There’s little doubt that environmental PR and comms has exploded in the past few years – businesses want to harness the feel-good factor that comes with impeccable green credentials. The reasons why are obvious.
Regardless of sector, organisations’ environmental performance is under pressure from legislative and financial drivers. Public opinion also favours those who pursue green or ethical strategies. Just look at the popularity of the Co-operative Bank which, in 2009, consulted its customers on the bank’s lending policy and found that most didn’t want their money being loaned to companies that destroy rainforest or threaten species. Ever since, whether directly or indirectly related, the Bank has scored some of the highest customer satisfaction figures around – and against much bigger competition too.
Ultimately, we like companies that go about their business mitigating their environmental impact through reduced use of energy and resources – it may just make us buy from them. So it critical that companies who have prioritised environmental performance and made it a pillar of their strategic operations communicate their triumphs loud and clear.
But as one client who helps companies improve their environmental performance put it, ‘businesses must walk the walk, not just talk the talk’. Too often, an announcement about a fundamental change in business practices precedes the action itself. This risks the company’s reputation if customers dig deeper than the news report , which is easy online. It also risks internal questions being asked by employees as to why progress doesn’t match what they read in the news.
Media are also much more adept at spotting a turkey given the huge volume of ‘good news’ announcements and PR overtures they receive. They expect facts and figures, investment, ISO standards and independent verification. Ambitions and values are not the same as reality, and companies need to be honest with themselves and their audiences about what stage they are at in an environmental strategy.
When the evidence of relative progress exists, then, by all means, chuck a bucket of greenwash all over your competitors.