Green revolution will help to change the lobbying landscape

Charles Lewington says public affairs professionals can help firms to boost their enviromental credentials.

In the past six months, there has been a decisive change in the thinking of consumers, politicians and business leaders ­towards climate change.

Concern for the environment is moving to the heart of business strategy and communication strategies must try and adopt accordingly. ‘Green is a mass movement,' Tesco chief executive Terry Leahy told business leaders at David Cameron's recent Green Economy summit (PRWeek, 16 March). Reducing the supermarket giant's carbon footprint is not just a social responsi­bility activity - it's a business driver, with consumers being put into the driving seat.

For every business jumping on the green bandwagon, now that it is rolling, there are several others wanting to influence the route it takes. Airlines are furious at being singled out for contributing more to the UK's CO2 emissions than they do and there is talk of a major airline and travel industry funded campaign to set the record straight.

Either way, there are some profound implications for public affairs. Despite changes in the Budget, a whole host of regulatory issues remain to be tackled. Demands are growing for business rate concessions to ­reward green buildings and quicker planning. Of the 18 planning applications for wind farms in the UK, 12 have been refused according to Eddie O'Connor, the boss of windfarm operator Airtricity. There is an emerging ‘green skills' gap and where are the R&D credits for technology providers trying to get ahead of foreign competitors? In Eur­ope, airlines argue for a sensible emissions trading regime; others want an EU renew­ables ‘supergrid'.

The green revolution is also affecting the PR sector in other key ways. Leahy says shoppers want Tesco to help them be greener, but businesses have to be careful. Friends of the Earth were underwhelmed when Honda Racing rebran­ded its F1 green, and some are already scoffing at plans by Walkers crisps to print details of their carbon footprint on the side of packets.

Issues management training is being stepped up in businesses that make products or services with the potential to threaten the environment. CSR teams - instead of sitting in silos as they do in some businesses - will inc­reasingly be integrated into communications teams, as they already are at Marks & Spencer.

Many employees want their companies to go much further than the provision of recycling bins and renewable power sourcing. Staff want their pension funds to invest more ethically and they want to know that their management care - even if they are reluctant to make lifestyle changes themselves.

The challenge for the PR ind­ustry is to provide businesses with the means to communicate their environmental credentials without falling into the trap of tokenism - while at the same time being the crucial link in helping companies to appreciate the new consumer direction.

Charles Lewington (pictured, right)
is managing director of Media Strategy, a corporate communications and public affairs consultancy.

He was the organiser of David Cameron's Green Economy summit in the City.


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