Top Tips For Environmental PR Specialists

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By Polly Winograd Ikonen, LCI

Everyone’s talking and writing about the environment and climate change these days. In our market, for example, The San Francisco Chronicle has recently doubled the number of writers permanently assigned to the climate beat and is rolling out numerous climate-related special features.  This is a journalistic pivot that bodes well for professionals and organizations focused on environmental PR.

Briefly, what is environmental PR? It’s a specialty that focuses on environmental issues and can cover a breadth of topics: from climate change and land use policy to pollution, natural resource management (and abuses), community impact and even public health. The organizations that need environmental PR specialists range from nonprofit land trusts and advocacy organizations to major corporations, grant-making foundations and regional, state and national governmental agencies.

So how do we PR professionals take advantage of this expanded journalistic commitment to covering climate issues?  Here are a few tips:

1. Beware of green-washing. While it’s tempting to connect everything your organization does to a ‘hot topic’ like climate change (pun intended!), be thoughtful about what actually constitutes a legitimate environmental story. Just as you are probably advising your CEO or client to navigate social justice and equity topics with care, you’ll want to make sure that any climate or environmental claims you’re making on behalf of your organization or client are actually real.  Walk the walk, don’t just talk the talk.

2. Know your science. You don’t have to have a science degree to do environmental PR, but many reporters in this space do. So make sure you have a firm understanding of the concepts underlying your environmental news so that you can earn the respect of the journalists you’re working with. Also, climate change is a really big, sprawling topic, so you’ll often need to guide writers to the stories your client wants to tell.  If you can make a solid case for your story in the context of climate science, they’ll be more likely to bite.

3. Focus on the why. While this golden rule should apply to any area of public relations, it’s especially important in the environmental space, where science geekery can overshadow why people should care about your story – and, perhaps, take action. If you’re announcing a land conservation deal, for example, look beyond the “bucks and acres” facts to why this property is important to protect: Does it maintain critical wildlife connections? Do its natural resources promote climate resiliency? Does it offer new opportunities for public access? Give both journalists and their readers a reason to care about what you’re doing.

Landis is proud to work in the environmental space with such clients as the Peninsula Open Space Trust, Save the Redwoods League, UCSF, IIDA and the California College of the Arts on environmental and land use issues, ESG, how climate change will affect design in the future and environmental health and wellness issues affecting businesses.

What makes for a great environmental public relations professional?

What are your thoughts? Please comment below or email me directly at [email protected].

Related articles:

PRSSA Progressions Environmental PR Specialists: The Modern-day Superhero

O’Dwyer’s Restoring Environmental Health is the Ultimate Collaborative Test

The Guardian Tell us about your area’s exciting green projects

4 thoughts on “Top Tips For Environmental PR Specialists

  1. Polly: Great blog. As an environmental PR specialist yourself, you know this world well. I think corporations should especially be aware of green washing. The environmental public is informed and aware and can easily spot people or businesses that try to do something “in name only.” Cheers, David

  2. Thanks Polly – my takeaway is about the geekery potentially overshadowing why anyone should care. That’s a great point and is applicable to all business categories!

  3. Great tips, Polly! I often see companies jump on the “cause bandwagon” without putting a lot of thought into why that cause resonates with them or their mission. I see this especially happening with the topic of climate change. Many businesses include climate change in their messaging, but few actually take measurable action to prevent it. As the old saying goes, “actions speak louder than words.”

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