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Climate Change Advocates Need Positive Branding

[fa icon="calendar'] Sep 16, 2014 9:54:19 AM / by Carol Pierson Holding

By Carol Pierson Holding

The idea of branding climate change seems like another exercise in navel-gazing until you China pollutionconsider the effectiveness of the opposition. They’ve got branding down, relentlessly repeating the mantra, “science is inconclusive and solutions are exorbitant and unproven.” On the other hand, environmentalists repeat vague Cassandra-like warnings of “climate change” and “global warming,” supporting dire predictions with confusing statistics, hard-pressed to come up with simple, relevant messages.

Even relatively green media like the New York Times end up reinforcing the fossil fuel messages, especially in their business sections. In an unfortunately common example, Friday’s Huffington Post called out the New York Times for “overhyping the benefits of fracking…(claiming that it was) changing the economic calculus for old industries and downtrodden cities alike.” Fracking equals jobs and a better economy, the article claimed. But Huffington Post reporter Mark Gongloff quoted Dean Baker, co-director of the Center For Economic And Policy Research, who found that in fact fracking communities had a worse record for factory jobs than the U.S. as a whole. Still, when it’s reported in the New York Times

Climate deniers are brilliant at setting up simple, memorable and scary financial calculations that brand climate change activists as prioritizing the environment against the economy. They pit environmental health against jobs. They equate renewable energy with sky-high utility bills. They warn electric cars have no range and will leave you stranded and solar panels will burn your house down. And my favorite, heard quite a bit in the halls of Congress: why should the U.S. pay to clean up the atmosphere when China now emits more greenhouse gas than we do?

Again, even environmentally-friendly media reinforce this trope. The latest is last week’s Rolling Stone article titled “China, the Climate and the Fate of the Planet.” The article is rife with fodder for climate solution obstructionists, starting with author Jeff Goodell’s front page called-out quote:  “If the world’s biggest polluter doesn’t radically reduce the amount of coal it burns within the next decade, nothing anyone does to stabilize the climate will matter.”

True, China’s contribution to atmospheric CO2 is now over 10 billion metric tons a year, and 25 years of climate negotiations have failed utterly. But Goodell’s article did not have to lead with the negative. He could have highlighted that China is now the largest consumer of solar power and that this year, 60 percent of its new energy production was from renewable energy sources, even higher than the U.S. at 53.8 percent. That it’s making every effort to close coal plants. Or that even in the face of beatings or worse, its citizens are still rioting in the streets against fossil fuel production.

Iconic graphic designer Milton Glaser, creator of the “I Love New York” logo, developed a climate change branding campaign with buttons and billboards that feature a black circle fading to a small green strip at its bottom edge over the slogan “IT’S NOT WARMING. IT’S DYING.” Position this message against one of the current denier billboards that proclaims “’Green’ Climate Policies: Probably unnecessary. Certainly ineffectual. Ruinously expensive.” Which one sounds more rationale? More persuasive? Easier to adopt? Commenting for Fast Company, Adele Peters questions Glazer’s negative approach but remains hopeful that he’s tackled the challenge. Her closing thought is absolutely correct: “We need more brilliant designers and marketers tackling the messaging about climate change in different ways--especially in the U.S., which leads the world in climate denial.”

Photo courtesy of DaiLuo via Flickr CC.


Carol Pierson HoldingCarol Pierson Holding writes on environmental issues and social responsibility for policy and news publications, including the Carnegie Council's Policy Innovations, Harvard Business Review, San Francisco Chronicle, India Time, The Huffington Post and many other web sites. Her articles on corporate social responsibility can be found on CSRHub.com, a website that provides sustainability ratings data on 9,100+ companies worldwide. Carol holds degrees from Smith College and Harvard University.

CSRHub provides access to corporate social responsibility and sustainability ratings and information on 9,100+ companies from 135 industries in 104 countries. By aggregating and normalizing the information from 339 data sources, CSRHub has created a broad, consistent rating system and a searchable database that links millions of rating elements back to their source. Managers, researchers and activists use CSRHub to benchmark company performance, learn how stakeholders evaluate company CSR practices and seek ways to change the world.

 

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Is Fracking Sustainable?

[fa icon="calendar'] Apr 12, 2012 6:00:00 AM / by CSRHub Blogging

Is fracking benign or bad?  An opportunity to cut the cost of energy and reduce the environmental damage of oil and coal production or a threat to water resources and public health?  The controversy around this issue seems to grow daily.

CSRHub has now added fracking (some call it fracing) to our growing list of special issues.  Those who have registered or subscribed on our site can choose to either approve of fracking (green button), disapprove of it (red button), or block out ratings entirely for companies who participate in the area (white button).  The list of companies involved in this area was surprisingly long—we found that 51 companies out of the approximately 5,000 we cover participate in the area.  We have partial information on another 40 or so smaller companies.  We hope to be able to publish partial ratings on these companies, soon.

We were able to create our list thanks to the hard work of five organizations and one well known expert in the area, blogger Mike Benard.  With help from Mike, we reviewed data from FracFocus (44 companies matched our list), FracTracker (31 matches), Marcellus Shale Coalition (42 matches), Marcellus Money (26 matches), and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (23 matches).  We combined their input with data Mike had gathered on 56 companies to create our final list.

As you can see from the sources we are citing, a lot of attention has been focused on the Marcellus Shale formation that stretches across a large part of the US central and eastern region.  We hope to add other sources soon that identify companies that are involved in fracking in other parts of the US and in the rest of the world.  We suspect that there are at least another 100 companies among those we rate who participate in this area—either directly via drilling and exploration or through supplying materials to the industry or by helping to process and transport the gas and oil fluids they extract.  We encourage our community to suggest additional sources.

The overall ratings for the companies covered by this special issue range from a low of 39 (using our average user profile) to a high of 64.  The average for each source’s list is right around the average score for our entire database—between 48 and 50.  This suggests that the companies involved in this area are not entirely positive or inherently anti-social—they may instead be ordinary companies who did not realize involvement in fracking could be controversial.

We now carry 15 special issues in our system.   For some issues (such as Labor Union Support and Gay and Lesbian Sensitivity), our users have supported companies with these practices.  On others (such as Animal Testing and  Burma Involved), the majority of our users oppose company involvement in the issue.  It will be interesting to see how our users “vote” on fracking—and how our users’ views tie to and correlate with their views on other areas of sustainability.

For more on the controversy surrounding fracking, read this recent post on the CSRHub blog>> 

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Shell’s Lawsuit Against Environmental Organizations Invites Disaster

[fa icon="calendar'] Mar 20, 2012 9:21:00 AM / by Carol Pierson Holding

By Carol Pierson Holding

Shell is suing 12 environmental organizations to preempt legal challenges to exploration in the Arctic Ocean. The environmental groups include, among others, the Center for Biological Diversity, the National Audubon Society, Oceana (full disclosure: Oceana is a source for CSRHub ratings) and the Sierra Club. Crazy isn’t it, Shell, a $378 billion company, attacking the National Audubon Society? It’s a bully image that can only hurt, and Shell should know better because it’s happened to them over and over again.

ShellTwenty years after the fact, people are still talking about Brent Spar, the 14,500 ton North Sea oil platform Shell was all set to dump into the Atlantic Ocean until protests inspired by Greenpeace ignited a citizen fury so intense that according to one poll, the oil industry’s public acceptance declined from 70 percent in the 1970s to 32 percent in 1996 post-Brent Spar. The protests hurt sales too: Shell gas stations lost sales, as high as 50 percent in Germany.

Another example: in 2005, Shell took a serious hit to its reputation when it overstated its oil reserves, screwing its shareholders and government allies, and was forced to restructure. New management began addressing its environmental mistakes with gusto. CEO James Smith led the company to invest in renewable energy sources such as plant-based biofuels and offshore wind energy, embodying a caring, environmentally friendly image. (Shell has since pulled out of all alternative energy projects except biofuels).

Under Smith’s watch, Shell also cleaned up its legal messes. In 2009, the company settled legal cases in Niger stemming from the 7,000 oil leaks from pipes installed starting in the 1960s. The pipes had life-spans of only 20 to 25 years. Shell also settled a case charging them with collaborating with the Niger military to kill environmental activists who led the protests.

That same year, Shell settled a case in California over leaks in gas storage tanks at its stations. Shell had “disregarded the state's underground fuel storage and hazardous waste laws,” as California Attorney General Jerry Brown stated.

So confident was Shell that it had cleaned up its image that when the BP oil spill happened in April 2010, Shell launched an aggressive campaign to claim the alternative energy positioning once owned by BP/Beyond Petroleum. As reported in Ad Age:

“The effort touts the dawn of a future that will be powered by new and multiple energy sources and cleaner fossil fuels that Shell is ‘unlocking.’ It also expresses the notion the world will soon be on the road to sustainable mobility and that Shell is ‘ready to help tackle the challenges of the new energy future.’"

With this new lawsuit against environmental organizations, Shell believes that it has found a way at last to forestall consumer activism. Really? The Arctic has become a symbol of unspoiled nature. Nature series run specials on the Arctic. Polar bears are beloved.

Greenpeace has already geared up to repeat its success with Brent Spar.

What led Shell on this foolhardy course? Perhaps it is well aware of its vulnerabilities. As noted by Oceana’s advisor Whit Sheard, who last month filed a challenge to Shell’s exploration plan, “This cleanup plan, just like their previous cleanup plans, is woefully inadequate, based on technology that has never been proven.”

The weirdest thing is that Shell is known for its ability to forecast correctly. It was the “only oil company to anticipate both 1973’s oil-price boom and 1986’s bust.” Its scenario-planning group famously predicted the collapse of the Soviet Union and the opening of its oil fields. How can the company continue to be so myopic when it comes to assessing consumer power?

One guess is that its legal department doesn’t talk to its brand reputation group. Too bad for Shell. Even the legal profession has its environmental activists and climate justice organizations are on the case. As Jennifer Marlow, Co-founder of the Three Degrees Project says, “Shell insulated itself from the oil price shocks in the 70s by planning ahead and outsmarting its competitors. Now, it's applying the same anticipatory tactics to prevent public interest environmental groups from obstructing ‘justice’ at some point in the future.  While future thinking helped Shell gain the market during the oil crisis, the same tactics won't work here.”

Even if the Alaskan courts do rule in Shell’s favor, it is the court of public opinion that wields the most power, as Shell will have to learn all over again.

Photo published under Creative Commons license. Courtesy of Longhorndave on Flickr.


Carol Pierson Holding writes on environmental issues and social responsibility for policy and news publications, including the Carnegie Council's Policy Innovations, Harvard Business Review, San Francisco Chronicle, India Time, The Huffington Post and many other web sites. Her articles on corporate social responsibility can be found on CSRHub.com, a website that provides sustainability ratings data on 5,000 companies worldwide. Carol holds degrees from Smith College and Harvard University.

 

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McKibben’s Extreme Energy: “Why Not Frack?”

[fa icon="calendar'] Mar 5, 2012 5:39:02 AM / by Carol Pierson Holding

By Carol Pierson Holding

Bill McKibben, the environmentalist, prolific author, former New Yorker writer and founder of grassroots green organization 350.org, wrote a review of two books and a film on hydraulic fracturing for last week’s New York Review of Books. Until I read this piece, titled “Why Not Frack?,” I shared the opinions of Robert Kennedy, Jr., the Sierra Club and President Obama that the fracking process for removing gas from underground shale is the least of energy’s environmental evils. Infinitely cleaner than coal. Safer than nuclear. Less risky than oil.

Even the term “fracking” brings a host of reassuring associations. Frick and Frack comes from a pair of skating comedians who later conceptualized the Ice Follies. The moniker continued to be a favorite, from the pair of Chihuahuas on Dudley Do-right to the stars of NPR program Car Talk. Frack is the second half of a funny, loyal, hard-working partnership. Most of all, it is harmless.

Industry player Chesapeake Energy uses positive language that plays off these associations. The company’s hydraulic fracturing fact sheet describes “fracing” (more on the different spelling below) as the “process of creating fissures, or fractures, in underground formations to allow natural gas and oil to flow.” Allowing natural gas to flow…sounds so natural and safe, who wouldn’t support it over dangerous processes for oil, coal and nuclear with all their attendant imagery of death and destruction? By comparison, the fracking solution seems like such a safe alternative, occurring way out of sight, up to 7,000 feet below the earth’s surface.

This same fact sheet uses the word “protect” 10 times, including two mentions of one of two primary data sources and assumed supporter, the Ground Water Protection Council. “Safely” and “environment” are used three times each. The process is positioned as an “advanced” and “sophisticated” (used three times) process that “opens” (three times) to allow a “flow” (four times). The effort is “vast,” “extraordinary” and “deep” (used a whopping 19 times.) Out of sight, out of mind.

But when the New York Times reported that Chesapeake Energy’s Chairman had given the Sierra Club $26 million, the whole thing began to stink.

Still, if we forgo natural gas, what are our alternatives?

And that was my stance too until I read McKibben’s article. Now I’m a fiercely on the environmental side. How did he persuade me? His masterful command of language.

McKibben’s article reverses each of these associations. First, he uses “fracking” consistently throughout the article. And what associations do anti-fracking supporters make with “frack”? Of course, the most egregious of expletives, as in "Don't Frack With New York." Then there are crack and smack and whack, all synonyms for drugs and petty violence. All associations the natural gas industry wants to avoid, hence their insistence on the spelling “fracing.”

McKibben’s description of the fracking process replaces the industry’s “opening the flow” with “ripping apart the earth…heating up the ground…(and) tearing holes in the (earth’s) crust.” He quotes Seamus McGraw’s book The End of Country on the mechanisms of oil removal:

“a kind of subterranean pipe bomb, a small package of ball-bearing-like shrapnel and light explosives. The package is detonated and the shrapnel pierces the bore hole, opening up small perforations…slick water…blasts through those perforations…at such force…that is shatters the shale.”

These are bellicose words, literally: words about war and terrorism.

FrackingAfter this assault, McKibben gets folksy on us, in keeping with the kinder, gentler image of natural gas that we hold dear, comparing the discovery of the Marcellus shale that runs along the East Coast to “discovering an underground deposit of beer directly beneath Yankee Stadium.”

The friendly language leaves reader feeling as “congenial” as the “powers that be in Harrisburg,” beneficiaries of the fracking land rush who have limited regulation, charge no taxes and even opened up state forests as drill sites.

Just as we’re feeling that McKibben might not be totally against the process, he comes clean with his own concerns. His language brings up 21st century bogeymen: “Halliburton is a major player in the fracking boom;” “exempt from federal safe drinking water statutes;” “Center for Disease Control;” “toxicology of fracking chemicals;” “4.0 magnitude earthquake;” “seismic fault;” “briny soup;” and finally his most horrific image: “200,000 to 400,000 gallons will be regurgitated back to the surface, bringing with it all the noxious stuff that was already trapped down there.” McKibben’s visuals are cinematic.

If the visuals are movie-worthy, the results he describes are terrifying: “pretty much everything (in the contaminated creek) died;” “river water began corroding equipment.”

Radioactivity high enough to cause risks of cancer for people eating fish from affected waters. Unburned natural gas escapes during the drilling process that is many times more polluting than carbon released from burning coal.

McKibben’s penultimate paragraph starts with a brilliant linguistic feat, renaming natural gas obtained through fracking “extreme energy,” as in dangerous and irresponsible “extreme sports,” negating the industry’s “safe” claims. Instead of referring to fracking as “drilling,” McKibben calls it “ripping the planet apart.”

It’s a brilliant piece of writing.

Photo courtesy of ProgressOhio


Carol Pierson Holding writes on environmental issues and social responsibility for policy and news publications, including the Carnegie Council's Policy Innovations, Harvard Business Review, San Francisco Chronicle, India Time, The Huffington Post and many other web sites. Her articles on corporate social responsibility can be found on CSRHub.com, a website that provides sustainability ratings data on 5,000 companies worldwide. Carol holds degrees from Smith College and Harvard University.


CSRHub provides access to corporate social responsibility and sustainability ratings and information on nearly 5,000 companies from 135 industries in 65 countries. Managers, researchers and activists use CSRHub to benchmark company performance, learn how stakeholders evaluate company CSR practices and seek ways to change the world.

CSRHub rates 12 indicators of employee, environment, community and governance performance and flags many special issues. We offer subscribers immediate access to millions of detailed data points from our 140-plus data sources. Our data comes from six socially responsible investing firms, well-known indexes, publications, “best of” or “worst of” lists, NGOs, crowd sources and government agencies. By aggregating and normalizing the information from these sources, CSRHub has created a broad, consistent rating system and a searchable database that links each rating point back to its source.

 

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