Is Green the New Black?

posted by Boyd Neil

(Kelly Newton is a vice president with Hill & Knowlton.  She is based in Washington, D.C. and represents a variety of clients in the technology, consumer and government sectors.)

In the past year we have witnessed a sea change in how business views the environment.  Not only are companies instituting significant changes to their own business, but leading companies are driving change among customers and their businesses as well.

At Fortune’s inaugural iMeme conference in San Francisco in August, HP CEO Mark Hurd offered one of the boldest perspectives on the role of the IT industry in driving environmental change, “Environmental responsibility is good business. We’ve reached the tipping point where the price and performance of IT are no longer compromised by being green, but are now enhanced by it.”  (In the interest of full disclosure, Hill & Knowlton is the global agency of record for HP.)

Hurd’s view was supported in a New York Times op-ed in September, when Thomas Friedman stated, “Green is not just right for the world, it is better, more profitable, more healthy, more innovative, more efficient, more successful.”

Joel Makower, a recognized thought leader on sustainability, recently challenged public relations professionals to take the lead on driving business to fight climate change by leveraging the media to communicate real impact on the environment.  In his blog posting, he asked some tough questions:
“Will you steer your clients beyond short-term media hits to create longer-term value by counseling them to aim high, to make bold, audacious commitments in order to stand out from the crowd? Or will you focus on short-term results, creating flash-in-the-pan media moments that celebrate incremental change in lieu of substantive environmental progress?”

This is a challenge many of us face each day, and it ties back to the age old conundrum – how do we prove the value of public relations for long-term business success? 

GE’s Ecomagination initiative is arguably the best recent example of effectively communicating the business case for environmental thought leadership.  Yes, GE talked about improving its own environmental impact by reducing energy use, recycling more, and limiting harmful chemicals in products.  But GE went a step further.  They pushed the envelope and changed the way businesses view environmental leadership today.  GE created a market for products to help improve the environmental impact of its customers.  As a result of developing these new products and providing them to customers, the program has produced $12 billion in revenue, with an additional $50 billion expected from pending orders and commitments, since it launched in 2005. 

Granted, not all of our clients have the global reach and financial resources of GE, but I believe we must approach communications around environmental leadership in much the same way that we would approach any other emerging business topic.  Here are a few tips:

  • Transparency is critical: A company must be willing to report its success and admit its failure.
  • Honesty is the best policy: Reporters and consumers are cynical and they demand facts and figures that prove a company’s claims.
  • Leverage experts: Third party thought leaders add credibility.

In the past, clients turned to PR for help in dealing with environmental challenges such as strict legislation and regulation, attacks from radical environmentalists, and hazardous chemical spills.  But today, we are more likely to be engaged to help tell the positive stories about what businesses are doing to “go green.”  It’s impossible to say if all of our hard work will lead to a cleaner, healthier environment, but I am confident this is not simply a trend.  Business strategies have evolved to incorporate environmental leadership, and the PR industry is helping to drive this change.


Share and Enjoy:
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • PDF
  • LinkedIn
  • Print
  • email
  • Digg
  • Add to favorites
  • Google Bookmarks
  • Netvibes
  • NewsVine
  • Posterous
  • Reddit
  • StumbleUpon
  • RSS