Editorial - Green questions, jaundiced replies

Is the environment dead in the water as an issue? It seems piteous to suggest this is so, when there are so many environmental advocates - and when our very survival is potentially at stake - but there is significant evidence to suggest that environmental PR is struggling to keep its head above water.

Is the environment dead in the water as an issue? It seems piteous to suggest this is so, when there are so many environmental advocates - and when our very survival is potentially at stake - but there is significant evidence to suggest that environmental PR is struggling to keep its head above water.

Is the environment dead in the water as an issue? It seems piteous

to suggest this is so, when there are so many environmental advocates -

and when our very survival is potentially at stake - but there is

significant evidence to suggest that environmental PR is struggling to

keep its head above water.



As our article (’Why Has Environmental PR faded?’ p26) explains ,

environmental advocacy is partly a victim of its own success over the

past 10 years, as industries have cleaned up some of the worst excesses

of big business practice.



At the same time, it has also come across a more savvy preparedness on

the corporate side, which has used lobbying, public affairs and other PR

activity including primary research and cause-related marketing (as well

as strategic activity) to blunt and blindside environmental

arguments.



It is also tempting to question the apathy of the media. ’Green’ has

lost its greenness; it’s an old story, with journalists more interested

in the booming dot-com economy, and CEOs the new celebrities of media

coverage.



But the biggest cause is the ambivalence of the public. When oil prices

were high, car engines got smaller, the public championed efficient

energy.



Now with oil prices low, people are driving around in cars with engines

the size of trucks.



A survey by Gallup for CNN/USA Today found that only 29% of the

population believes protection of the environment will get better in the

next four years, while 52% think it will stay the same. And only 34% of

people worry a great deal about the greenhouse effect, compared with 68%

about the pollution of drinking water.



To counter this ambivalence, on October 6 three environmentalist groups

- the National Environmental Trust, the Union of Concerned Scientists

and the Physicians for Social Responsibility - announced they were

spending dollars 8 million on a TV and newspaper advertising campaign,

as well as dollars 3 million on grassroots efforts.



Using advertising dollars to raise the green profile is a sign of the

times. But is it surprising when the Global Climate Information Project,

a coalition of business, industry and labor groups in opposition to the

Kyoto Treaty (the United Nations global warming treaty which has still

not been signed by the US) spent a reported dollars 30 million on

advertising and PR efforts prior to the Kyoto summit?



Of course, it must be repeated that big business is paying more

attention to its environmental impact. Some companies, perhaps more

enlightened, are now talking about a ’triple bottom line,’ which

includes environmental performance.



But is all the work done, as the public appears to believe? Can the

public really be satisfied with the fact that it consumes more than

twice as much paper and produces more than twice as much trash per

person as any other first world economy? That car pollution is getting

worse? That the ozone hole gets bigger every year?



Sadly, as every PR pro knows, if the court of public opinion does not

consider an issue to be hot, little progress can be expected. One

wonders what it will take to ignite the flame again.



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