A raft of new “green” regulations and the rapid growth of “green consumerism” create a unique opportunity for companies to leverage their communication of their green credentials, but success will depend on an honest, well-considered approach to “Green PR”.

While many companies are realising the cost savings benefits associated with “green” practices, their adoption of “green” initiatives are being fast-tracked by two important issues: rapid changes in the regulatory environment and the rise of “green consumerism”.

“We have already witnessed the voluntary adoption of sustainability reporting among JSE-listed companies, the introduction of the Carbon Tax law and the energy efficiency measures recently introduced into the National Building Regulations,” In the wake of the 17th session of the Conference of Parties (COP 17) of the United Nations Framework in Climate Change and the launch of government’s National Climate Change Response Policy – the roadmap to a “green economy” in South Africa – companies can expect increasing ‘green’ regulation.”

But, perhaps, the more pressing issue for companies is the silent revolution taking place in their consumer markets: “green consumerism”. According to businessdictionary.com, it refers to a new breed of consumer “who is mindful of environment-related issues and obligations, and is supportive of environmental causes to the extent of switching allegiance from one product or supplier to another even if it entails higher cost”. “This clearly poses a significant risk to those companies who are not reducing their impact on the environment legitimately and authentically.In fact, genuine, measurable green initiatives extending throughout all operations of the business is the only way to achieve a competitive advantage over peers and rivals, enhance loyalty and pride among employees and to build real trust among this new breed of consumer.”

So how does a company go about becoming a legitimate participant in the new “green” economy? @ Communications Green Public Relations suggests a three-step approach.

Step 1: Measure, report and disclose

Companies need to embed a commitment to sustainability in everything they do – from manufacturing to disposal – and this includes implementing waste management, water management and energy efficiency solutions, and even changing to “green” suppliers where necessary.

Work alongside reputable sustainability consultants who can evaluate and measure your current environmental impact and assist you to establish achievable sustainability goals. By reporting and disclosing your current impact, as well as your future goals, you are making it public knowledge that you are working towards becoming sustainable.

Step 2: Implement your “green intent”

Consumers and investors do not expect your company to be 100% carbon neutral, nor do they expect sustainability to be achieved overnight. Implementing a plan documenting your intent to “go green” – in effect, walking the green mile – is all that is expected.

As you implement your “green intent”, seek green accreditation and certification through a reputable and trusted third party, as this builds credibility.

Step 3: Invest in Green Public Relations

Green PR is more than just distributing releases with a green angle. In fact, poorly organised or inexperienced PR efforts can create the perception of inappropriate or inaccurate green claims and even accusations of “greenwashing” – making false or misleading “green” claims – a practice that could result in immense brand and reputational damage. However, on the other side of the coin, companies need to leverage communication about their legitimate “green” initiatives. If consumers don’t perceive your company as “green”, they won’t buy your product, even if it is “green”.

“It is crucial, therefore, when planning to leverage your sustainability efforts through PR communications that you choose your PR partner wisely,” says Barter. “The wrong choice could result in negative publicity, possible lawsuits for misleading claims and the lack of trust in your product or service among consumers – even if you have excellent green credentials!

“It is imperative that you select a company that is walking the green mile with you. Look for a PR partner that not only has experience and expertise in classic PR and winning strategies for effective social media and online PR but that also has a deep understanding of sustainability and environmental issues, reflected in the agency’s own eco-initiatives. Such a PR agency won’t simply add a ‘green’ spin to your media messages, but will guide you in terms of crystalising your green intent, provide advice regarding disclosure, ROI-modifying advertising and packaging changes and will communicate your green initiatives to the right audience with passion, sincerity and integrity.”

Done correctly and holistically, Green PR is an investment in brand building and reputation enhancement, and will assist your company to tap into the rapidly growing trend of “green consumerism”. Press releases and online PR will drive consumers to your website and social media platforms, attracting new customers and new spending, which means your investment in Green PR, can be accurately measured in improved website traffic and new business enquiries.