Since green issues are now on the public agenda in a huge way, it is inevitable that each economic sector - including service industries - will begin to test itself against the new standards of environmental responsibility.
As Joel Makower writes on Futurelab "What's going on here is part of a sea change: green has gone from a movement to a market. It's no longer just a nice to do. It's now strategic." Makower then goes on to challenge the public relations industry: "Will you steer your clients beyond short-term media hits to create longer-term value by counseling them to aim high, to make bold, audacious commitments in order to stand out from the crowd? Or will you focus on short-term results, creating flash-in-the-pan media moments that celebrate incremental change in lieu of substantive environmental progress?"
This is an important challenge and not just with respect to environmental issues. Public relations people are service providers, yes, but we are also management consultants. As such, we have the opportunity and responsibility to suggest to clients or senior management teams that 'messaging' mediocre performance, whether on environmental or social standards, won't work and is, in fact, the opposite of responsible behaviour.
On the other hand, we can also play a role in defeating the idea that companies only act responsibly as a perverse tactic to win a few "media moments". Besides being inefficient (there are better uses of funds), it is simply counter-intuitive. The silly quasi-pundits who see conspiracy in community contributions, environmental audits, programs for carbon sequestration, or even transparent engagement by companies in public policy debates don't seem to recognize these labours for what they represent . . . honest people in small and large companies trying to walk the line between business strategy and responsibility to their families, colleagues, friends and communities. Most companies are just groups of people who want to do the right thing, while growing healthy businesses in which to work and creating products or services we want or need.