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However, this reactive approach is becoming superseded by a realisation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
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
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
Ian Buckland is a senior environment consultant at Dragon.