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#WPRDFestival: Sustainability – Communicating today’s buzzword rightly [Article]

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Writers| Benedicta Ashong, Global Media Alliance

In today’s world, sustainability has become a cornerstone of corporate responsibility. The role of Public Relations (PR) professionals in shaping public perception around environmental initiatives has become more crucial than ever.

Alongside genuine efforts to promote sustainability, a pressing concern exists – Greenwashing. Greenwashing refers to the practice of making false or misleading claims about the environmental benefits or sustainability of a product, service, or company.

Public Relations plays a significant role in perpetuating greenwashing, as companies use PR tactics to create a false narrative and improve their public image. Companies may use PR to craft messaging that portrays them as environmentally responsible or sustainable, even if their actions don’t align with these claims.

As part of activities lined up for this year’s World PR Day Festival organized by Global Media Alliance, a “Greenwashing x PR” virtual session assembled subject matter experts to delve into the complexity of greenwashing, and deepen the need for PR practitioners to navigate away from its challenges.

Hosted by Cynthia Hiram Yaro, Head of Marketing and Public Relations at G-Water Bottling Ltd., the session saw the speakers call for collaborative efforts between PR professionals and sustainability experts to ensure alignment in the organization’s communications. They said this is to ensure truth, accuracy, and consistency when communicating sustainability initiatives to avoid greenwashing.

 The Concept of Greenwashing

Eunice Osei-Tutu, a Sustainability Enthusiast took participants through the concept of greenwashing and how organizations can successfully communicate their sustainability efforts without resorting to greenwashing tactics. She stated, “Greenwashing makes us believe that some organizations are engaging in sustainable practices when in reality they are not.”

She emphasized the role PR professionals play in shaping an organization’s Environment and Social Governance (ESG) narrative to enhance their reputation.

“In most companies, PR is so important when it comes to communicating to the public what the company is doing to mitigate climate issues. PR practitioners need to collaborate with the sustainability experts to ensure that the messaging going out is helping them achieve the actual goal that they do want to achieve,” she remarked.

Sustainability Requires Real Commitment

The Partner-Country Communication at the Mastercard Foundation, Felix Baidoo, touched on companies and campaigns that have successfully communicated their sustainability efforts without resorting to greenwashing tactics.

Felix Baidoo acknowledged the commendable efforts of organizations and encouraged others to show real commitment to being sustainable. “Organizations need to show real commitment to being sustainable by showcasing what they want to do by a certain period and the progress they are making towards that.”

“If you look at companies and the sustainable efforts they put together, it is not a one-man activity.  They often embark on it as a supply chain challenge to bring others along on that journey,” he added.

Sustainability and Storytelling

Kobina Otu Okyne, an Environmental Specialist at the World Bank emphasized how PR professionals can use storytelling to engage audiences on environmental issues. “No profession creates emotional connections quite like PR when reporting on sustainability issues and highlighting its significance.”

“We need to be able to go beyond publishing research findings and that’s where for me, storytelling is important. In reporting sustainable activities there is no professional or industry like PR, that creates emotional connection the way practitioners do,” stated Kobina Otu Okyne.

According to him, PR practitioners’ ability to create emotional connections is “really important in telling the sustainability stories”.

The speakers called for collaborative efforts between PR professionals, and sustainability experts to ensure alignment in the organization’s communications to ensure truth, accuracy, and consistency when communicating sustainability initiatives to avoid greenwashing.

The World PR Day Festival continues to highlight critical issues and industry trends relevant to the PR community. This year’s festival will feature a series of events including slush events, masterclass programmes, virtual thought leadership sessions, an industry mixer, and the main summit. This year’s festival will touch on key areas such as Sustainability PR, Storytelling, Arts, Artificial Intelligence, Tourism, and Political Communication.

With a special focus on AI and Sustainability PR, this year’s festival will explore the impact of AI and Sustainability in shaping communication strategies for brands, organizations, and individuals. Moreover, it will examine how PR professionals can ethically navigate the use of AI and how to communicate sustainability initiatives while avoiding greenwashing.

The 2024 World PR Day Festival was launched with a podcast conversation exploring the latest trends, opportunities, and challenges in the industry.

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