I’ve gradually developed an interest in sustainability due to my personal experiences. I grew up often playing outdoors, writing notes to leave around my home to turn off the lights and cuddling with any dog I met. My idea of sustainability was that we had to be good to the Earth and all of its creations. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, “to pursue sustainability is to create and maintain the conditions under which humans and nature can exist in productive harmony to support present and future generations.”
Sustainability could be more than a business’ efforts to be environmental friendly. Sustainability strengthens public relations efforts by building trust and creating better relationships for businesses. All public relations students should understand the benefits of sustainability in this day and age.
What can students learn from the relationship between public relations and sustainability?
Businesses that are sustainable, and let their publics know what they’re doing by being transparent, build trust with their publics. When I shop, I now look for the words “vegan friendly” or “recycled fabrics” in the labels. While I’m still eating both my veggies and proteins and not necessarily solving the world’s climate change problem, I noticed my new shopping behaviors made me prefer and select specific brands. Before this happened I did not notice that shopping behaviors could be changed due to a business’ sustainable efforts.
As a result, sustainable businesses develop stronger relationships with their publics. If any crisis were to happen, the businesses that have been transparent will have an easier time recovering. They can take a proactive approach, rather than just a reactive one.
Shel Israel, contributor on Forbes, explains Edelman’s Trust Barometer, “the longest running most comprehensive survey of trust worldwide.” He explains how this leading global agency has helped media and businesses understand what builds trust and noted that the Barometer shows, “sustainable energy companies are more conversational and more trusted in the energy sector.” One of the 2015 Trust Barometer insights in the energy industry indicates that trust is essential to innovation. While businesses across all industries rely on reports similar to the Barometer, the energy industry can benefit greatly in a, “time defined by major movement – or lack thereof.”
The Future of Public Relations and Sustainability
Once you understand what it means to be sustainable and how it can be useful to public relations efforts you can get a glimpse at the role of sustainability in the future of businesses. Recently developments such as the Paris climate change conference have cemented the importance of sustainability. The conference concluded in a highly anticipated agreement; an ambitious deal that involves every country’s commitment to the global issue and a thorough execution plan to protect the planet because world leaders know very well how important it is to do something about the environment. Just like I’ve changed my behavior, many other individuals have become socially conscious by selecting more sustainable options. Sustainability is no longer a trend, or just a business maneuver; it is a necessity to effectively run a business in this world.
Kenia Zelaya is a senior public relations major and business minor at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va. You can connect with Kenia on LinkedIn or follow her on Twitter to chat more on sustainability and everything public relations.