Shake on It

Our Energy & Sustainability team just wrapped their support of a variety of clients making announcements and commitments during the COP27 climate conference in Egypt, and they’ve got some tips for anyone interested in maximizing a future summit. 

While concrete commitments to meet emission reduction targets were lacking, a historic agreement was reached on a “loss and damage” fund to help nations hit hardest by climate disasters. Many of the salient details, including who pays for it and who can benefit from it, will be on the agenda for COP28 in the United Arab Emirates in 2023. 

If you’re thinking of participating in the future, our team recommends: 

  • The best time to host offsite events is in the evening, after daily programming has ended. Food and drinks are a must after the long days at the conference. 
  • Don’t be disappointed if you don’t get a response from climate reporters on the ground. They’re oversaturated but expecting to be spammed – keep at it! 
  • Make sure any events / moments accommodate reporters following along virtually (i.e., livestream or recording). 
  • Use external hooks and other current events at home to make your COP announcements timely and relevant to even non-COP beat reporters. 
  • Look at COP as a long-term relationship building opportunity with reporters. Many may be interested in post-COP client announcements if the relationship is maintained. Get to know them while you have the face time, especially when you don’t have an immediate ask.

Tuber Trade

The United States is not the only country enjoying U.S. sweet potatoes, our Food & Ag team reports.

According to the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, the United States was the top global exporter, by volume, of sweet potatoes in 2020. 

U.S. sweet potato exports on a fresh-weight basis increased 1,157 percent from 2001 to 2021, and the annual value of exports grew from $14 million to $187 million in the same period. Promotion of the tuber’s health benefits and food companies’ expanding sweet potato offerings—such as sweet potato chips and fries—have helped fuel the expansion. 

Exports to the United Kingdom and European Union experienced strong year-over-year growth from the mid-2000s until 2018.

Rising global competition and the damage caused by Hurricane Florence to the 2019 crop in North Carolina—the state leading U.S. production—cooled the export market. From 2018 to 2021, exports declined to the United Kingdom by 28% and to the European Union by 12%. Meanwhile, exports have continued to increase to Canada, among other destinations. 

The United States ranks seventh globally in sweet potato production, according to FAO. Over the past 20 years, top-producing U.S. States more than doubled sweet potato production to meet growing international and domestic demand. This trend has plateaued since U.S. sweet potato production reached a record high in 2017.

War for Talent vs. War on Woke

What are the election’s implications for companies as they seek to protect and enhance their reputations—and how do they fit within the pressures we’ve seen companies face over the past years?

Moving forward, businesses will have to deal with two opposing forces:

  • Young people will continue to pressure companies to weigh in on social, political and cultural issues. Young voters came out for Democrats, and abortion ranked high on their concerns. These Gen Z voters—together with millennials—are more likely than older generations to believe companies should take a stand. They are companies’ future talent and future customers.
  • The counter-reaction. Governor Ron DeSantis, one of the big winners from this cycle, squarely took on “woke corporations.” Conservatives will be looking at the coalition DeSantis assembled, as well as his very public fight against Disney.

So what does this mean for the landscape companies will operate in?

  • More theatrics. We may not see significant policy changes, but the theater of hearings will put pressure on companies. In the absence of actual legislative action, these sideshows also move to the main stage. Which in turn moves the center of conversation toward taking on “woke capitalism” – and generally more to the extreme.
  • Divided government. It’s possible we could see a situation where someone like Larry Fink from BlackRock is aggressively challenged by a Senate committee for not pushing harder on climate change—and the next day by a House committee for pursuing ESG.
  • Unexpected alliances. What unites Gen Z progressive and older blue-collar voters is a strong mistrust of large corporations. With labor seeing a lift in popularity among Gen Z, and part of the conservative movement questioning untrammeled free markets, expect unlikely alliances.
  • The unknowns. Corporations have spent recent years navigating sociopolitical flashpoints. In a volatile, uncertain environment, we should expect more of the same—especially as staying silent no longer means neutrality.

What we then see as the emerging battleground for business is the tension between the war for talent and the war on woke—the need to speak to the values and priorities of the next generation of talent while dealing with those who see ESG and DE&I as back door attempts to impose a liberal-left agenda.

In this context, our core guidance is to commit to be ready.

Gather information on your relevant facts, your people, your direct impact, your environment and your past.

Engage authentically. Prepare decisions. And activate across disciplines and outside help as needed.

COP Talk

The first week of COP 27 in Sharm El-Sheikh was punctuated by Friday’s Global Carbon Budget report that there’s a 50% chance the global temperature increase will surpass 1.5 degrees Celsius by 2030. The conference so far is also notable for including “loss and damage” on the agenda –compensating low-income and emissions countries for climate change impacts—in a historic first. And another unexpected outcome: Calls for remaking the development bank system to respond to climate change. 

Here are other themes our Energy and Sustainability team is watching for:

  • The war in Ukraine has upended governments’ priorities and shifted political focus from the climate crisis towards short-term energy security. Challenges posed by spiraling prices for fossil fuels, the fragility of clean energy supply chains and higher interest rates have intensified tensions and deepened mistrust in the international community and will make for difficult conversations at COP.
  • Adaptation and concerted action to tackle the implementation gap. The most important challenge for governments at COP27 will be to demonstrate a willingness to act together in the UN context and to prove the resilience of multilateral cooperation in times of multiple crises as 2022 emissions increase. The outcome of the first ongoing Global Stocktake will reveal the collective progress and gaps from nations and corporates under the Paris Agreement. 
  • Financing low- and middle-income countries’ pathway to net-zero and the question of reparations will dominate negotiations. Despite some progress at COP26, developing nations will demand more support while developed countries see themselves sliding into recession. 
  • New interest in African oil and gas reserves exposes an old North-South divide. African countries are expected to double down on their right to exploit their own enormous oil and gas reserves, but finance is steering away from supporting such projects as global demand adapts. At the very least, the push for new investments in fossil fuels on the African continent could become a valuable bargaining chip for African nations when making the case for more financial support. 
  • There are some bright spots–and corporates can lead the way. The U.S.’ massive Inflation Reduction Act and the E.U’s continued implementation of its Green Deal show real progress. Corporates can stand out by demonstrating credible implementation plans for their commitments.

Twitter Patter

As with most things in America in 2022, there’s a stark partisan divide when it comes to perceptions of Elon Musk’s purchase of Twitter. 

Our Research and Insights team asked our insight community TrendSpotters—a group of 300 news-attentive voters—about how they felt about Elon Musk’s acquisition of Twitter from November 3-7.

Here’s what they found:

  • Nearly all Democrats surveyed (96%) want companies to stop advertising on the platform if safety standards are lowered, but such a move by brands would be opposed by nearly three-quarters (74%) of Republicans.
    • Democrats warn brands that they could appear complicit in supporting hate speech if they continue to advertise on the platform.
    • Republicans champion free speech – and believe it’s up to the consumer to decide what they read. 
  • This reaction reflects strong partisan differences in reactions to Elon Musk’s purchase of Twitter – 60% of Republicans are pleased with news about the acquisition, but only 4% of Democrats are.
    • Other Republicans are indifferent (21%) to the news, while Democrats feel skeptical (30%), fearful (20%), or indifferent (20%) about this acquisition.
  • Democrats fear changes to the platform will worsen division and exacerbate “hate speech” – with concerns raised about Musk lifting bans or enabling imposter accounts through changes to the blue check.
  • But Republicans see the acquisition as a welcome corrective to the “silencing” of conservative voices on social media platforms, even if they don’t personally warm to Musk.

Reflecting their high level of media engagement and news-attentiveness, two-thirds of participants have a Twitter account – with a quarter checking it daily.

Our latest recommendations for how brands should approach Twitter are updated here.

Deliberation Nation

Election Day 2022 is here. For up-to-date analysis from FGS Global experts before and after the results, bookmark our 2022 U.S. Election Dashboard.

On the last day Americans can cast their ballots in the 2022 midterm elections, here are the arguments each party wants voters to take to the polls:  

  • Republicans want this election to be a referendum on the economy. 
    • With a message focused on the economy and crime, Republicans are confident about winning the House and have reason to be optimistic about the Senate. 51% of voters trust Republicans to do a better job handling both crime and the economy (compared to 35% and 37% who trust Democrats more, respectively). 
    • As they gain momentum, GOP money is being spent in bluer districts that were not competitive two months ago.
  • Democrats want this to be a choice election.
    • Democrats have recalibrated their messaging to put more emphasis on the economy and election integrity.
    • But they continue to focus on abortion, the future of democracy and how a Republican takeover would threaten Social Security and turn back progress on health care.
    • Fifty percent of voters say a candidate’s position on abortion, threats to democracy and voting and addressing the cost of living by raising taxes on corporations is more important in deciding their vote. That’s compared to 44% who say a candidate’s position on crime, the situation at the border and addressing the cost of living by cutting government spending is more important.

Here’s how the winning party could impact governing for years to come:

  • President Biden’s agenda:
    • If the GOP takes the House or Senate, Biden’s legislative agenda will grind to a halt.
    • If Democrats keep both chambers, it could cement their mandate.
  • Investigations:
    • If the GOP takes control of the House, the Jan. 6 commission will likely dissolve.
    • New investigations could move forward focused on topics like Hunter Biden and the Mar-a-Lago raid.
  • Nominations:
    • If the GOP takes the Senate, many of Biden’s court and agency nominees could be blocked until after 2024.
  • State-level powers & policy:
    • Abortion could be restricted or banned in several states.
    • Secretary of State races will determine which party has power to verify (or contest) 2024 presidential election results.

Read on for our Research and Insights team’s full election analysis.

Races to Watch

Our Research and Insights team compiled a list of bellwether races to keep an eye on this evening in order of poll closing times:

Polls that close at 7pm EST:

  • Florida Gubernatorial
  • Georgia Senate
  • Maine’s 2nd 
  • Three races in Virginia: VA-02, VA-07, VA-10

Polls that close at 7:30pm EST:

  • Ohio’s 1st

Polls that close at 8pm EST:

  • Two races in Michigan: Gubernatorial and MI-07
  • Three races in Pennsylvania: Senate, Gubernatorial, PA-07
  • Kansas Gubernatorial
  • New Hampshire Senate
  • Texas’s 15th

Polls that close at 9pm EST:

  • Two races in Arizona: Senate and Gubernatorial
  • Two races in Wisconsin: Senate and Gubernatorial
  • Iowa’s 3rd
  • Nebraska’s 2nd
  • New York Gubernatorial
  • Pennsylvania Senate

Polls that close at 10pm EST:

  •  Nevada Senate

Polls that close at 11pm EST:

  • California’s 27th
  • Washington Senate

Several important races may not be called on Election Night as mail ballots are counted, including closely watched races in PA, WI, OH, and NV. Because Democrats tend to cast more mail ballots, initial results may indicate a Republican lead before all ballots are counted.

View from the (Former) Press Box

Nedra here: As a former White House reporter, I see the midterms as the first day of the 2024 presidential race. What themes and personalities will win the hearts and minds of voters? Many politicians we’ve seen campaigning this midterm –for themselves or on behalf of others –clearly have higher ambitions and are laying the groundwork for a presidential run. And there’s no bigger shadow campaign than the one being run by the current president amid more Democrats calling for him not to run for re-election.

Here’s what else some of my fellow FGS colleagues who also happen to be former political reporters are watching:

Beth Fouhy: I’ll be watching for turnout, particularly among younger voters. We saw a noticeable surge in registration among younger voters after the Dobbs decision. Will those voters turn out? Historically, younger voters are very underrepresented in midterm elections. I’ll also be watching the Hispanic vote in several key states, including Nevada and Florida. While still largely Democratic, we’ve seen a slow, steady movement to the right among some Hispanic voters, especially younger men. Will that still be the case this time?

Anne Gearan: Like everyone else I’ll be looking at Georgia and Pennsylvania, but I think it’s worth stepping back a bit and thinking about how those two very different states have emerged as pivotal. The dynamics making each state competitive share characteristics yet look different: urbanization, ease of employment but inability to afford housing, changing demographics, class disparities.

Jennifer Loven: I’m watching whether the political media capture the true drivers behind the results. Can the media go beyond stubborn horse-race obsession and simplistic issue reporting to explain the myriad types of anger and fear across demographics, like women, rural communities, left-behind geographies, young people, urban dwellers, voters of color and more? Companies need to understand whose anger and fear won this time, and where and why, because those are their customers, employees, investors and regulators.