One of the ways PR experts enhance the image of their clients and show that they care is by emphasising their positive actions, no matter how trivial, and downplaying any negative aspects, no matter how significant. According to Robert Gray, former chairman of Hill and Knowlton, “our job is not to make white black or to cover the truth, but to tell the positive side regardless of who the client is.” Sometimes this involves putting a positive spin or interpretation on the available information:
Did this year’s fines levied by the Environmental Protection Agency (or the state equivalent) drop to ‘only’ $5 million? Then celebrate the company’s ‘continued positive trend in compliance.’ Was there no improvement from last year’s release of toxic chemicals? Then report on the ‘levelling off of emissions.’
One public relations expert advised companies in Public Relations Journal: “To report bad news, state the problem, then focus on the actions you are taking to reduce the risk and improve the situation.” She also advised that it is important to get in first, “in hostile situations” in order to “shape the message”. For example, one firm that was required by Californian regulations to disclose their emissions and their health effects (including cancer risks) sent a letter to local residents in advance.
By getting their letter to residents prior to the agency letter [containing their emissions details], the company was able to take control of the message and reinforce its proactive stance...Opening a dialogue with the neighbourhood gave the manufacturer a forum to communicate the positive elements of the plant.
Some companies make the most out of measures they have been forced to take by the government, making it seem that they have undertaken the improvements because they care about the environment. Companies that have poor environmental records can also improve their image and increase their sales merely by using recycled paper in their products or making similar token adjustments. Peter Dykstra, media director of Greenpeace, USA, says, “They depict 5 percent of environmental virtue to mask the 95 percent of environmental vice”.
The nuclear industry has stressed its lack of air pollution and carbon dioxide emissions as an environmental benefit while not discussing the environmental and health problems surrounding extraction of uranium, nuclear accidents or disposal of nuclear wastes. Hill and Knowlton has helped the nuclear industry to come up with statements such as “Nuclear protects the public against an unacceptable level of peril from air pollution.” The American Nuclear Society’s publicity director argued that the nuclear industry needed to “paint itself green” and try to be identified with the environmental movement. The Canadian Nuclear Association also launched a three year, $6 million campaign in the late 1980s portraying nuclear energy as ‘clean’ and ‘safe’ and the solution to global warming and acid rain problems.
Virgin’s Climate Change Isa is an investment fund claiming to offer an environmental alternative: "You would expect a “climate change” fund to be investing in clean-tech firms. Exciting new technology companies set to capitalise on the next green revolution". However Virgin notes:
"Most environmental funds exclude entire industry sectors - like oil, gas, electricity and transportation - on ethical grounds...this approach excludes some of the companies with the highest growth potential. This leaves the fund manager with a smaller pool of companies from which to select the best performers. The net result? A smaller portfolio, restricted investment opportunities, less diversity and increased volatility"
Virgin's criterion for companies in which to invest are much less vigorous, that is, those "taking positive action on the corporate responsibility front by promoting environmentally aware behaviour internally, such as encouraging recycling in their workplaces..." so an oil company might be included in this climate change investment portfolio just because it provides recycling bins in its offices. And indeed, companies such as BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto are included.