 70 countries in 2024, which means voters will make their voice heard on major issues like climate, human rights, societal inclusion and more. Companies operating in the U.S. will need to navigate the politicization of ESG, as a term and construct, even as other countries push ahead, and public interest remains strong. National climate agendas and efforts to advance diversity, equity and inclusion have already undergone significant changes in the past year, but the elections could profoundly influence future action on these issues. Communications teams need to work cross-functionally to provide expert counsel to companies navigating political headwinds, decide when and how to engage with the media and stakeholders, and to maintain a clear and authentic message as the landscape shifts. 

Companies will increasingly leverage AI as a core solution to advance their ESG objectives. Regulators will try to keep up. 

More companies will make AI a core solution to accelerate and track their progress toward their decarbonization objectives. Bringing the worlds of technology and climate change together is not a new phenomenon. Yet the speed at which AI is catalyzing technological innovation and driving change is focusing minds on how to effectively leverage AI in an accountable and transparent way. While some of the largest cloud providers claim carbon-neutral operations, there are scores of data centers and providers that can’t. Looking ahead, we’re sure to see more headlines decrying the environmental impacts of resource-intensive AI. FleishmanHillard’s global advisory approach can help companies navigate emerging policy discussions and different stakeholder expectations as the business, regulatory and international environments explore and implement AI solutions. 

This year, businesses, governments and consumers are entering uncharted territory. What companies need now, more than ever, is a business strategy that unifies all corporate functions globally to not only successfully adhere to new ESG regulations but also communicate authentically and transparently. An approach that is siloed at the country, function and even agency level must evolve to a connected outlook. FleishmanHillard’s unique global advisory approach helps companies anticipate the shifting sands in a coherent and connected way across policy, legal, brand, communications and reputation. Connect with us at [email protected] to learn more. 

Bob Axelrod, Michael Hartt and Jane Gimber contributed to this article.