What does it mean to you to participate as a speaker at the 2014 World Public Relations Forum?

Being considered as a speaker at the World Public Relations Forum is an honour that now, after years of research, interviews and working in the field of ‘green’ public relations allows me to share the wonderful teachings I have learnt on my journey as Sustainable Communication Strategist. I am most excited about this years theme ‘ Communication with a conscience’ as I believe that this is an integral part of the future of both sustainable communication and the profession on a whole.

In your opinion, what are the most important benefits of participating to this Forum?

This forum allows the gathering of like-minded individuals to learn, collaborate, form new partnership, engage and learn from each other so that we can enhance the professionalism and standard of public relations globally. In terms of the future of the planet, cooperation, stakeholder engagement and participation is key. Attending forums such as the World PR Forum, is the ideal platform to engage and discuss issues, challenges and successes that the industry is faced with or celebrates.

What does ‘Communication with Conscience’ mean to you?

Oxford dictionary defines ‘conscience’ as ‘A person’s moral sense of right and wrong, viewed as acting as a guide to one’s behaviour’. Public Relations Practitioners have the power to not only shift and change the ‘conscience’ or attitudes of people through communication, they also have the opportunity to guide companies in terms of crystallising their environmental intent, providing expertise in analysing and interpreting attitudes and behaviours and communicating environmental initiatives to all stakeholders in a clear, understandable, authentic and honest way. Ensuring that the company’s ethics and culture are consistent with the ‘green’ claims made is the very foundation of a rational and ethical communication campaign.

What are the most important challenges that communication professionals will have to face in the next years?

The first apparent challenge is a silent revolution, aptly termed “Green Consumerism” which has been and still is rapidly gaining momentum, giving rise 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 creates unique challenges, as well as opportunities, for public relations practitioners in that increasingly, companies are looking to practitioners to promote the environmental attributes and ‘green’ claims of their products and services to capture the attention and loyalty of this new consumer market, but unfortunately, this has also given rise to the unethical practice of ‘greenwashing’, where consumers are mislead regarding environmental practices of a company or the environmental benefits of a product or service through incorrect claims, factual errors, misrepresentation or omission of information. Inaccurate ‘green’ claims or simply glossing a ‘green sheen’ over advertising and PR communication creates a significant risk of negative publicity and irreparable brand damage and loss of trust when ‘greenwashing’ is exposed. Rising above the ‘green’ noise poses a new challenge to communication professionals.

The second, and more challenging is the fact that as environmental issues surface, undoubtedly, Public Relations practitioners will be faced with many boardroom ethical dilemmas in the future, especially in terms of environmental issues where the battle between society and nature takes place owing to the fact the fact that people are different and all have their own values assigned to the environment. A PR practitioner, well versed in public relations, stakeholder engagement, environmental issues and ethics, can become a valuable asset to the decision-making process to change attitudes, and ultimately behaviour, not just for external stakeholders, but within the organisation as well.

What are the most important strategic points of Sustainable Communication and Green Public Relations?

It remains crucial that companies communicate and report ethically, sincerely, honestly and accurately. This is in terms of communication to stakeholders via sustainability reports, press releases, marketing and advertising. Errors or omissions could alter the assessments and decisions of stakeholders, while misrepresentation or inaccurate communication places the reputation of the company at stake. Sustainability issues differ across industry sectors and across individual companies, and various stakeholders will require a different approach when communicating sustainability messages. As such, a one-size-fits-all communication approach will prove ineffective. What is required is a stakeholder engagement plan and communication strategy incorporating key sustainability messages tailored for each target audience, including investors, employees, suppliers and consumers. An authentic, holistic and well-considered sustainable communication and stakeholder engagement plan provide a solid foundation for informed decision-making and ensure stakeholders feel valued and heard. This builds trust and loyalty to a brand.

The number one rule for sustainable communication is authentic, genuine and honest communication. Solid, verifiable evidence that the company’s ethics and culture are consistent with the “green” claims made is the very foundation of a “green” communications campaign. In fact, that what a company says is reflected by genuine, measurable green initiatives extending throughout all operations of the business are the only way to build confidence, trust and loyalty among this new breed of consumers. The company has to “walk the talk”, keep its promises and ensure every environmental claim is true – and that it benefits both consumers and the environment.