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Can PR help save the planet? The steps agencies are taking to make a difference

Lots of PR agencies and professionals are talking the talk about climate change, by taking part in Climate Strike a few weeks ago for example, but what are they really doing to change things? Here senior PROs discuss the steps they and their agencies are taking to make a difference.

What we do as agencies

From Holly Pither, MD and founder of Tribe PR:

Work with clients who care

“When I founded Tribe PR earlier this year, it was always with the intention to work with brands who I felt passionate about, and most importantly brands who had a real purpose. I have been blessed with clients who are working towards a bigger purpose and are trying to do something over and above merely generating PR headlines. One such brand doing this is ClimateCare, a profit with purpose business based in Oxford. ClimateCare helps forward-thinking organisations around the world take action on their climate responsibilities by transforming their climate risks and impacts into positive outcomes. It works with major public and private sector firms to fund sustainable development projects that reduce carbon emissions at scale, measurably increase quality of life and deliver towards the UN Global Goals.”

Offset carbon emissions

“Over the last few months we have been busier than ever commenting in the news about the topic of offsetting carbon emissions on flights, which has of course been a hot topic in the media what with Sir Elton John offsetting the Royal’s flights. The message we push out is clear; without a doubt, we should all be flying less. Everyone should consider the environmental impact of that flight and wherever possible don’t take it. However, where this is not feasible, offsetting provides a way for people to take responsibility for every tonne of CO2 they emit by either removing or reducing that tonne elsewhere. We know that offsetting your emissions is not the same as not flying, but if you are going to fly anyway, it is the best thing you can do and far far better than flying and not taking responsibility for that climate impact.”  

From Emma Wright, associate director in the comms firm H+K sports team:

Put in place agency initiatives

“Our efforts fall into two interlinked strands – helping our clients to do the most impactful work and ensuring that we as a business are doing all we can too. This is something we’ve been doing for some time. In 2017 we won the Employee Engagement Award at the PRCA and the Business Green Employee Engagement Campaign of the Year for our work with Do Nation, an employee pledging platform that encouraged every member of our staff to make day-to-day changes which together made a huge impact. In the same year we launched H+K Better Impact, our service to help our clients support the UN Sustainable Development Goals with meaningful and authentic changes. For us, both are equally important, and both have been driven by our employees with the support of the board. That’s crucial for us – that this is employee-driven change”.

From Elena Davidson, CEO at agency Liberty Communications:

Support new technologies that are cleaner

“PR firms have played a critical role over the years in framing the debate on climate change and its solutions – as well as unfortunately campaigns launched to block those initiatives.

“As a business we take our responsibility towards the environment seriously and as a specialist in technology are lucky enough to be working with companies who are positively making an impact on the environment. We work with tech innovators, for example, who are enabling electric vehicles through to companies who are helping companies reduce battery waste and others who are helping reduce energy consumption through IoT devices and smart energy management. We also have a strong robotics and drone practice, which boasts a whole host of clients helping promote the benefits of autonomous delivery – all of which reduce the need for polluting delivery vehicles.

“We firmly believe that the next generation of technology will be a powerful force for good, helping us tackle many of the world’s most pressing problems. No human technology can fully replace ‘nature’s technology’ perfected over hundreds of millions of years, but we have a critical window to help use technology to put in place commitments and actions to reverse the trend of nature loss by 2030.”

10 steps all agencies can take

Think about the top 10 basics urges Claire Thompson, freelance consultant at Waves PR:

1. Place recycling facilities in more than one place (and brief cleaners not to just tip all rubbish in together).

2. Change to low-emission company cars.

3. Switch to a green energy supplier if you can, and if you can’t, at least manage it. You’ll save money this way too.

4. Check your coffee machine is using triple certified coffee and reusable or compostable capsules.

5. Encourage staff to make pots of tea for their colleagues rather than using a full kettle for one cup.

6. Reward staff for walking/cycling/using public transport to work.

7. If you haven’t got them already, low energy lightbulbs are a must.

8. Use water hippos in the toilet cisterns.

9. Do you really need to print that? Get in the habit of minimising print-outs/hand-outs.

10. Manage your PCs from the time you buy them (power certifications) through using them (power consumption) to safe disposal.

What I do as an individual

Listen to inspirational environmentalists

Lee Bassin, executive producer at PR agency TVC Group, says:

“Carbon footprint guilt. It’s a thing apparently. Like career envy and buffet fatigue (although I may have made that last one up). And last March, as I sat on a plane heading towards my third World Ocean Summit, I wondered if the hundreds of people heading to Abu Dhabi for Economist Events' annual convening of ocean stakeholders were doing more harm than good?

“Is a Bigfoot-sized carbon footprint ever justifiable when it comes to environmentally focused gatherings?

“For me, the adverse effect flying has on the environment is more than offset by the great work that happens when people convene in large numbers to discuss the good they can do, particularly when it's about trying to protect our precious oceans. 

“It could be a spark of inspiration from a speaker that leads to a world-changing idea, or an unexpected meeting that leads to some financing for a project that could change millions of lives for the better. And for me, if I am helping to spread a message with the film content I create and distribute that can positively affect the future of our planet, then surely that’s worth the trip? Although I can’t wait for the day when the 2025 World Ocean Summit takes place purely in a virtual space, even if my air miles do suffer!“

I for one, suffer from guilt about my carbon footprint, and try to do small things, such as not using plastic bottles and taking the train rather than a plane when I travel. It may seem like our individual efforts are too small to help, but it is better than just creating mindless waste and emissions, as according to some academics, individual actions do make a difference so it is important that agencies take a stand.

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