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Talking Climate – The Language of Change

During the last week of February 2022, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine impacted an already Covid-weary nation and global community, newly forced to take a hard look at how contemporary societies are supposed to function and interact. We’re trying to make sense of a changing reality. In the midst of that crisis, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issued part two of its comprehensive report, which highlights how impactful those changes actually are.

Seven years in the making, this study details the ways in which rapidly accelerating ecosystem breakdown is more severe than predicted, and measures the narrowing window of opportunity for humanity’s liveable future.

António Guterres, the UN secretary general, said: “Today’s IPCC report is an atlas of human suffering and a damning indictment of failed climate leadership.”

In the face a such monumental challenges, what can we do to build back better? At MetaDesign, an increasing number of our clients are establishing their positions and goals in regards to climate action – so it’s our job to advise them how to authentically influence public perception and awareness. We can help them avoid greenwashing. We can start talking differently about sustainability.

How Brands Can Shift the Conversation

Sustainability is an overused word, and one could argue it doesn’t really mean anything. What exactly are we trying to sustain, if our pattern habits are what got us into trouble? If people are starting to switch off when they hear companies talk about sustainability, what credible language might brands integrate to make people switch on and take notice?

In the IPCC’s 35-page summary for policy makers, sustainability is barely mentioned. I’m a member of the Publicis Sustainability Squad, and it’s often hard to get through a headline without twice spending this over-leveraged coin. Taking cues from the IPCC report, here’s a sample vocabulary list with definitions (some shortened) that can help our teams and clients communicate with greater relevance and steer clear of greenwashing.

Climate Resilience

The capacity of social, economic and ecosystems to cope with a hazardous event… in ways that maintain their essential function.

Climate Resistant Development

Involves questions of equity and system transitions in land, ocean and ecosystems; urban and infrastructure; energy; industry; and society and includes adaptations for human, ecosystem and planetary health.

Planetary Health

A concept based on the understanding that human health and human civilization depend on ecosystem health and the wise stewardship of ecosystems.

Ecosystem Health

A metaphor used to describe the condition of an ecosystem, by analogy with human health; judged on the ecosystem’s resilience to change.


Refers to a change in the fundamental attributes of natural and human systems.


In human systems, the process of adjustment to actual or expected climate and its effects in order to moderate harm or take advantage of beneficial opportunities.

Adaptation gaps

The difference between actually implemented adaptation and a societally set goal.

Ecosystem-based Adaptation (EbA)

Recognized internationally under the Convention on Biological Diversity.

Climate Justice

Comprises justice that links development and human rights to achieve a rights-based approach to addressing climate change.

Climate literacy

Encompasses being aware of climate change, its anthropogenic causes and implications.

These contemporary terms and definitions open the window for brands to further explore ways of communicating about this global challenge. A debt of gratitude to the people who wrote the report and continue to evolve the dialog about climate impacts. The truth is, what companies say ultimately has to be backed by their actions. But maybe what we end up doing with this tenuous future of ours will be partially and positively impacted by what we say.

Joshua Englander is a strategy partner at MetaDesign in Berlin. You can contact him at

Image source: Photo by Ross Findon on Unsplash