Tendances et perspectives
May 12, 2023

Insights: How PR agencies and companies can effectively address sustainability

Sustainability is the defining topic of today's world, yet in a seemingly backwards step, the overuse and misuse of words like ‘sustainable’, ‘green’ and ‘eco-friendly’ has rendered them almost meaningless. This new era of the ‘wild west of sustainability’ means that travel PRs' roles are more important than ever. 

With this in mind, we were excited to attend TravMedia' recent webinar to learn more about the latest industry thoughts surrounding Travel PR and Sustainability. We've picked out our favourite five points to help you learn more about how communicators can effectively address sustainability and deliver their clients green credentials:

Greenwashing and green-hushing are enemies of progress

Although Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) communications are inevitably at the top of the corporate agenda, a 2023 Sustainability Survey by The Harris Poll and Google Cloud reported that 78% of respondents felt ‘forced’ into achieving sustainability based results with less budget. This growing external social pressure to be seen as ‘green’ is leading some companies to overstate their eco-efforts, and 72% of executives believe that most organisations in their industry would be caught greenwashing if a thorough investigation was undertaken. The consequences of this are 'green-hushing', due to the companies’ fear of being analysed and criticised for greenwashing. This back and forth risks stalling meaningful progress. 

New effective measures of sustainability efforts are essential

Having a standardised measure of sustainability will help companies be more transparent and reduce in-authentic communications about sustainability progress. IFRS Accounting Standards together with Science Based Target initiative (SBTi), have created an International Sustainability Standard Board (ISSB) that will within two years create a global baseline for all sustainability disclosures.

It is expected that by the end of June they will issue their first two frameworks (IFRS S1 and S2), which corporations should align themselves with by 2025. IFRS S1 will apply globally to all sectors and will unify disclosures on factors such as waste and emissions, and allow companies to disclose all material sustainability related risks. IFRS S2 is more specific, instead looking at climate mitigation and adaptation. 

This is a positive step towards transparency and ‘green’ becoming quantifiable again. The prospect of having ecolabelling on travel products by 2025 will make it much easier for the communications industry to pitch about their clients sustainability framework with certified evidence to back up their claims. 

It is the responsibility of PRs to promote responsible travel

Millions of peoples' lives around the world are dependent on tourism, and working in the travel industry means it is not feasible to tell your customers not to travel. We also cannot forget the tangible impact that tourism has on economies, communities and livelihoods. PR professionals have to be able to balance the negative with the positive.

For example, sending a journalist on a press trip using a long-haul flight is certainly not good for the environment, but getting media exposure for the community project covered has long lasting effects on the development of tourism and community wealth. Some are proactively trying to reduce the impact of press trips; slow-travel B-corp Untours have recently introduced a new Unfluencers Scheme which uses influencers that are located as close as possible to the destination.

In pitches and press releases, promote sustainable and responsible activities, accommodations and experiences for your target audiences to visit, to help them leave their destinations in a better way than when they left it. Encourage partaking in 'citizen science’ projects such as Exodus Travel’s guided tours to collect freshwater samples for their eBio Atlas project, or visiting a retreat, lodge or destination which is a part of The Long Run organisation, who are certified as working towards a more sustainable planet. 

PRs and the media need to work together to deliver sustainability messages

There was controversy last August when Spain announced a ban on aircons in public buildings being below 27 degrees in summer. Media reported that holidaying Brits would ‘roast’ in this ‘direct attack on holidays’. Yet many buildings are exempt, like homes and hotels. In fact, Spain is pioneering as the first country in Europe to implement energy saving caps on aircons. The 2022 Booking.com Sustainable Travel Report states that 81% of travellers say sustainable travel is important to them, yet only 23% have chosen to travel to a destination closer to home. If the media and PRs work together to bring sustainability information into the mainstream and make it less alarmist, we can close this ‘say-do’ gap.

On a daily level, PRs have to accept responsibility in what they put out to the media and the public. Avoid embellishing your client’s eco-practices or misrepresenting sustainability information in pitches and press releases. Critically analyse information, and ask if it justifies being pitched, putting yourself in the journalist’s shoes. 

PRs need to be bold enough to question their client’s sustainability message

Additionally, PRs need to encourage their clients to develop strategies which will benefit the planet. PR professionals have a new role with a ‘seat in the boardroom’, and need to be bold enough to challenge their clients on their sustainability and social responsibility practices. Some even are cutting off clients which damage the planet: 'Clean Creatives’ campaign group confirmed that more than 500 PR and advertising agencies signed up to its pledge to not work with fossil fuel companies. 

Overall, Travel PRs role is evolving. PRs have to take responsibility to promote better choices, and nudge consumers in the direction of making these choices. There is a huge responsibility in what we choose to put out to the media and consequently the public sphere. As part of the communications industry, PRs are essential communicators and key drivers of change in the message we promote and information we put out. 

Are you interested in learning more about sustainable travel? Read AM+A’s pick of the top sustainable travel trends for 2023.

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