Executive Summary: Predicting the Present: Responding to the European Green Deal and the New Normal

On Sept. 29, 2020, the FiscalNote Executive Institute and Weber Shandwick co-hosted a virtual roundtable discussion, “Predicting the Present: Responding to the European Green Deal and the New Normal” with Nathalie Errard, Senior Vice President, Head of Europe and NATO affairs at Airbus; Joris Pollet, Vice-President, Global Government Relations and Public Policy Europe at P&G; and Will Surman, Director of Public Affairs and Communications at FoodDrinkEurope. The discussion was facilitated by FNEI Chairman Dave Curran and Oliver Drewes, Weber Shandwick’s Senior Executive Director of Public Affairs.

A Green Recovery from the Coronavirus Crisis?

  • The European Green Deal aims to achieve a “Brave, New, (green) World” for the European Union, with the goal of becoming the first climate-neutral continent by 2050.
  • The European Union’s proposed €750 billion fund to help the bloc recover from the COVID-19 crisis has set aside 25 percent of all funding for climate action.
  • During the Sept. 2020 State of the Union Address, President Ursula von der Leyen announced the European Commission is proposing increasing the 2030 target for emission reduction from 40 percent to at least 55 percent.

Greening Requires a Pragmatic Approach, Practical Implementation

  • Businesses should be seen as facilitators, not blockers of progress. Industries must be involved in discussions with the European Commision and provide concrete evidence about what is working to help decision makers and member states effectively reach their targets.
  • Aspiration targets are not a bad starting place, but the devil is in the details. The broader guidelines in EU’s legislative proposals will affect businesses from end to end, from sourcing of materials, manufacturing, product design, and marketing to distribution and waste management. It’s a comprehensive effort that requires resources, planning and engagement, for both the short and long term.
  • It’s not just the European Green Deal, but the Green Deal the world is embracing. The Green Deal is creating opportunities for Europe to lead by example. If Europe gets it right, the world might follow; EU greening legislation is popular in Asia, Latin America and Africa.

Goals Cannot Be Met Without a Level Playing Field

  • When businesses are asked to do things differently, costs often go up, and EU companies become less competitive in global markets. The EU Green Deal invites questions about reassessing what a single market looks like and how it facilitates trade across member states.
  • Implementation has to begin at the member-state level, and member states must be held accountable for how funds are spent. Some policymakers complain that projects in research and development and digitalization outsourced to member states will be “lost in translation” in how money is allocated and used. A lack of documentation creates reputational risk and will undermine the greening process as a whole.

Global Crises Emphasize Reality Versus Ideology

  • It’s only when Covid-19 comes along that people begin to understand businesses can’t go green when they’re in the red—the recovery strategy must combine short-term economic needs with long-term sustainability goals.
  • What a consumer wants from an aspirational point of view is not always possible from a practical point of view. Sustainable farming can cause the price of food to go up. Is the consumer ready to pay more for that food? The Commission has very ambitious ideas, but they shouldn’t be executed at the expense of exporting production, where companies have no control over production standards that undermine sustainability, for example.
  • When Covid-19 strikes, it brings everyone back to earth pretty quickly in terms of what people want and when they want it. When the pandemic hit in March 2020, the food and beverage industry became very relevant, and mobilized to have regular, daily conversations with EU policymakers, strengthening relationships. Covid-19 was a wake-up call for policymakers who don’t always fully understand what’s happening on the ground.

To Stay on Course, Businesses Have to Focus Organizationally

  • Internal communications are almost more demanding than external communication in relaying progress. If businesses want to be able to explain to EU stakeholders why change takes time, government relations teams need to listen to the product people, the engineers. They need to understand what’s feasible, and what the questions are.
  • Environmental, social and governance (“ESG”) issues increasingly demand quick turnaround, “resiliency pressure testing.” Make sure global business units are aware of regulations and policies and can understand them, anticipate what is to come.
  • Companies need to connect departments that were probably never connected before. If they want to be able to explain to EU stakeholders why change takes time, they have to listen to the product people, the engineering people … understand what’s feasible and what the questions are. Anticipate, activate, and advocate for the right changes and processes.
  • Each company is different, in terms of where ESG should reside. To ensure consistency in messaging and information, strategy and public affairs play key roles. However, sustainability presents liability issues and reputational risks, meaning a global legal function is central to its success. What is important is that there is a strong correlation between what is said and what can be done.
  • Having the right information served up at the right time to make the right decisions is key. The status quo doesn’t work. Take advantage of trade associations and public affairs firms that can create clear, concise communications based on accurate data.