Green Communications: How to Get up to Speed

Whether you work for a consumer, industrial, financial services or consulting company, you have to know how to advise management and/or clients on environmental and sustainability issues.

Maybe you are reading this article thinking, “I don’t work on environmental issues” or, “My organization doesn’t have much to do with green products.” Wrong. If you haven’t been asked to communicate about your organization’s sustainability practices, you will someday soon. As communication professionals we have a responsibility to think, act and lead on green issues.

Organizations of all sizes are examining and addressing their own environmental practices and looking for ways to reduce costs through improved energy efficiency, water conservation and recycling and/or grow revenue from new green products or services.

Here are few examples:

  • Consumer product companies make and market all sorts of organic and green products from cosmetics, bedding, cleaning supplies, towels and furniture. See Consumer Reports site for more information.
  • Almost every major technology company has extensive programs to reduce the energy demand of their products and their processes for making their products.
  • Even the hospitality industry is marketing to environmentally-conscious travelers with many hotel properties represented in the Green Hotels Association.

You will want to assess fully what your organization is doing to become more sustainable and look to advise management on best practices for similar organizations and how to communicate with your stakeholders about your efforts.

Beyond our organizations, PR professionals have to grasp the major environmental issues and policies affecting our communities, nation and world – climate change, water shortages, habitat destruction and growing energy demand. With the exception of a few vocal climate change skeptics, there is broad consensus on the impact of climate change and the need to address this issue.

Recently, John Fialka, editor of ClimateWire and a former Wall Street Journal reporter, spoke to graduate students taking an environmental communications class I teach at Georgetown University. He asked the students to name the one industry that would be most impacted by climate change. There were many incorrect guesses. He then explained that the correct answer is the insurance industry. The expected rise in sea levels and the greater frequency in violent weather could spell trouble for insurers. Yet, how often do you hear insurers talking about this issue?

Just as we learned how to use and gain from the Internet’s reach and abundant potential back in the mid-1990s, today we have to raise our aptitude on environmental issues for personal, professional and societal benefit.

Here is a checklist to increase your green PR IQ:

  • Measure your carbon footprint. Check out the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s carbon calculator to see how you can reduce energy usage.
  • Read up on green office buildings. Visit the U.S. Building Green Council for information on how businesses can become more environmentally-responsible.
  • Study best practices in sustainability. Two corporate leaders are Eaton Corporation and Wal-Mart. Subscribe to the free daily e-newsletter from Environmental Leader.
  • Track environmental news. Five good sources are: Society of Environmental Journalists Daily Environmental News; the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency’s newsfeed; Andrew C. Revkin’s DotEarth blog at The New York Times; Discovery Company’s blog and Daily Grist’s blog.

As we build our knowledge and experience working on sustainability issues, we become better equipped to advise management on these issues and implement effective communication programs.

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