Public Relations – The Unsung Hero of the Climate Change Fight

Two-thirds of Americans believe climate change is an urgent problem and that more action is needed to properly combat this theat. While some think that government intervention is the solution and advocate for ideas such as the Green New Deal, the reality is that barely 11% of Americans have any confidence in Congress to get anything accomplished, let alone to pass such a substantive piece of legislation. With this lack of confidence and with differing ideologies for how best to tackle climate change, much of the burden rests in the hands of the private sector. Many forward-thinking companies recognize that protecting the environment is in their best interest. Improving energy efficiency reduces overhead costs. Switching to renewable energy will save money in the long term. Adopting sustainable practices improves consumer perceptions and bolsters brand image. It’s not just the right thing to do, it’s the more profitable thing to do.

But, are consumers aware of what the private sector is already doing to combat climate change, and how many companies are being built to provide green technology and sustainable solutions? Recent polling data indicates that 50% of Americans believe the business community does a poor to very poor job of protecting the environment, and just under two-thirds of Americans believe that the quality of the environment is getting worse, indicating a substantial belief that businesses contribute more negatively to climate change now than they have in the past. The fact that consumer confidence in businesses is only at 23% backs up this assertion. So, while businesses have overwhelmingly joined the fight against climate change and are largely innovators and the change-makers at the frontlines, much of the public has either not realized this or believes the inverse to be true. This creates a real problem for businesses.

Enter the power of a strong public relations (PR) strategy. By working with journalists to earn media placements, PR gets messages out describing what businesses are doing to help the environment. This can serve to attract new customers or investors to a business that, for example, upgrades energy efficiency in buildings. Since the media is meant to cover the public interest, and businesses want to stay favorable with their stakeholders, increased and better-directed coverage of environmentally-conscious businesses persuades other businesses to also adopt such practices. For example, a story about a large manufacturer installing wind turbines at their facilities puts pressure on other manufacturers to take similar measures. A good PR strategy develops businesses as thought leaders, breaking the common stereotype that business and environmental interests do not align, and influences consumer perceptions.

Being able to communicate effectively goes a long way – it gives combating climate change an actual platform on which to function, motivates competitors to work harder on their sustainability practices, and fosters a license to operate from the public. Public relations itself can’t fight climate change, but it serves an integral role in amplifying the impact of those who are.

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