Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Calculating the total green picture

The Los Angeles Times today hit upon the ongoing dilemma of companies trying to be green.

Public relations pros engaged in this arena will tell you many stories about restraining their clients from boasting their "greeness." Why? Because someone will challenge it, have some proof it's not as "green" as proclaimed and, poof, opportunity lost, reputation tarnished, blah, blah, blah.

For those of us advising clients about how to communicate their advances in sustainability, we know all too well about the bar being raised.

For instance, the Times' story zeros in on the issue of a "total carbon footprint." A few months ago, this was not on the radar.

Many clients are proud of their LEED-certified building(s). By themselves, these buildings are great testaments to the ingenuity, commitment and foresight that a small investment can make to reduce pollution, save our resources and try to slow down that pesky climate change thing. There are plenty of good reasons to build to LEED standards.

Clients will proudly point to the LEED plaque on the wall. They will notice this on their materials they give to customers. They will hold press conferences after completion.

But wait. Shouldn't you also look at the "rest of the story"?? Did you know there is more to this story?

The question now before developers and owners of green buildings is: How much carbon are you using "outside" of the building? This includes the energy your employees expend to get to work, the travel you take, etc. (Some of this is the foundation of CA greenhouse gas emission laws).

All this points to the problem of a "rising bar." The feds and many state governments continue to impose new rules. Environmental groups and other NGOs are asking more in-depth questions and changing how they "rate" products and companies. Impacts are being recalculated every day.

For PR pros, there are a few simple steps to consider when dealing with the "rising bar" of green standards.

Survey the landscape. A sustainability program you communicated six months ago will not enjoy the same "mood" or conditions today. The most current research is needed, regardless of whether you are launching a product or an initiative. Companies that are providing these kind of reports include the Shelton Group (with its "EcoPlus" report) and GreenBiz.com. I also monitor GreenTechMedia for trends and issues.

Focus on "first audience first." Before proclaiming to the world a new green product, a new green-related initiative or strategic direction, give the loyal audience the first look. It's better to have knowledgeable ambassadors support your announcement or direction, especially in an ever-evolving platform such as "green" news. And, they serve as a test audience. OK, call it a focus group, but it's the much safer route. If it flies with the inner circle, move to step 3.

Secure the NGOs. As aptly explained by established consulting firms, such as the Environmental Impact Initiative, companies are learning that you need a credible partner. The partner can advise you on, say, where to locate that new LEED building so you are not ending up causing more greenhouse gas emissions by forcing employees to drive further to work.

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