What is “green” public relations?

Is “corporate confession” really the best strategy for “greener” public relations?  PR Week carries criticisms by the CarbonNeutral Company that consultancies have not become “carbon-neutral“.  This is viewed as “staggering” evidence that “the PR industry has failed to grasp the climate-change nettle”.  Undoubtedly, public relations practitioners can play a key role in addressing environmental issues – but not by following this simplistic solution to corporate social responsibility. 

Caroline Wilson gives “full marks” to CNC for this story, but I disagree.  As I noted in October, companies behind the conscience-salving schemes are making big money – with the carbon offsetting market set to top £300m within 3 years – as trading amounts to £60m globally this year, up from £20m in 2005.  The campaign group Fern has also noted shortcomings in the carbon offset solution.

These schemes enable the rich to carry on polluting whilst the carbon-bullies promote them as demonstrating environmental credentials.  This ignores the real need for public relations to help their organisations reduce their impact on the environment in a long-term, genuine and sustainable manner. 

Emissions trading , credits and offsets show lazy thinking and see the solution to environmental issues as simply economic.  In packaging, for example, in order to claim higher recyclability, we see yogurt cartons now carry a needless paper wrapper.  I applaud the more direct approach suggested by environment minister Ben Bradshaw urging supermarket customers to unpack their purchases and leave the waste at the tills.  The Times tried this civil disobedience – but where are the PR people advising their bosses to avoid the waste in the first place?

If there was ever a time for PR to avoid “green” stunts, jumping on “carbon-offsetting” bandwagons and showing poor scientific understanding, it is now.  We need to be a serious participant in the debate and identify genuinely newsworthy means of demonstrating credible “green” credentials.

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Heather Yaxley PhD

Dr. Heather Yaxley is passionate about sustainable careers, reflective practice and professional development. I am a rhizomatic educator, practitioner, consultant, academic and scholar. As a qualified academic, I teach the CIPR professional qualifications with PR Academy and have experience teaching at various Universities. I run the Motor Industry Public Affairs Association (MIPAA) and my own strategic consultancy. I was awarded by PhD researching Career Strategies in Public Relations by Bournemouth University in 2017. I'm a published author, with books, chapters and academic papers to my name.