Public relations can often times be seen as proponent for “greenwashing.” Greenwashing is when a company or organization spends more time and money claiming to be “green” through advertising and marketing than actually implementing business practices that minimize environmental impact.
What if public relations was used to make more sustainable changes and create better corporate social responsibility (CSR)? Rather than simply maintaining a good reputation for the company, communications professionals could act as an agent for change. For example, Paul Polman, chief executive of Unilever uses the media to his advantage. His message: “the big issues the world is facing require new approaches, new business models and new partnerships. Responsible businesses must take a more active leadership role” is spread throughout different media platforms, showing the public and his employees the new direction that Unilever is headed.
However, its not enough to just communicate key messages to the public; the business needs to implement sustainable strategies and practices to back up their messages of sustainability. Starbucks is a great example. Their CSR strategy is broken down into three pillars: community, ethical sourcing, and the environment. They partner with non-profits, support diversity and inclusion, and try to minimize their environmental impact.
In addition to investing in their business and economic profit, Starbucks invests in its’ consumer base, which is why their CSR strategy is so successful. They produce an annual Global Responsibility Report to show the impact their company is having on local communities and the environment. It is hard data to back up their claims of sustainability and provides a sense of trust between Starbucks and their customers.
Andrew Last, experienced public relations professional and chief executive officer and co-founder of Salt, gives three tips for implementing a communications strategy that pushes sustainable practices to the forefront of an organization:
- Set and communicate a clear direction on sustainability, which liberates people throughout your organization to talk passionately and freely about what you’re doing. They are your best advocates.
- Be transparent about your motives. Business needs to pursue business objectives if any initiative is to be sustainable. Don’t let PR wrap your business motives in cloying half stories about the social good your business is driving.
- Tell the story of the journey. Be open about what’s not working as much as what is. Vulnerability plays surprisingly well with sustainability stakeholders and a cynical public.