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Public Relations in Advancing Environmental Justice
Environmental justice is at the forefront of concerns for many Americans and people around the world. As climate change hastens and natural disasters ensue, individuals and companies alike are being forced to understand this truth and mitigate its impact. With crop yields taking massive hits due to drought, increased and more aggressive wildfires destroying residential areas, rising sea levels and more, we are tasked with not only finding ways to reduce our carbon emissions, but also sequester the carbon that is already engulfed in our atmosphere. As PR professionals in the non-profit sector, we can weigh in on these issues and spread much needed awareness. Utilizing public relations to build momentum around important issues can captivate clients, donors and other stakeholders. More and more, the acknowledgement of social justice issues is a deciding factor in one's willingness to support an organization. As with taking on any point of concern, it is important to stay vigilant in talking about the cause rather than the company itself. Staying focused on these goals and backing them with actions exhibits a dedication to making a difference, not just achieving notoriety. One can consider the Love Canal incident in Niagara Falls, New York. The abandoned canal became a dumping site for roughly 22,000 tons of chemical waste in the 1940’s and 1950’s which eventually resulted in detrimental health outcomes for residents in the area, according to the New York State Department of Health. By 1978 there were growing reports of birth defects, liver disorders, skin rashes and respiratory problems. The Love Canal Homeowners Association (LCHA) utilized public relations advocacy to vocalize resident needs. As a result, 1,300 former residents received a much deserved $20,000,000 settlement. Throughout the incident, LCHA ensured that resident concerns were the top priority in conversation. In working to advance environmental justice, public relations professionals must recognize the ways in which lower income communities, communities of color and Indigenous communities are disproportionately impacted by climate change. Oftentimes those that benefit most from environmental policies and initiatives are those representing more privileged sectors of society. Acknowledging this truth shows commitment to intersectionality and the willingness to work for all communities regardless of social status. By taking this approach, PR professionals can help clients strengthen their environmental justice related campaigns. Crafting communication around environmental justice should not only educate people, but it should also provide hope. Much of the conversation around climate change is bleak, so it is important to make a conscious effort to provide evidence that shows how your clients are making a difference. When people lack hope, it deters involvement and willingness to care. Focusing on your client’s environmental progressions can help grab attention and make them stand out in the conversation. In the same vein, elevating the voices of those who have been positively impacted by the organization is crucial to showing the significance of the work. In a world where media is over saturated with information, human stories are one of the most effective ways to connect with the minds of consumers. By bringing in real people and their stories, you can humanize the climate crisis and better penetrate your client’s target audience with your messaging. If we are going to achieve the needed advancements in environmental justice, we need powerful and effective communication to maximize mitigation efforts.