Today's environment calls for honesty, trust in green comms

When CSR first became a buzzword in the 1970s, few companies mentioned their initiatives, most likely out of fear of appearing opportunistic to cynics. Those days seem quaint today.

When CSR first became a buzzword in the 1970s, few companies mentioned their initiatives, most likely out of fear of appearing opportunistic to cynics. Those days seem quaint today.

Given companies' increasing communications efforts around all CSR issues, it was an inevitability that they would be more receptive to discussing today's green issues, like energy efficiency, carbon offsets, eco-friendly operational processes, and sustainable products. The trend is somewhat driven by the media, but it can mostly be traced to consumers' growing interest in individual responsibility when it comes to the environment. PRWeek's October 3 Target Green conference in Washington, DC, reflects this growing interest. Now that green marketing has become more mature, we're able to observe some key points about how companies can tell a green story without pitfalls.

The fear factor is flawed. The world is filled with busy prosumers who don't even have enough time to juggle their work, social lives, and finances. They can't - and won't - be bothered with pouring over every decision as if a poor choice will accelerate the Earth's destruction. Green advocates know this; they don't expect the majority of Americans to become completely conscientious, active sustainability advocates. Instead of focusing on the aggregate, companies are pitching the opportunities to take small steps to educate and improve the quality of living in families.

Journalists are prepared. At a recent PRWeek webcast, journalists from The Wall Street Journal, Verdant magazine, and others discussed their approach to green stories as one with much skepticism. Green-focused journalists are becoming more adept to prevarications and will ask what's in the left hand, as it were, when proffered the right. The key to working successfully with them is to create a relationship built on understanding and trust. If their article is less positive or more skeptical than you'd have liked, don't let it ruin future opportunities to discuss your company's environmental initiatives and goals.

The only failure is a failure of inclusion. It only takes one poorly performing plant, for instance, to negatively affect any communications around energy-efficient or carbon-neutral plants. Companies understandably are cautious about praising themselves for green initiatives, but bad legacy processes shouldn't doom them to silence. Be honest about the issues you've confronted in the past, the challenges you face today, and your company's weaknesses in the future. There will always be critics who won't accept any missteps, but they will be marginalized by those green advocates who see change as a symbiotic procedure that requires trust.

PRWeek's Target Green conference features keynote speakers Beth Lowery, VP of energy, environment, and safety policy for GM; and Rep. Edward Markey (D-MA), chairman of the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming. For more information, e-mail targetgreen@prweek.com, or visit targetgreen.prweekblogs.com.

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