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 Worldwide, "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." (quoted in Roschwalb 1994, p. 270) 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.' (Makower 1996)
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" (Arnstein
1994, p. 29). 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. (Arnstein 1994,
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". (quoted in
Beers and Capellaro 1991)
Jenkins, in the New Statesman and Society (1990), claimed
that BP, a company responsible for the clearing of large areas of
rainforest in Brazil, responded to the rise in environmental consciousness
in the late 1980s with "a £20 million 're-imaging campaign' in which
it daubed all its property in green paint, and advertised its annual
report under the slogan 'Now We're Greener Than Ever'." Greenpeace
campaigners Dadd and Carothers (1990) claim that Chevron, a multinational
oil company, spends about five times as much publicising its environmental
actions as it does on the actions themselves.
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. (Anon. 1994b; Lanouette 1991; Nelson 1989, p. 138)
Day each year provides another opportunity for firms to get environmental
credentials, deserved or otherwise. One US PR consultant observed:
"There's a virtual feeding frenzy among corporations about what
roles they will play on Earth Day." On the same topic the public
affairs director for the Monsanto Chemical Company has said: "There's
a mad scramble for many companies to project an 'I
am greener than thou' attitude." The Chemical Manufacturers Association
encourages its members to get involved and public relations firms
help their clients to "shape and publicise their pro-environment
messages." (Shell 1990, p. 9)
funding and sponsorship has turned Earth Day into a multimillion
dollar event that is marketed with slick glossy brochures and Earth
Day merchandise. It provides corporations with a means to green
their image and, according to Public Relations Journal, play
"a key role in defining the future direction of the environmental
movement." (Shell 1990, p. 16) Associated events such as fairs,
where firms can showcase their 'green' credentials and Clean Up
campaigns are common in the mid-nineties. These clean-ups "offer
a chance to 'bond' with the community over an environmental cause
and to foster 'camaraderie among employees' who are often compensated
for their time." (Whitehead 1995)
attempt to provide a 'green' and caring persona for a corporation
is a public relations strategy aimed at promising reform and heading
off demands for more substantial and fundamental changes (Nelson
1989, p. 131). A PR expert advised in Public Relations Journal:
There really are no solid solutions to many environmental
problems other than ceasing to partake in the activity that causes
the environmental hazard. Therefore, the key to devising successful
solution ideas, is to show that your client cares about the environmental
issue at hand. (Kwittken 1994, p. 27)
Council on Economic Priorities has studied the environmental claims
of a large number of corporations and found that "many of them are
using ‘green’ public relations programs as a pro-environmental smokescreen
while they continue to pollute." Examples they gave in 1992 included
Dow Chemical, which "received favorable publicity for a $3 million
wetlands protection program, while downstream from its factories
birds were turning up with dioxin-related deformities" and Mobil,
which claimed "so-called biodegradable plastic bags would not disintegrate
in landfills and that their use should not be encouraged. Then they
went ahead and introduced biodegradable plastics with an enormous
advertising campaign." (Anon. 1992, p. 3)
is perhaps one of the most successful companies when it comes to
attaining a green image. Although it is the 13th worst US corporation
when it comes to emissions of toxic chemicals into the environment,
the name 3M is almost synonymous with the idea of pollution prevention
through its much publicised 3P (Pollution Prevention Pays) scheme.
Indeed 3M's 3P program, implemented in the 1970s by two engineers
and an 'environmental communications specialist,' has saved $500
million for a very small monetary expenditure, earned a Silver Anvil
Award from the Public Relations Society of America, brought much
welcome media publicity and helped "soften regulatory attitudes
toward the industry" (Ludford 1991).
philanthropy is another means of showing that a company cares. For
example the Puget Sound Bank found that it increased its number
of customers by setting up the Puget Sound Fund. The name of the
fund was chosen purposely to "cement the identification" between
the bank and the environmental fund. Each time a customer made a
transaction at one of their automatic teller machines the bank would
donate a small amount of money to the Fund which would be used to
give grants to environmental groups. Cheques were produced with
scenes of Puget Sound on them. The aim was to make supporting the
bank seem to the public to be supporting an environmental cause
strategy worked better than the bank had hoped. Between 1988 and
1990 cash withdrawals through the machines increased 56% and the
bank retained its market share despite increased competition. The
fund raised $30,000 in 1990 which was dispersed to 32 environmental
groups. It was far cheaper than an advertising campaign and attracted
favourable media coverage worth more than could have been bought
with conventional publicity. "It's free advertising and of the best
type. That's press you can't buy!" The bank's marketing director
pointed out that "banking is a business in which the perception
is often the reality"
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(1992) 'Research Group says some Green Marketers are only Pretending',
Marketing News, vol. 26, no. 2: 3.
(1994) 'Flack Attack, Part II', Environmental Action, Summer:
Caren, (1994) 'How companies can rebuild credibility and public
trust', Public Relations Journal, April: 28-29.
Joseph, (1991) 'When a good cause is also good business', Bank
Marketing, vol. 23, no. 6: 30-32.
David, and Catherine Capellaro, (1991) 'Greenwash!', Mother Jones,
Debra Lynn, and Andre Carothers, (1990) 'A bill of goods?', Greenpeace,
vol. 15, no. 3: 8-12.
Jolyon, (1990) 'Who's the Greenest?', New Statesman & Society,
17 August: 18-20.
Aaron Renner, (1994) 'Planning proactive corporate environmental
communications', Public Relations Journal, April: 27.
William, (1991) 'Painting themselves green', The Bulletin of
the Atomic Scientists : 4.
Lowell F., (1991) '3P program pays off in costs savings of $500
million for 3M', Public Relations Journal, vol. 47, no. 4:
Joel, (1996) 'Just the facts', E: the Environmental Magazine,
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Joyce, (1989) Sultans of Sleeze: Public Relations and the Media,
Toronto: Between the Lines.
Susanne A., (1994) 'The Hill & Knowlton Cases: A brief on the controversy',
Public Relations Review, vol. 20, no. 3: 267-276.
Adam, (1990) 'Earth Day spawns corporate "feeding frenzy"', Public
Relations Journal, Jan/Feb: 9, 16-17.
Wendy R., (1995) '25th Earth Day will be a local affair', Environment
Today, vol. 6, no. 2: 3, 11.
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