ANALYSIS: Environmental PR - Energy debate brings out green PRmachine. Debate over the Bush administration's new energy plan, whichcalls for increasing traditional energy supplies, has served as aspringboard...

Give environmentalists credit: they know how to stage a


When President Bush introduced his administration's energy plan last

month by visiting Minnesota, Iowa and Pennsylvania, the green PR machine

dogged him.

Greenpeace arranged for the dumping of five tons of coal outside Vice

President Dick Cheney's residence and held a banner that insisted

America needed clean - not dirty - power. CNN made mention of the


Save Our Environment, a coalition of environmental groups, held a news

conference in Washington, DC announcing its new television


National Environmental Trust president Phil Clapp delivered one of the

statements at the news conference, and then participated in media


All told, Clapp estimates he gave 45 interviews to reporters that week,

in addition to squaring off with an official from the American Petroleum

Institute on NPR's Talk of the Nation.

The Sierra Club hounded the president, staging press conferences and

protests, and running newspaper advertising in the states where he


The ads suggested Bush should have picked more appropriate spots for his

addresses, such as coal-burning power plants as opposed to

environmentally friendly backdrops.

The debate over the president's energy plan dominated the headlines.

And although Bush and Cheney did the media rounds,and largely succeeded

in getting their message across, it was the feisty environmental groups

that made an equally strong impression.

For organizations such as Greenpeace, the Sierra Club and the National

Environmental Trust, this is a crucial period. Not only do they have the

perfect opportunity to spell out their beliefs to the public, the focus

on energy allows them a platform from which to crank up their

fund-raising efforts. Donors always rise when there is a perceived

threat to an organization's goals.

Take Greenpeace, for example. The activist-driven group hits 30 this

year, but still retains its nerve and verve when it comes to PR.

Greenpeace media director Kymberly Escobar says the group still places

emphasis on direct action by staging events that can "put a picture with

the problem and get people talking."

Last month it dropped a banner denouncing the "Toxic Texan" from a water

tower in Crawford, TX, where President Bush has his ranch, days before

the president would address environmental issues in honor of Earth


Then there was the recent coal-dumping, meant to remind people that,

despite talk of conservation, the current administration favors more use

of fossil fuels and nuclear power.

Words speak louder

Public affairs consultant Bart Mongoven of Mongoven, Biscoe & Duchin, a

Washington, DC public affairs firm, believes that while Greenpeace's

reliance on stunts may not impress the average American, its ability to

stage events that get newspaper coverage still helps the group in the

long run. "People will dismiss a banner dropping but remember the

message on the banner," he says.

Other environmental groups, such as the Sierra Club, take a less

stunt-heavy and more strategic approach to communications.

Scott Ward, Widmeyer Communications' VP of environmental affairs,

stresses that more environmental groups are practicing integrated

communications, and that the Sierra Club is one example of this new


Sierra Club communications consultant Kim Haddow claims efforts of

environmental groups like hers have had a marked effect on the public's

view of Bush's green credentials. She points to an ABC News poll, held

before the energy plan was unveiled, that gave the president low marks

on both energy and environmental issues.

Sierra Club's issue advertising criticizing Bush's environmental record

aired in November 1999, was sustained throughout the campaign and

continues today. Press coverage is good, says Haddow, but advertising is

the only way to get the message through unfiltered. "Advertising helps

hone the message for the entire organization," she notes.

The Sierra Club has more than 60 chapters nationally and employs a

director of energy and global warming policy - Daniel Becker. The New

York Times quoted Becker just last week as objecting to a move in the US

towards cars run on diesel.

The Sierra Club has become adept at mobilizing its members. For example,

when the president pitched his energy policy, Haddow produced the

advertising, but Sierra Club outposts in the three states he visited

oversaw the press conferences and arranged protests.

The Sierra Club is a force to be reckoned with, especially for public

affairs people who represent governments or companies with energy


One DC public affairs executive describes the group as having the most

impact of all the environmental organizations. "But they are not very

balanced," she says. "They tend to ignore the energy supply


National Environmental Trust (NET), a crew of insiders schooled in the

ways of Washington and the policy world, is the polar opposite of

Greenpeace in operating style.

NET has a staff of 50, which includes former policymakers, political

campaign veterans, and even a former Monsanto executive. And there are

field organizers in more than 20 states that work with other

environmental and progressive organizations on federal issues.

NET's hallmark is an aggressive media operation. "They have people who

know the issues very well and follow the twists and turns of policy

debates," comments one national newspaper reporter. "They're available

to an incredible extent, even late at night."

According to Mongoven, "NET is the most strategically savvy of the

environmental groups. It's like a think tank in that it develops

strategy and recommendations."

The group pays close attention to policy debates, providing briefings

for journalists and publications like America and Energy in 2001, and

uses government and industry data to refute what had been known about

the intentions of the Bush administration on energy.

Ready to pounce

Bruce Josten, the US Chamber of Commerce's EVP for government affairs,

says environmentalists were "simply waiting" to take Bush on over energy

and the environment.

Josten has been doing media interviews as a new coalition, the Alliance

for Energy and Economic Growth (AEEG), starts gearing up.

"(Environmental groups) are clearly ahead of us in terms of taking out

issue advertising," Josten concedes. AEEG is still in its formative

stages but there has been "preliminary discussion" about the possibility

of issue advertising because Josten says "it will take an education

campaign to create a level playing field."

Steve Lombardo, president of StrategyOne, thinks the administration and

businesses have been wise to start stressing support for


But Josten's production-oriented philosophy is unlikely to satisfy

environmentalists who argue more conservation is needed. Observers

expect this debate to extend well into the fall during the Senate's

appropriations process.

Unforeseen events like price drops in oil or rolling blackouts may well

impact proceedings. But for now, neither side appears to be expecting an

energy shortage when it comes to the PR wars over the nation's energy

and environmental future.

Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Already registered?
Sign in