Green may be the color of the moment, but it’s more than a fleeting trend; on the contrary, it’s a movement that is being formalized by the more than 195 bills, resolutions and amendments that lawmakers have introduced to specifically address global climate change and greenhouse gas emissions. Alongside these governmental efforts are those of U.S. citizens, 59% of whom believe the government needs to regulate environmental messaging by companies to ensure it’s accurate. As for the investor stakeholder group: 75% of investors believe that environmental, social and corporate governance facts can be material to investment performance.
The combined power of these green-themed interests drives organizations to take action, whether out of want or need (the latter, of course, coming with government mandates). Communicators within these organizations have taken key leadership roles in integrating green practices into their overall business efforts, be they external or internal. Thus, the importance of PR/communications becomes integral to developing green messages and disseminating them to targeted stakeholder groups.
“PR is a tool to break through the green clutter and saturation in the media,” says Jonathan Pocius, senior account executive with Coyne PR. “It lends credibility to an organization’s initiative, creates an interesting story that is timely from a news perspective and can help to identity potential corporate partners and third-party endorsements.”
With this as a foundation for getting started, executives can take the following steps to communicate their organization’s green commitments to influential audiences.
â–¶ Start with the resources you already have. Organizations of all shapes and sizes already have a number of communications tools and capabilities in their arsenals that they may not be aware of, including social media press releases, B-roll, photos and executives who can act as thought leaders in the green space. “Utilize a variety of communications tactics to help achieve the goals and objectives of the campaign depending on the audiences you are trying to reach,” Pocius says. “Work in close conjunction with marketing and obtain all necessary materials for messaging consistency.”
â–¶ Use interactive media to break through the clutter. The green marketing space is riddled with messages from an ever-growing list of companies and industries, so your messages must be targeted and unique to have any chance to resonate with their stakeholders. Thus, green marketing initiatives must begin with research to identify the target audiences and to understand their preferred methods for receiving information. Then, think about driving interest at a grassroots level, and think in terms of messages that could go viral.
Travelocity, in conjunction with parent company Sabre Holdings, took an interactive approach in 2006 with the GoZero initiative, which would address climate change in a way that would educate customers about carbon emissions, inspire employees to participate in their day-to-day work, differentiate Travelocity from other online travel sites, make a meaningful contribution to the cause and, perhaps most important, fit into Travelocity’s brand DNA.
Leilani Latimer, director of sustainability initiatives for Sabre Holdings, points to interactive components of the campaign that engaged specific stakeholder groups, including an “Eco-bunny” online video that educates customers who click on the graphic about carbon emissions. Elements like these hit audiences at various points during their daily media consumption routines.
â–¶ Start a dialogue offline and online. “Initiatives should be communicated via a top-down approach,” Pocius says in reference to internal communications. “Management should meet with employees to assess concerns as well as identify key stakeholders at a grassroots level.” These meetings provide opportunities to share information about green programs being implemented by clients (if you are in an agency) and competitors (if you are in a corporate setting).
Then, when taking communications initiatives to external stakeholders, Liz Gorman, VP of corporate responsibility at Cone Inc., recommends four specific best practices:
• Be precise: “Make specific claims that provide quantitative benefits or impacts.”
• Be relevant: “Demonstrate a clear connection between the product/service and the environment.”
• Be accessible: “Provide consumers with enough information in places where they look.”
• Be credible: “Acknowledge the journey you’re on and who is helping you along the way.”
â–¶ Practice what you preach. Beginning at a grassroots level means creating a green workplace so employees feel that the organization’s overall efforts are genuine and credible. Encourage recycling, carpooling, reducing paper use, etc. Also, Pocius says, “Encourage feedback from employees via brief surveys, newsletters or the company blog. Ensure that the transition is natural.”
This authentic evolution to a green “workstyle” will (or should) activate employees to take the organization’s green messages to the specific stakeholder groups with whom they interact on a regular basis. But, for this to happen organically, “goals and objectives must be clearly communicated to employees before management can secure their buy-in,” Pocius says. “Demonstrate enthusiasm via employee leaders at the grassroots level.”
â–¶ Measure. “Evaluate campaign objectives and goals, and determine if they have been accomplished,” Pocius says, citing the following metrics that can be tracked:
• Media coverage (proactive and reactive);
• Interest from government organizations, celebrities and endorsers;
• Employee retention;
• Client retention;
• Contribution to green efforts (carbon reduction, donations, etc.);
• Consumer participation/satisfaction;
• Tangible benefits for consumers; and,
• Brand association/perception. PRN
Contacts: Liz Gorman, firstname.lastname@example.org; Leilani Latimer, email@example.com; Jonathan Pocius, firstname.lastname@example.org