Climate Change and What PR and Marketing Can Do

As a public relations and marketing communications career professional, your company may place the climate change issue as one of noise, an interrogative risk, a green deed, or as an exchange of information. It's none of these. It’s now part of running the business s.and headline news as we enter a climate-aware age. (The term "climate change" refers to changes in the current climate that according to the Inter-Governmental Panel (IPCC) finds no reasonable doubt that climate change is a reality; leading to a rate of planetary warming not seen for 10,000 years that is 90%-95% likely to have been in part caused by human action. The IPCC represents the peer-reviewed conclusions of hundreds of leading scientists from around the world.)

Climate Change Communications and Leadership
Fortune 500 global companies typically communicate on climate change inside their corporate responsibility reports as they are now expected to share a detailed breakdown of climate emissions and what is being done about it. It has become vital for PR and marketing communications professionals to coach the CEO and guide the company on how to communicate convincingly on climate change in more than the CSR report statement.

Chad Holliday, CEO of DuPont (Wilmington, DE) was well served when he had the emissions reduction facts at his fingers tips. When answering live audience questions following a keynote address at the 2007 national Net Impact conference, he said, “We challenged ourselves to reduce our greenhouse emissions and achieved a 72 percent reduction by 2004, six years ahead of schedule, and avoided costs of over $3 billion by holding our energy use six percent below 1990 levels.” He demonstrated leadership, commitment, and an easy ability to link the firms’ environmental efforts as central to the core business.

Many small companies don’t have the resources to produce a CSR report, as has DuPont. Says Roger Telschow, President, Ecoprint (Silver Spring, MD), a printing company with fewer than 10 employees, “Environmental savings statements communicate an organization’s commitment to sustainability by showing the tangible benefits of buying green.”

With a click and a glance, you can go to the savings statement section of their Web site and get clear about the value of greening your processes and procurement: 109k kilowatt hours of electricity, 815 lbs of greenhouse gases, 366 cubic yards of landfill space, and 849k lbs of virgin wood were saved through adaptation of greener practices.

As emphasis on the environment and corporate responsibility grows, there comes an increasing need for transparency (rather than ‘spin’ or “corporate-tease’). When it comes to climate change, British Telecom (London, UK) uses greater transparency with a dedicated Web site, ( which communicates with stakeholders directly.

Stepping Up
“The time for celebrating mediocrity is behind us. Companies need to step up to comprehensively report their climate policies, practices, commitments, goals, opportunities, and risks, and do it clearly. The stakes -- for companies and the rest of us -- are too high to accept anything less,” says Joel Makower, executive editor, of the Oakland, CA-based

Consumers also want businesses to take the lead on actions to reduce climate change, according to the Climate Group. Their Climate Brand Index and Climate Conscious Study found a gap between what consumers want and expect from companies on climate change and what they think they are doing about it. Awareness of what companies are doing is low (69% in the UK; 74% in the US) with most people unable to identify any brands as taking a lead on climate change, without prompting.

This same research currently places GE at the top of the US Climate Brand Index followed by Toyota, BP, Ford, and Honda.  While some companies may win admiration for steps they’re taking to reduce emissions and climate change impact, most are not recognized for better involving their customers or consumers according to this research.

Six Green Consumer Segments
Environmentalism is no longer a niche activity. Consumers fall into six separate segments on the climate change issue with the majority committed/ready to join in (72%), according to the Climate Group research:

•    Campaigners (27%) – deeply committed, but pessimistic that we can solve the problem, needing to be convinced that solutions are authentic and effective
•    Optimists (17%) – also committed, upbeat about solving the problem; motivation is more social
•    Confused (19%) – open-minded and looking for clarity about the issue and what they should do
•    Followers (9%) – less sure on the issue, but ready to join in nonetheless
•    Unwilling (12%) – accepting of the issue, but not prepared to do anything themselves
•    Rejecters (16%) – confidently rejecting of the issue, feeling well informed
* Percentages noted above are for the UK.

These findings also point out that climate change communications will require different approaches in order to have relevancy among each of these different segments.

What Can PR and Marketing Do?
Companies need to better understand the segmented consumer market to avoid appearing untruthful or disingenuous. One implication is for companies and their leaders to take roles as educators and facilitators within their sector.

Another approach is for PR and marketing communications professionals to work with their companies to begin to undertake the following steps:

1.    Move from doing nothing to doing something
2.    Set clear objectives and goals
3.    Green your procurement processes and chain of custody
4.    Green your operating processes and benchmark
5.    Put “proximity” in PR and marketing programs
6.    Develop relevant messages
7.    Provide CSR and climate change benchmarks and reports
8.    Re-do, track, innovate, and improve

Climate change is a threat. Threats are hard to sell, making it hard to get the climate change message across. That's why language is so important. Choose the wrong words and you end up with a counter-productive message. Pick different words and benefit from their impact by making it have “proximity” with vivid images and immediate actions. You can use your climate change actions, programs, and language to raise your company’s “cooperation and leadership” profile.

Ultimately, as Seth Godin says on his blog, “…reposition global warming as atmospheric cancer to drive change…” Re-positioning, re-labeling, and talking believeably on the issue for clearer understanding melds the facts of science, the actions of industry and consumers, and the asessments of risk management into the domain of PR and marketing communications.

This article was written by Susan Nickbarg, Principal, SVN Marketing, a marketing and corporate social responsibility consultancy.

Contacts: Joel Makower, Executive Editor, GreenBiz,; Susan Nickbarg, Principal, SVN Marketing,; Roger Telschow, President, Ecoprint,