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How can PR help tackle the climate emergency?

Time is fast running out, but let’s hope it isn’t too late to save our planet. Obviously, world leaders have far more impact than any of us can have, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t all make an effort. Working in PR means you have the power to influence others, so here we discuss what you can do to help tackle the climate emergency.

1. Start with educating others

Katy Barney, ESG and sustainability lead at agency AMBITIOUS PR: "PR agencies have more influence than we sometimes realise. An important place to start is by interrogating the use of the word 'consumer'. If we are to influence behaviour, customers and citizens need to feel like they have agency, with a greater role than just to consume.

“When it comes to brands communicating the climate crisis, our PR advice has to sit right with the client. Behaviours won’t be nudged to change if campaigns are derailed before they are made. But we can influence what brands see as the right way to discuss sustainability: suggesting stories and approaches that demonstrate how our choices have an impact.

“Media, brands and PRs alike are learning new ways of doing things to respond to the climate crisis. Educating and using the influence we have is a good place to start."

2. Suggest easy actions to take

Mark Stringer, chairman of PR agency PrettyGreen and co-founder of climate tech platform SKOOT: “PR agencies and brands have a crucial role in shaping the narrative around climate change. We have the power to inspire, educate, and motivate consumers to take action, but the critical piece, make it relatable and actionable.

“We need to move beyond the doom and gloom and focus on the positive changes that individuals can make in their daily lives. This could be as simple as choosing products with less packaging, or using services like SKOOT, which plants trees for every meal.”

3. Give the media compelling stories

Mark Stringer: “Scary headlines get more clicks than nice ones. It's our job to provide the media with compelling stories that highlight the urgency of the issue, without causing alarm or despair, but demonstrating that our small actions can make a difference.

“The issue isn't China or petrochemical companies, it's us, who as consumers have the power, in the choices we make. It's a challenge, but the PR and wider industry needs to use all its super-powers to problem solve.”

4. Focus on solutions

Roseanna Lane, account director at agency CommsCo:We are incredibly passionate about amplifying tech for good businesses, particularly in the sustainability sector. For example, we’re working with Varda, the agtech company spearheading the transition towards a nature-positive food system, and the reception from media so far has been brilliant.

“Whilst journalists might have written about the challenges surrounding climate change for a long time now, it’s those that have innovative solutions to help tackle it that are cutting through the noise. Creative campaigns to help maximise those messages are essential too.”

5. Be precise about achievable results

Chris Pratt, MD of better impact at PR firm H+K Strategies: “Maintaining public support for action on climate change is critical, but sometimes action on climate change requires changes to lifestyle that can be unpopular. As these changes become politicised and criticised in the media, we will enter a phase where there is smaller consensus on what represents positive change.

“Communicators need to tread a fine line between maintaining a sense of optimism that we can through individual actions have a positive impact on the progress to address climate change and being realistic about the limitations of that approach. It will be essential to provide both strong supporting evidence of the real-world impact of the change you are advocating and strong emotive arguments that capture attention and secure support.”

6. Don’t just greenwash

Leanne Coppock, freelance content marketing consultant: “For brands who want to lead the way in educating consumers on how to be more environmentally friendly it is important to be authentic in that messaging. The brand’s own environmental, social governance is important to establish before seeking to educate others. A lot of brands who jump on the bandwagon of environmental messaging in PR are being accused of ‘greenwashing’ currently, so it matters for brands who want to join the conversation to be practising what they preach.”

7. Encourage brands to go the extra mile

Leanne Coppock: “For well-placed brands, their own websites can become a source of information to guide customers on ways to live more sustainability. Brands who go the extra mile to provide information on sustainable ways to handle their products also do well here, such as their processes for reduced packaging, offsetting carbon emissions for product production, sustainable supply chains and eco-friendly ways to recycle or reuse products once finished with. Brands leading the way can share these tactics via PR, social media or other digital channels to have positive influence on leading the way for change.”

8. Champion low carbon wesbites

Claire MacDonald, design director and co-founder of creative agency MacMartin: “When it comes to fighting climate change, we’re all aware of the big emitters such as transport and farming, but there is less awareness of how our digital activity has a huge carbon footprint too. If the internet was a country, it would be the world’s sixth largest polluter and our digital activity accounts for more CO2 emissions than air traffic worldwide.

“Our agency champions low carbon websites. Simple tactics such as ensuring images and videos are optimised, reducing downloads and carefully considering the user journey will not only reduce the CO2 emissions of a website, but will also increase the site speed, assist with search engine optimisation and help to ensure the website is accessible. We also recommend using a hosting service running on renewable energy. It’s surprising how these quick and easy methods can significantly reduce a site’s carbon footprint whilst enhancing the user experience.”

9. Stay positive!

Helen Ellis, head of consultancy at PR agency TEAM LEWIS: “Forget guilt and missed goals. Brands showing that consumers can win by changing behaviour are resonating. An uncertain economic climate, rising prices and jittery jobs market is contributing to a need for hope progress AND positivity.

“Whether it’s food, farming, energy or transport our clients are focusing on win wins. It’s not enough to ask people to do something because they should. It’s about inspiring people to do it because they really want to. Successful campaigns ask consumers to make different choices versus drastically change habits. Choices that benefit them now, not just in the future.

“Competition for attention is rife. But there is a bigger audience for sustainability than existed even five years ago. Climate is a top media topic. Whilst the perils of greenwashing are clear, there are dedicated ‘good news’ teams in major media.”

For further support with communicating about environmental issues, check out the PRCA’s Climate Communications Group which aims to help PR and communication professionals understand their responsibility when it comes to advising on climate change. You could also enter the ESG awards  which showcase the best ESG performance in line with the UN's 17 Sustainable Development Goals.

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