PR Firms Have a PR Problem… with Climate Change

Brian McCowan, Zondits staff, 2/18/2022

The business news outlet CNBC is reporting that PR firms are being pressured to change their strategies regarding climate change and their efforts in support of the fossil fuel industry. An article published on this February makes the case that although PR firms prefer to remain in the background, they have been lead creators and spreaders of misinformation campaigns. “The role of PR firms and ad agencies in “greenwashing” fossil fuels has come under intense scrutiny in recent months, with communications firms accused of obstructing climate action by spreading misinformation on behalf of their clients.”  

The article references a study published in the journal Climatic Change which documented the role of PR firms in helping oil and gas companies improve their environmental image and promote industry favored solutions with such terms as “clean coal,” “renewable natural gas” and “carbon footprint.” “Carbon footprint” in particular has often been identified as a term used to deflect attention away from industry and onto individuals.  

The article’s researchers found that the pressure is coming from both outside organizations and from within. The New York Times, for example, has reported that over 1,000 employees of the consulting firm McKinsey signed a letter sharply criticizing the firm’s work with some of the world’s largest polluters. 

The scientific community is also applying pressure: “Last month, more than 450 scientists called on PR firms and ad agencies to drop their fossil fuel clients and stop spreading climate disinformation. It was the first time so many scientists had come together to call out the role of PR and advertising in fueling the climate crisis,” the author states. The article goes on to report that some PR firms are beginning to respond to the pressure and are reconsidering their approaches, including potentially breaking ties with some fossil fuel suppliers. 

Read the full CNBC article here.  

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