OPINION: PROs should play a bigger role in the climate change battle

The PR industry must use its credentials to help the development of clean technology, argues Dudley Howard.

A report detailing the ravages of man-made greenhouse gases was issued this month by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). It concluded that the technology for renewable energy alternatives already exists, but that such ‘clean tech’ projects are severely under-funded, and the budget does not stretch to PR.

Carbon Connections is a new outfit set up to allocate £5m of funds to ‘innovative projects in carbon reduction’ on behalf of the University of East Anglia (UEA). The organisation will act as a knowledge hub for all UK universities and colleges looking to develop low carbon innovations.

Currently funded out of the public purse, Carbon Connections wants to attract private equity funding to sustain its carbon-cutting agenda. This is where the PR community can contribute a great deal by spreading the word to generate better funding.

Renewable technology and carbon-saving initiatives need money, especially ‘early seed’ money, long before venture capitalists and private equity investors become involved. PR firms need to use their green credentials and City contacts to fill this funding gap.

In fact, many PR agencies may be in a position to help combat climate change by persuading corporate clients to be less dismissive of ‘clean tech’ early start-ups. Corporate donations are needed to help fund work by the nation’s clean tech scientists, if we are to keep the earth’s temperature from soaring.

One current partnership funded by Carbon Connections brings the UEA together with the Clean Energy Consultancy, a Norfolk-based body that has pioneered trials of biofuels for home heating. Other companies have come on board, thanks in part to PR initiatives. They include Argent Energy, which manufactures biodiesel from used cooking oil, and Pace Petroleum, a petrol distributor.

It is too early to see the fruit of university and private sector ‘early seeding’ partnerships such as those started by Carbon Connections, but at least funding is there.

According to Venture Business Research, private equity and venture capital investment in clean technologies and renewable energy in North America and EMEA, exceeded £2bn for the first three-quarters of 2007. There is no doubt that 2008 will break new investment records. But we are all in the battle against climate change together, and early money is critical if path-breaking technology is to come to market.


Dudley Howard (l) is managing director of Astrolabe Communications

 

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