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September 30, 2007

Comments

Stephen Albinati

This is probably one of the most pressing questions around these days within the realm of CSR: Are the companies really making strides forward, or is it slick marketing?

Personally, I am still skeptical about a lot of the corporate initiatives and media hype -- a good example of this is Coca-cola's recent initiative to aim for recycling 100% of its bottles. Great initiative and it gains a lot of attention -- however, at the same time they still continue to use only 5% recycled content in their plastic bottles. To me thats greenwashing, and an example of a short term media gain.

However, where I am positive, is that the public will continue to scrutinize companies and ultimately won't be fooled. It may take a few years to get there, but I think people will hold corporations to higher and higher standards and that is where the change will come from.

Mike Kilroy

I think you've stated it here before Joel, but the biggest job facing PR agencies is educating the PUBLIC on what are good green practices and why they should care. The public is still woefully uninformed on how changes in their buying habits can make a difference. Prior to this era, consumers just had to be satisfied with the product. Now they have to be educated first on how the product is made, distributed and recycled, and why that's important.

It's a long, uphill battle, but there may be a tipping point along the way. I think business is obviously betting on it.

Lane Bailey

Joel, you raise some very important points on the role of public relations in the communications and strategic development of sustainbility practices inside companies.

While there are tremendous opportunities for repositioning brands and gaining consumer approval of a corporation's sustainbility practices -- according to a 2007 Yanklovich, PSB Internet Survey, 77% of Americans say they’re “worried about the environment”…a 24% increase since 2004; 71% think “large corporations are doing less than their fair share”; 41% say “immediate and drastic action is needed on the environment”; 60% of US adults say “knowing a company is mindful of their impact on the environment makes me more likely to buy”; More than a third said they’d be willing to pay extra for products produced by a socially responsible company; 80% of US adults believe that “it is important to buy from green brands" -- there is also skepticism, per your own reference of the Ipsos Reid survey acknowledging consumer's being wary of corporate claims.

We at GolinHarris believe that the bridge between these two sides of the same consumer coin is authenticity. And, that's where public relations plays a critical role. Consumers will not tolerate green washing. In fact, there's some evidence that they might even 'punish' those brands who say one thing, but live another, especially on this subject. But, what we've found in the clients that we've been working with on sustainability is that: 1) They understand and have a serious commitment to sustainable practices; 2)They generally are doing more to be sustainable than they know across global organizations; 3) Those who are practicing sustainability aren't merchandizing their efforts and commitment well(a point you make); 4) Companies increasingly want to know 'best practcies' in sustainability and are eager to benchmark themseleves against peers; 5)Success breeds success. Once companies understand the progress they have made and see the upside potential, investments in sustainable practices become easier to argue and to integrate into global business plans; 6) Employees care about sustainability. Increasingly, we see the value that employees place on working for a company that is a leader in adopting sustainable practices, especially those that engage their workforce in that effort; And 7)increasingly, corporations are making decisions about investments in sustainable practices in the c suite and the board room, not just in their marketing and corporate communications shops.

Lastly, there has been a tipping point in the United States on this subject -- public policy, corporate behavior and consumer attitudes are converging. While there are still differiing views in Europe on what constitutes sustanable practices, versus the US, versus Asia / China, there is a growing global consensus and urgency that sustainability is a policy imperative, a corporate requirement and a consumer value.

Bottom line, what is clear is that each of us plays a role -- the employee on the line, the CEO and Board member, the investor, the consumer and yes, the PR firms, in continuing the global momentum on sustainability that, in the course of saving our planet, will unleash unprecedented innovation and value across global businesses.

Lane Bailey, GolinHarris sustainability lead.


Anthony Kuhn

Joel:

Thanks for your piece on the "greening of PR." I think such efforts of companies in the past were more of the damage-control kind, like the CSR efforts of Nike after the sweatshop work condition revelations of years gone by. Are these eco-efforts altruistic, or simply purposed to bring accolades to the company execs and notice of products and services that the company offers? I cross-posted on your piece to http://blog.innovators-network.org The Innovators Network is a non-profit dedicated to bringing technology to startups, small businesses, non-profits, venture capitalists and intellectual property experts. Please visit us and help grown our community!

Best wishes for continued success,

Anthony Kuhn
Innovators Network

Sandy Skees

Joel-
Thanks for the post and the astute assessment of where the PR industry needs to go in the realm of CSR. Based on everything I heard from the leaders you are citing (Walmart, GE, BP, GAP, Herman Miller and others) at the recent Sustainable Brands conference, the attitude seems to be one of expanding initial efforts and creating conversations about what still needs to get done. As you and others have posted here, research continues to show the public's skepticism about corporate claims -- one made all the more acute in this age of transparency and new media –and PR’s challenge will be to live up to those new expectations. However, the research also shows that people are confused and hungry for more/different information. In spite of what many think is a cascade of news, claims and ads, the general consumer feels unclear about what’s being done and what s/he can do to help. That’s where the power of PR and communications comes in. Corporations are changing their business practices for all the right reasons; it makes financial sense and drives value to the brand among all key stakeholders. Such leadership can be a catalyst for changes at the individual level, with PR instrumental in helping organizations link their commitment to healing the world with individuals’ passion for the same. I’m not being simplistic here when I say that what’s needed are compelling communications that help people know what to do. To quote Dominique Nils Conseil, president of Aveda, “If you want to change the world, change the way the world does business.” I believe that all of us can join in that effort.
Sandy Skees

James Governor

GE was out early on this sure, but its environmental record is pretty bad. I mean, if it can't stop polluting the hudson, what's it doing in other geos?

http://www.ethicalcorp.com/content.asp?ContentID=5223

GE is apparently involved in GE is involved in 87 Superfund sites.. to be fair- it could blame some of that on companies it acquired. But the GE legacy is pretty dirty.

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