In his farewell address, President Barack Obama left Americans with a sense of urgency about the need to combat the Earth’s changing climate, an urgency that was communicated by the president on numerous occasions both to Congress and the public. And yet, while a majority of European citizens believe it’s a necessity to take action on climate change, the U.S. is still creeping toward that end.
In part, because almost half of the U.S. Congress doesn’t believe in the validity of scientific data surrounding climate change. According to a 2017 Vice Media report, 53 U.S. senators and 232 House of Representative members are climate-change deniers. As a result, a barrier exists between the offices of some congressional members and the districts they serve. Instead of a steady flow of debate surrounding the issue of climate change, there is silence, or in some cases, denial.
But, effective communication on a federal level is not the only way to get citizens to invest time and money into climate change or generalized environmental advocacy. Until Congress is ready to reach a consensus on the issue, the burden falls on research institutions, corporations and the people. Public relations practitioners across companies have prevaricated taking up the mantle of sustainability advocacy in their companies.
There are three keys to promulgating an educational and memorable environmental communications campaign that can be deployed by public relations practitioners.
Become a “B” Company
1. Submitting an impact assessment that gauges company impact on workers, the community and the environment.
2. Filling out a questionnaire (secretive, exact questions unknown).
3. Fulfilling a company background check.
B Certificates require companies to be transparent about their environmental practices, and transparency is a pillar of public relations, especially when the impact can be global. This certification can also help companies connect with environmentally conscious latent publics, and in some cases even expand reach to niche markets previously unknown to the company.
Encourage customers to become environmentally conscious
In 2011, Patagonia launched the “Don’t Buy This Jacket” campaign with ads initially running in The New York Times. The campaign was an attempt to weaken the base on which most product-oriented companies are built: consumerism. Patagonia cited its mission statement as the reason for the campaign. A campaign news release read, “It would be hypocritical for us to work for environmental change without encouraging customers to think before they buy.” Patagonia showed an ardor for the environment over profits, a point that was emphasized further because the campaign was launched on Black Friday.
Push the good stuff
The last example in this blog may seem incompatible with your vision of true environmental sustainability. Yet, Walmart has learned how to utilize communication skills for the common good. In a news release, Walmart announced the launch of its partnership with Wild Oats, a producer of organic foods. This led to new organic product signage in stores, advertisements in local newspapers and plenty of earned media coverage from Forbes to The Chicago Tribune.
The limitations of all these examples are obvious. As public relations practitioners we can only work within the realm of our company structure. We tell executives what our publics care about, and increasingly the environment is an important issue. However, corporate public relations practitioners can’t do the heavy lifting on environmental communications — only the light dumbbells with a little cardio mixed in.
These tips are only meant for the short term. Where the duty of corporate public relations practitioners ends the obligation of government communicators begins. For now, all hands are needed for the task ahead.
Written by Noah Avery Greene, VP of community service and high school outreach.