Climate change only gets more attention as years go by. For this reason, every company tries to show its green side by making green products or participating in green causes. Though many companies still deny climate change, most want to seem as if they care to keep good business.
To this end, some ‘big polluters’ in Europe hired PR firms to paint a greener image for their public.
The Corporate Europe Observatory exposed these companies and their allies in a recent report. The study names the offenders and the PR firms behind them, describing the deceptive tactics used against the public about the real agenda.
The PR Ethics of Backing ‘Green Pretenders’
Ethics in PR is often a crooked, gray line. Like lawyers, PR experts may find themselves defending clients with shady backgrounds and bad intentions. As a result, a big part of doing PR can be representing and even supporting those not in sync with current PC trends.
When it comes to green causes, PR’s reputation stands at its worst. Edelman PR’s involvement with deniers of climate change, for instance, not only damaged its image but also cost it a few clients. Rather than learn from this lesson, many PR firms continue representing clients fighting against climate change policies.
PR firms should consider how aiding and abetting ‘climate criminals’ can affect the clients they attract (or lose). While big money now might seem like a great incentive, a bad reputation may follow. And no one should know that better than the experts in PR.
Gas Naturally – Polluting the Air
Six gas lobby groups support this company’s goal to paint natural gas as a good option for switching from oil to other alternatives. The PR giant representing this fossil fuel company is Fleishman-Hillard.
According to the report, “GasNaturally does not appear as a client in Fleishman-Hillard’s EU Transparency Register entry. However, it shares an address with Fleishman-Hillard”. The PR firm’s website also boasts its relationship with the company. It claims that Gas Naturally charged it with the duty of making the public more aware of the benefits to the environment of using the product.
However, one study showed using natural gas could actually increase the carbon dioxide emissions by 10% in the next 35 years. Even the methods of extracting natural gas prove harmful since fracking is often the method used to obtain natural gas, causing greenhouse gasses, like methane, to enter the atmosphere, increasing the damage.
Yet Fleishman-Hillard makes an annual ‘Gas Week’ for the client, bringing EU policymakers together with company executives to discuss climate change policy. The event also includes a cocktail party and a workshop.
Malaysian Palm Oil Council (MPOC) – Endangering Already Endangered Species
Even government-owned bodies are guilty of hiring PR firms to cast a green shadow over harmful activities. During the latter half of 2015, many rainforests in Indonesia caught fire, due in part to the palm oil industry. This caused widespread respiratory illnesses in the region and negatively affected several endangered species.
In response, the MPOC hired Havas Paris to address the growing concern in Europe about how the palm oil industry harms the environment. Havas Paris launched the campaign in September of 2015 while the rainforest was still ablaze. It then outsourced the campaign to Gracias Press in Belgium.
Havas Paris built a website providing biased information to consumers, and launched a corresponding social media campaign bolster the site. The firm then threw in a more traditional print and poster campaign, alongside a documentary showing the sustainability of palm oil.
Meanwhile, Yusof Basiron, President of the MPOC presented a contrasting image on Twitter and to the general public. He rebelled against pressure from environmental-friendly groups on the palm oil industry to change. He also advocated to turn the rainforest into plantations and reproached NGOs for putting more emphasis on saving the ensnared animals, instead of just putting out the fire.
GazProm – Evicting Polar Bears
A subsidiary of the world’s largest oil and gas producer, GazProm Neft looks to the Arctic to expand even further. According to the Corporate Europe Report, “Gazprom is the fifth biggest institutional emitter of greenhouse gasses; together the top five entities, all fossil fuel companies, are responsible for 14.6 percent of cumulative historical global industrial emissions of CO2 and methane.”
Omnicom’s subsidiary, GPlus, handles the PR needs of this company. And one thing both the PR firm and the company share is strong ties to Russia (as Ketchum PR has done a lot of work with Russia as well.) The world power owns more than 50% of GazProm and spends millions on campaigns taken on by GPlus encouraging individuals and companies to partner with the Russian government.
GPlus’ work so far involved hosting an ‘Arctic event’ focused on the “responsible development” of the region. GPlus also applies a filter to more controversial statements made by President Vladimir Putin to maintain a good (and even docile) public image. In spite of this, the company continues to face both criticism and sanctions by the EU for anti-competitive practices.
To solve both problems of climate control, and PR-led misrepresentation, more companies need to practice what they preach. For industries where pollutants are still a necessary evil, policies should force companies to forewarn customers and take responsibility, as the tobacco industry now does. To deceive supporters of green causes into supporting ‘green image’ companies with dirty backgrounds is bad business, and immoral.
Until then, PR firms may continue helping big polluters to play tricks on the public. And as a result, Europe and the rest of the world take several steps back from goals slowing climate change.