February 26, 2019

SUSTAINABILITY PR: AN OVERVIEW OF EMERGING PRACTICE (PART 1)

Why Sustainability PR

The multiple crises confronting us today are being addressed separately, even though they are inter-related and require an integrated approach. Climate change, drought and desertification are being addressed by the ministries, almost as if they were an environmental issue.

The financial crisis is being addressed by finance ministries, as if it were purely an economic question. The food for crisis is being addressed by ministries of agriculture as if they had exclusive capability for food supply. Combating violent extremism and terrorism is being addressed as exclusive responsibility of the defence ministry. The world’s need for clean and safe water is seen as exclusive responsibility of the ministries of water resources. None of these crises is isolated. The 17th agenda of the global sustainable Development Goals which is ‘‘strengthening the means of implementation and revitalizing global partnership for sustainable development’ aptly underscores the importance of strategic engagement, collaboration and communication, a core public relation strategy, in sustainable development implementation. Public relation officials should be active drivers for the renewed global movement for change. Contemporary public relation practice should strive on ‘impact relations’. The focus should be how to use their work and expertise in helping businesses, NGOs and governments deliver values, not just financially – but socially, environmentally and ethically. This is the new quadruple bottom-line and the baseline for an emerging practice – ‘‘Sustainability PR’’.

Understanding Sustainability

It has been said that the concept of sustainability was invented to address imminent global crisis. Peter Weeme, president of Vancouver-based sustainability consulting firm Junxion Strategy, observed that ‘‘sustainability comes from the perfect storm of diminishing resources, climate change, global inequality and decelerating global development. It is more than being green. Sustainability captures whole sets of values, issues and processes that companies, NGOs, and governments must address to ensure delivery of their environmental, social and economic objectives’’. He sees sustainability as a set of contemporary global crisis that required not only effective crisis communication strategy – which is a core responsibility of the contemporary public relation practice.

The 1987 United Nations report on Environment – ‘Our Common Future’ – defines sustainability as ‘‘meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of the future generations to meet their need’’.  As an experienced PR professional, I have to come to the realization that focusing my professional advice and solution on sustainable future is no longer a matter of compliance. It’s a question of survival for my practice and the business I serve.

The United States Environmental Protections Agency, defining sustainability, observed that: ‘‘everything that we need for our survival and well-being depends, either directly or indirectly, on our natural environment. To pursue sustainability is to create and maintain the conditions under which humans and nature can exist in harmony to support present and future generations’’.

Sustainability PR is therefore, communication for a better world. It will serve as a bridge between the old and the new by a committing to effective storytelling and contents that’s provocative, original, irresistible and impactful.

Growing Need for Sustainability PR

It is a common trend today for both multinationals and local companies to use their influence to improve social and environmental well-being. This has made sustainability PR or impact relations an idea whose time has come. In an era when corporate trust remains depressingly and perhaps deservedly low, one clear strategy for speaking effectively and sustainability PR – a practice of positive change management and impact relations.

Sustainability PR makes issues focused communications a pivot in business, social and environmental innovation. It is the practice of widely sharing messages, stories and ideas that result in positive impact. It strives on transparent, authentic, meaningful and resonant communications to inspire stakeholders with substantive commitment to social, environmental and ethical responsibility.

Impact relations are a new value system for measuring communications effectiveness beyond traditional media metrics.

As sustainability PR expert and impact relations enthusiast, I believe no story is worth telling unless it has positive impact. Impact relations build support for social and environmental sustainability, from climate change legislation to sustainable consumption and green marketing. Many companies are already leading the way in transforming our society and environment for the better, but the challenge is how to scale up and bring businesses on board? This is the challenge for sustainability PR professionals – to reach cross-sector stakeholders with good story, to help companies share only authentic story that has measurable impact in the communities where they are building brand loyalty.

A more dynamic role for the PR profession

The emergence of sustainability PR has created a more dynamic role for the PR professional as an agent to change rather than to gloss up reputations. It has being noted that the impact of a company’s reputation on its license to operate may be either positive or negative, but it is stakeholder expectation or perception that drives reputation. As such, communicating evidence of activity in CSR and sustainability is becoming central to a company’s license to operate.

For the practitioner, it is said that focusing on sustainability can launch more substantive roles with companies and clients. It elevates traditional PR functions and puts the communication experts squarely in areas of C-suite-level operational change and long-term risk management. And unlike other PR campaigns in which you might be begging for evidence that there is substance to the claims, ‘‘prove it’’ is a basic mantra of sustainability communications.

Here are some dynamic roles expected of the PR professional

Building trust

There is much talk about the need for closer partnership and collaboration in the implementation of the sustainable development goals. PR could be employed to pay more active role in building trust, facilitating collaborations to effect desired change.

Impact Assessments

Sustainability PR advisors are experts in helping companies better understand the changing context within which they operate. They have capability to design cutting-edge strategies for measuring and communicating clients’ social and environmental impacts in their campaigns; and auditing workplace wellness performance; and transparency when reporting on sustainability issues.

Bottom line, sustainability PR experts know the importance of making an honest assessment of all risk factors, leveraging insights from employees, stakeholders and even critics to create or improve sustainability communication strategy

Reference:

  1. The Art of Original Thinking–The Making of a Thought Leader – By Jan Phillips Published by 9th Element Press – 2006 – United States of America
  2. https://www.epa.gov/sustainability/learn-about-sustainability
  3. Brundtland Report, United Nations World Commission on Environment and Development
  4. https://unstats.un.org/sdgs/report/2017/goal-17/
  5. https://www.undp.org/content/undp/en/home/sustainable-development-goals.html
  6. https://www.press.farm/emerging-trends-modern-public-relations/

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