Target Green

Agency Q&A: Jerry Johnson, Brodeur

PRWeek has invited a number of PR pros responsible for their agency’s green or clean practice or initiatives to answer a number of questions about the space. This is the first one. If you would like to participate, e-mail .

Jerry Johnson, Brodeur EVP strategic planning, Washington, DC

At Brodeur, Clean Technology is a functional focus that is primarily served out of its business-to-business practice.

What is the easiest thing a client can go today to kickstart a green image?

Energy conservation is by far the easiest to launch and easiest to document, the latter being important in showing that what the company is doing goes beyond empty “greenwash” exercises. The most active and vocal environmentalists understand the value of energy conservation, so this approach – although not new – helps a company establish its bone fides with the environmental movement. The problem: energy conversation is not very sexy. It doesn’t grab the headlines like the Branson climate change challenge does. Recently we’ve seen a lot of companies look at renewables – wind, solar, biofuels – as their “green” calling card. As with conservation, renewables are not really “new,” however they have become more established, viable, alternatives to carbon-based fuels. For example, a large placard at the headquarters of Safeway in northern California touts that the company’s headquarters is powered by wind. That’s a good statement for all employees and business partners that visit the site. Moreover, a renewables push allows the company to its commitment to move away from carbon-based resources and take steps to address climate change.

What is the most important thing a client could do tomorrow to maintain serious green cred?

Get real. Be serious. If not, move on to something else. Serious green cred doesn’t happen with a single act in a single day. Serious credibility is earned over time with real programs that make a real difference. Blue smoke gets blown away. Mirrors eventually crack. The folks who matter on the environmental front have a very fine tuned BS meter.

What NGOs are good partners for a solid green initiative?

There are some NGOs that are so ideologically committed it is hard for them to square their environmental stances with that of enterprise, growth, and the realities of the marketplace. The trend, however, is working in the other direction. Most NGOs are looking for common ground where they can work with companies in areas of common interest – and then agree to disagree in areas where they can’t. The issue of carbon trading is a good example where forward thinking by environmental groups has coalesced with similar thinking within enterprise. Different NGOs bring different assets and different expertise to bear on environmental issues. There are many shades of green and the right partner will depend largely on what a company wants to accomplish, not what publicity they seek to gain.

What is your agency doing to become greener?

Brodeur has always been a socially conscious company. That ranges from our work in areas of health care to support for local charitable organizations in our communities. We’ve been particularly focused in supporting efforts to use communications to educate and change behaviors that influence global warming. Much of that work has been through the Brodeur Advisory Board, over a dozen experts from many different business and policy disciplines.

What company (non-client) do you think is doing an exemplary job of promoting its green status?

Companies that are doing the most in achieving sustainable, eco-friendly growth are not necessarily the best at promoting it … and vice-versa!

That said, some of the bigger, more well-known and well-publicized brands – Starbucks, Ben & Jerry’s, and BP – have combined real actions with considerable promotional dollars around environmentally friendly positions and business practices.

How should companies avoid the label of “greenwashing”?

It starts with being serious, taking action, and putting resources and energy behind those actions. The easiest way to avoid the label is to commit to do something meaningful – and then doing it.

What regions around the world are doing the most to advance environmental innovation?

Many see Europe is as the leader in the actual implementation of environmental technologies that conserve resources, reduce waste, and curb carbon emissions. But the United States remains the most significant source of innovation in the area.

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