Mind the Gaps: How Experience Data can Help Fight Climate Change

  • A study of more than 11,000 people in 28 countries by the World Economic Forum, Qualtrics and SAP suggests we are far from reaching a consensus about who is responsible for taking action on climate change and who is trusted to do so

  • Results suggest 81% of people say businesses are primarily responsible for taking action on climate change, for example, yet only 28% trust businesses’ claims about sustainable practices.

  • Analysing experience data is crucial to know what solutions will drive impact on climate change.

If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that collaboration and trust are critical to addressing global crises. In a world where the number and severity of extreme weather events are on the rise, biodiversity is declining and sea levels are rising, global cooperation on combating climate change has never been more critical.

A study of more than 11,000 people in 28 countries by the World Economic Forum in collaboration with Qualtrics and SAP suggests that global citizens are on the same page about the cause of climate change. In the study, 78% agree that climate change is human-caused and 87% believe it is extremely important for countries to work together to address the problem.

The research also indicates that we’re far from reaching a consensus about who is responsible for taking action and who is trusted to do so. In other words, the difficulty of agreeing on how to work together and what to focus on has proven to be a stumbling block in the way of progress.

Global perspectives on climate change
Global perspectives on climate change
Image: qualtrics/SAP

A significant number of people feel there’s nothing they can do individually to solve the climate crisis and instead are looking to businesses and governments to lead the way. Yet, while 81% say businesses are primarily responsible for taking action, only 28% trust businesses’ claims about sustainable practices.

Understanding people’s experiences is crucial to knowing what solutions will drive impact. Experience data – data that reveals how people are thinking, feeling and behaving – can help governments and businesses understand what motivates people to support climate efforts and make sustainable changes of their own in order to restore and sustain the healthy planet we all want to live on.

Opinion and experience gaps

People often don’t understand the marketing vocabulary businesses use to showcase sustainability. Myriad terms such as renewable, net-zero emissions, recycled and carbon offset can leave consumers confused about what a company is actually doing for the environment. At the same time, greenwashing (or conveying false or misleading information about the environmental impact of a company’s products and services) is a growing problem and one of the main reasons there is so little trust in businesses’ claims.

In the face of these challenges, there are a few things businesses can do to help close these gaps in experience and understanding. Firstly, a commitment to complete transparency about environmental messaging is critical to building public trust. Then, businesses need to regularly ask customers if they understand their climate change promises and furthermore, if they believe them. This kind of experience data is necessary for companies that want to make data-driven decisions about which initiatives consumers will support and, therefore, which will have the most impact.

Responsibility and progress of business on climate change

The same can be said of governments. More than half of the people in the study (59%) believe governments are doing too little to address climate change. Lawmakers would benefit from experience data to understand which levers to pull in designing the most effective and trusted policies.

Governments and businesses alike should repeatedly take their constituents’ pulse to gauge what they should be focusing on and then to measure their perceived progress. This not only helps keep organizations accountable to their goals but also serves to educate constituents about their part in supporting government sustainability initiatives. Citizens will be more motivated to participate when they feel like they are part of the solution.

Where belief meets action

Taking a look at the big picture, we are overwhelmingly aligned globally when it comes to the importance of addressing climate change. Most people trust what scientists are saying about the consequences of inaction, but 51%, say change is happening too slowly.

With the abundance of data that scientists are sharing about global temperatures and the effects on weather systems, sea levels and habitats, it may seem unnecessary to throw experience data into the mix. But all actions start with a belief and a correct understanding of a problem is vital to come up with correct solutions.

While no one consumer may be able to combat climate change on their own, their collective mindset can have a profound influence on the governments and businesses that serve them. It’s worth studying people’s perceptions of and experiences with climate change to the greatest degree possible.

We’ve already made incredible progress toward a concerted global effort against climate change. Public trust in climate science is higher than ever. As we continue to measure, analyse and respond to people’s experiences, we will be increasingly able to dispel myths and build consensus around solutions that really drive impact.

This article first appeared on the World Economic Forum website.