As I continually emphasise, public relations is both a positive social force and a facilitator for helping positive social forces take place. Climate change is a perfect example of how public relations can make, and help make, a positive difference to the world.
The core strategic remit of public relations professionals is to identify issues impacting on organisation-stakeholder relationships and undertake three activities:
- Enhance the communication between an organisation and its stakeholders to create the best possible and most business-helpful relationships between them
- Encourage organisations to adapt their processes/behaviour so that they are more in line with stakeholder expectations and wants (leading to a socially-helpful relationships)
- Encourage stakeholders to adapt their behaviour so that they are more in line with organisational preferences.
When it comes to climate change, the upshot is pretty transparent. Though it is certainly harder for those working in industries such as power generation, resources and FMCG (with the latter’s love of resource-heavy packaging).
This raises the question of should all industries and all participants in these industries be judged by the same standards as those that are not in such a difficult ‘climate change position’? Perhaps it comes down to doing the best you can in different circumstances.
The easy way out is to brand all public relations practitioners who work for these industries as pariahs, but we are all conflicted by contemporary society. In Australia, especially, we are dependant on coal-fired power stations (a huge emitter of carbon) to live our daily lives. And heaven forbid the politician who tries to wean us off this dependency. The result will be increased prices for electricity, at least some unemployment and plenty of local community turmoil.
Politicians, driven by votes, lack the fibre to make these calls. Voters, driven by financial issues, lack the fibre to support the hard decisions being made. And so life goes on…
It just goes to show what a heavy responsibility business has. It is they who run western democracies, not governments. What public relations professionals can do is peel the scales from organisations’ eyes:
- Identify stakeholder sentiments in wanting to reduce the impact of global warming
- Provide positives for them in changing the way business operates (enhanced stakeholder loyalty)
- Take a strong role in driving corporate social responsibility and leverage the positive stakeholder relationship benefits that result from taking such as approach.
I have said before, public relations professionals are the conscience of an organisation. We advocate stakeholders as much as we advocate organisations. By ‘working’ for both we are more likely to help encourage a win-win outcome for all parties.
One of the most strategic actions public relations professionals can do in relation to climate change is to introduce elements related to this through market research. This will obviously need to be customised to different organisations’ realities and business drivers. But it as relevant to corporate and government organisations as it is to industry associations, quangos and NGOs. It has to be, because the environment and health of the planet is relevant to all of us.
These climate change-related questions can, in turn, be related to communication activity and objectives. None of which are going to be successfully undertaken unless the organisation behaves positively in a climate change sense. But here we go back to one of our primary roles: motivating and stimulating change internally. The external research we have done gives us ammunition to help achieve this.
Also, why wait to be asked for your views on climate change or sustainability. We’re in PR. We’re strategic. We’re proactive!
Go and seek the internal organisation influencers. Present them with data you have found on how an enhanced sustainability profile can benefit the organisation – its business outcomes, its relationship outcomes, its reputation.
“Companies that have built a strong reputation spark positive word-of-mouth,” says the Reputation Institute in their 2009 Global Reputation Pulse. And we all know positive or negative word of mouth impacts on sales and is the most potent form of marketing available.”
Influence these key stakeholders. Create your own internal advocacy campaign. Create alliances internally with those that will help get your efforts over the line. Get external third party support/credibility from those who the big decisions makers (CEO, COO) think highly of.
There are practical actions that we can take as public relations, too, in regard to climate change and minimising our environmental footprint:
- Use recycled paper for all publications and other materials
- Use digital communication rather than hard copy communication wherever feasible
- Keep databases updated and accurate to minimise wastage
- Segment and target audiences with communication – don’t send communication to stakeholders who have no interest in the communication’s topic
- When managing events, take a consciously sustainable approach. Make it a condition for any service providers that they apply a best practice approach to sustainability (e.g. waterless urinals; recycling of dishwashing water)
- As per the previous point, when evaluating external proposals, make it a criteria that is seriously taken into account (no spin, please) that their proposal will be evaluated on its sustainability merits (this could include assessing the ‘air miles’ of a product or service).
One of the outcomes I would personally like to see occur is the eradication of energy-sucking LEDs from electrical appliances. Who needs them! Mostly, all they do is tell you that power is travelling through a device – big deal! Individual LEDs use little energy, but together they consume a motza.
Create an internal campaign. Make it an IT purchasing policy to buy only LED-less electrical items. It has to start somewhere.
Yes, we can!
In short, apply best practice communication strategy to your own efforts to make a positive difference to this world. Act local, think global. Can we make a difference? Most definitely, yes we can.
[Tell me other ways in which public relations professionals and marketers can make a positive difference to the environment. Let's all make a difference!]
This post is part of Blog Action Day 2009. BAD is an annual event that unites the world’s bloggers in posting about the same issue on the same day on their own blogs with the aim of sparking discussion around an issue of global importance. Blog Action Day 2009 aims to be the largest-ever social change event on the web.
This year the theme of BAD is climate change. This post is my contribution to BAD, which takes place on 15 October each year (uploaded slightly early by me as I am heading to the country for some time out).