Platform: Attract investors by showing your green intentions - PR practitioners need to work more closely with environmental experts to ensure corporate credibility, says Ian Buckland

Setting the pace in corporate positioning and reputation management in a crowded marketplace is always a challenge. In the past, the use of environmental issues as part of this work has proven successful for some, but the demands of today’s stakeholder society are starting to require more from us all.

Setting the pace in corporate positioning and reputation management

in a crowded marketplace is always a challenge. In the past, the use of

environmental issues as part of this work has proven successful for

some, but the demands of today’s stakeholder society are starting to

require more from us all.



The third Index of Corporate Environment Engagement, recently published

by Business in the Environment (BiE) and sponsored by the Financial

Times, compares the extent to which FTSE 350 companies are managing

their environmental affairs. The results not only applaud those

organisations which are improving or which remain ahead, but also names

those which, sometimes despite their claims, are falling short of the

standard set by their peers.



Now that this index is established, using claims of environmental

performance to enhance corporate reputation may prove

counter-productive. For instance, the index shows some well-known

businesses, which have taken a stance on environmental issues in their

corporate positioning, to have far from commendable performance. In

addition, a number of companies known for taking an environmental

stance, are notable by their absence, having chosen not to participate

in the survey.



Traditionally, given poor environmental performance, many communications

professionals would naturally institute damage limitation strategies or

look to amend corporate positioning.



However, this reactive approach is becoming superseded by a realisation

of communications’ positive role in stimulating and supporting

environmental performance. The BiE index reflects this change by

including parameters such as: whether companies have a written corporate

environmental policy, whether they communicate environmental issues with

stakeholders, and whether they have an employee environmental

programme.



However, it is not solely those organisations choosing a green

positioning which will see their environmental impacts come under

greater scrutiny. Recent research points out that 86 per cent of UK

adults now believe environmental issues to be ’very’ or ’extremely’

important to corporate responsibility (MORI, 1998).



In addition, pressure is also rising from Government, where guidance and

legislation has begun to impinge on environmental communications.



For example, the PR expert must now be alert to guidance covering ’green

claims’, packaging/labelling, corporate environment reporting and the

forthcoming Freedom of Information Bill.



If communications are to achieve the goal of credibility in this

increasingly complex world, co-operation with internal and external

environmental experts is essential.



Yet in many organisations, environmental functions are distant from the

communications core. This distance belies the increasing influence of

environmental managers who, without central communications support, are

learning new PR skills to meet their communication needs.



The PR expert should see the communications-enabled environmental

manager as an ideal resource to help meet the burgeoning demands of the

stakeholder society.



Without their advice on the subtleties of environmental issues and, in

turn, their use of the PR expert’s skills to promote the environmental

advantage, overall corporate reputation will surely become increasingly

threatened.



Ian Buckland is a senior environment consultant at Dragon.



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