When Mara Engel and Cheryl Roth founded OrganicWorks Marketing in 2001, environmental concern wasn't top of mind in the industry. Today, however, they say climate change is undeniable and "green" issues are at the forefront.
"The foundation was to educate the media and the consumer about green living," says Engel. "It's amazing to see now how relevant 'green' as a lifestyle is."
More PR firms are branching into the environmental sector, many building clean-technology practices as both new and existing clients introduce products designed to reduce carbon emissions and energy consumption.
"I think in 2007 we'll [be] seeing a lot of VC interest in this area," says Jodi Olson, head of Text 100's clean-tech group, which launched in October. "It's expected to be a $167 billion industry by 2015." (The complete PRWeek interview with Olson is available exclusively on PRWeek.com.)
Many boutique firms have a technology practice as a starting point to build upon. And large firms can capitalize on their global reach.
"There's a hunger on the part of people around the world to learn more about this," says William Brent, VP at Weber Shandwick and head of the agency's clean-tech unit. "A company like [WS], which has a presence in China, Europe, and the US, has the opportunity to raise awareness [within] industries and on a general public level. As a PR pro, that's an exciting opportunity."
But PR pros and their clients must tread carefully: This is an area with lots of new technology, all of with which the industry must become familiar. Cone, which specializes in corporate responsibility, has started looking for candidates with special qualifications.
One of Cone's most recent hires, AAE Kate MacGregor, was an environmental studies major in college and has experience with environmental organizations - credentials the firm believes will be noteworthy for the future.
"A different skill set is required," says Mindy Gomes-Casseres, director of Cone's corporate responsibility practice, "because you must protect clients so that you're not accused of 'greenwashing'" - when companies make false claims of helping the environment to promote a good image.
In addition, this is an area with strong CSR elements.
"CSR reports are de rigeur," says Tony Hynes, SVP at Bite Communications and head of the firm's green/clean-tech division. "Credibility is the critical component. Businesses need to prove [their] ecological efforts are genuine. To [do so], they need to match benefit for the company and society."
In an effort to be genuine, and to make a positive impact, firms themselves are becoming more eco-friendly.
"It is important for agencies to talk the talk," says Gomes-Casseres. "It's hard to take environmental steps without acting in an environmental way."
Cone has started with small steps, such as recycling and double-siding print jobs. But the firm has bigger plans, such as assessing the impact of business travel.
"I think it'll go well beyond recycling when we're done," notes Gomes-Casseres.
OrganicWorks uses non-toxic paints and sustainably harvested wood in its office furnishings; Bite is in the process of acquiring green accreditation for its San Francisco branch; and WS is working to continue along the path of its London office, which has received international certification for its conservation standards.
"It's not just a bottom-line issue for us," says WS' Brent. "It's an issue of creating excitement within our own ranks for doing something meaningful."
Many firms are establishing "green" practice areas such as clean tech, a sector expected to generate billions of dollars
CSR plays a major role in these areas, so firms must not "greenwash"
In addition to working with clients making positive environmental impacts, firms are making their own offices more eco-friendly