Staffers are a good litmus test for environmental messaging

As a consumer (and an increasingly eco-conscious one, at that), it's easy to see the powerful message emanating from outdoor clothing manufacturer - and cover-story subject - Nau.

As a consumer (and an increasingly eco-conscious one, at that), it's easy to see the powerful message emanating from outdoor clothing manufacturer - and cover-story subject - Nau.

A startup run by ex-Patagonia execs, it preaches a holistic sustainable message, gives 5% of its sales to mostly eco-focused charities, and curates films and other messaging that supports this world view.

But what about the energy companies, the car manufacturers, and packaged goods manufacturers? They must be able to construct a narrative when so much of their operations are fettered by legacy costs from their past and the immediate operational future.

Every company, including Nau, has its own footprint - just by existing, companies have multiple environmental costs: operational, manufacturing, and employee. But larger companies have a more pronounced footprint that can't be easily mitigated by purchasing carbon offsets or planting trees.

This means that there is no simple way to produce a credible green message. Enough ink has been spilled on the importance of ensuring you've looked deep into your organization - and beyond to partners and suppliers - to find ways to boost your ecological efficiency. But, once you've accomplished that, it's a fool's mentality to think that the easy part of the job is done.

Marketing pros often times expect that launching a communications campaign based on factual data that points to legitimate improvements will move the needle. But the battle to highlight green credibility is more like the Cold War than any conventional warfare - all parties will have to spend the rest of this decade constantly and consistently engaging NGOs, consumers, and others on progress. The most important stakeholder, however, is your typical employee.

Employees are the most important conduit for green communications for a number of reasons. They are, at heart, consumers. They are often found to be the most credible spokespeople for an organization. And, ultimately, the employees that are receptive to green messages as consumers will also be interested in helping a company become greener and will pass that message along.

This type of internal campaign is the sweet spot for PR pros. Unlike, say, a wage increase or the allotment of an additional vacation day, communicating steps a company is taking to increase its energy efficiency requires constant dialogue. Eliminating all plastic utensils from an office, for example, could become a detraction from any company goals if employees find using and washing silverware cumbersome.

That's why internal communications should not only tell employees what processes and policies are being enacted, but it should bring them into the decision-making process.

Companies are neither nonprofits nor philanthropic organizations, so any green initiative should be accompanied with a definable, visible benefit. By including employees early on, companies can learn what changes will have an effect on their staffs, which, again, tend to somewhat mirror the population. If something is not resonating internally, don't expect it to play in Peoria and beyond.

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