All the cool companies know green is hot and here to stay

The January 29 issue of BusinessWeek declares the sustainability movement in the corporate world to be "more than PR." That's shorthand to say, "This isn't just for show, it's legitimate."

The January 29 issue of BusinessWeek declares the sustainability movement in the corporate world to be "more than PR." That's shorthand to say, "This isn't just for show, it's legitimate."

The real news is that the green momentum has as much to do with PR as anything else that is intrinsically vital to a company's survival. It is about listening to and responding to consumers, governments, and the realities of the planet - all core to communicators' roles.

All of the sudden, it seems, green is the rage. William Brent, Weber Shandwick SVP and head of the firm's clean tech practice, says that a confluence of consumer awareness, government policy, and smart business practices are the reason. "The consumer consciousness of how to live with a small footprint has expanded greatly over the past generation," he explains.

That's driving bottom-line business decisions by corporations; they see there is increased demand for green products and services and they are responding to it. Hurricane Katrina was also a catalyst for a lot of awareness of environmental issues and the potentially devastating impact of not taking action early enough.

Public policy is also a huge driver for change. Though our government is largely an exception, Brent adds, many overseas policymakers are very proactive about implementing greener standards. The Chinese government, for example, while a target for Western criticism over issues like censorship, is leading in green.

"The Chinese government has one of the most progressive proactive energy policies of any country in the world," Brent says. "At a central level they are pushing things that are out in front." The statistics are mind boggling. Chinese energy consumption is far lower than that of the US, but its population, at some 1.3 billion, is more than four times greater. As the Chinese grow more market-driven, the potential energy consumption is staggering, but also poses a great opportunity and imperative for innovation.

These and other factors are contributing to the green momentum, and the media frenzy surrounding it. Companies are trying to find ways to authentically bring green into the operations of the company, and also for ways to measure its impact on the bottom line.

And lest PR firms think that these issues relate only to clients or huge companies, watch this space. PRWeek UK recently ran a piece on what steps PR firms are taking to become carbon neutral. The story prompted two Parliamentary questions about agencies retained by the government. Corporations are already looking beyond their own practices to those of their suppliers and partners. Why should PR firms be exempt?

The convergence of these issues has prompted us to hold our first-ever event on the issues of green and sustainability. There are vital questions for the industry to answer, not about why this is happening now, but what PR's role is in ensuring that these measures are authentic and credible throughout the organization.

The one-day PRWeek conference, Target Green: Making Sustainability Work, will be held in San Francisco on May 10, 2007. For more information, e-mail greenconference@prweek.com.

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