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Use Public Relations to Promote Sustainability

Updated on May 6, 2015
Sustainable Sue profile image

After acquiring a masters degree in sustainability, Sustainable Sue worked & now writes to help create change in U.S. business practices.

Tables at trade shows and fairs are a standard public relations technique and a good way to meet supporters.
Tables at trade shows and fairs are a standard public relations technique and a good way to meet supporters. | Source

In my work as a political activist I've come across a wide variety of ways to interest others in supporting issues like earth stewardship and sustainability, and the organizations that promote them. Here are some that I have been personally connected with, but first a definition.

What is Public Relations?

Public relations is the development and maintenance of a favorable public image by a well-known person or organization. When applied to ideas, concepts, or projects the same actions are called "promotion." Promotion is used to generate action, public relations to generate respect. Techniques are similar. This article shows how to utilize them to spread the value of sustainability practices and good earth stewardship.

Set Up a Nonprofit: Time Banking

Companies and individuals have long known that setting up a nonprofit group in their name is good for public relations. Most of their foundations benefit society as a whole or individual components of it - like combatting disease or serving students needing scholarships.

A great nonprofit that promotes a sustainable economy is time banking. A time bank registers individuals that exchange services and are paid in hours, instead of money. All offers are valued the same. Driving someone around for an hour is the same value as an hour teaching a child how to read. Every person is considered valuable and so is their time.

It works like this: When I spend five hours helping someone with their website, I record those hours online as a debit to my account. That gives me five hours of service I can ask for from other members, so I look through the list. I ask for a one hour massage from one member and four hours of sewing from someone else. Now I'm even.

What could you offer a time bank?

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Meanwhile, I just finished making a brochure for someone, which gives me another 10 hours to claim. I record it and take three hours of singing lessons from a professional singer member, saving the remaining seven for use later.

Not only do time banks create community with all the new people you meet, but they also circumvent the unworkable (for the average person) current monetary system, freeing the user from over-dependence on money.

Utilize Drama and the Media

The media loves drama and well-known individuals are well aware of it. Sometimes they deliberately associate themselves with or even create dramatic events to attract the media and public attention. The key to the success of this technique is that it fuses emotion with information.

Mother Earth vs. the World's People does the same thing. It's an informational, fun comedy about taking care of the environment. Characters representing various aspects of the declining environment take "the people" to court for abuse. I played a polar bear worried about declining ice packs in the arctic and how I would feed my young.

We performed the play at a Sunday service in lieu of the sermon, thanks to the accommodation of our minister. Everyone who acted in it learned something new about global warming, while everyone in the audience saw friends and family giving out a message they could relate to. The energy was high. The minister committed to offering a prayer for the earth with every sermon for a year, and many congregation members committed to taking action in their own lives as well. Its purpose was well served.

This play was really fun to put on and was very well received with a standing ovation. Here we are reading the script for the first time.
This play was really fun to put on and was very well received with a standing ovation. Here we are reading the script for the first time. | Source

Benefit the Local Community: Community Gardens

Many companies make it a point to aid and strengthen the community in which their headquarters and/or manufacturing facilities are located. Some give local scholarships, some promote local events, some give grants for local projects. Starbucks is one such company.

There is a homeless shelter around the corner from the Starbucks I frequent. Street people sometimes hang out there for hours at a time and regular patrons have been complaining.

Community gardens help provide healthy food for city areas and build a sense of community.
Community gardens help provide healthy food for city areas and build a sense of community. | Source

Rather than cold-heartedly kicking them out, the manager of that store is looking for a way to engage the city in building a community garden that would produce food for the shelter. If the city (or someone) were to train the shelter's inhabitants to work in the garden, it could give them a new sense of purpose and a new start in life.

Starbucks has already provided money and volunteers for similar projects in schools. What the manager needs now is someone with the time and energy to pull it all together. That someone, for your area, could be you.

More Promotional Projects that Support the Environment

All over the world there are projects that could be developed by someone willing to take action. And there are resources to support them. Here are other ideas for promoting environmental awareness - projects I know of that are already in existence. Note that most of these projects can be applied to promoting any issue, depending on the result desired and the audience you are addressing.

Educational Awareness

I've heard many speeches by politicians, authors, utilities providers, and others about conserving water, energy, and taking remedial action. Most were sincere. They provided these presentations at conferences, school functions, project openings, and public fairs. I myself have spoken on environmental issues at a university Water Awareness Day, water conferences, and several times on different topics at my church.

Staffing a booth is a fun way to promote sustainability in person.
Staffing a booth is a fun way to promote sustainability in person. | Source

I know utilities providers and private companies who have put together conservation kits to hand out to elementary schools, government agencies who have retrofitted their buildings or created demonstration drought-tolerant gardens and given tours, and non-profits who staff tables at fairs or work together with other agencies on environmental projects (like naturalizing a formerly trashed portion of the Los Angeles River), which they then publicize.

Political Advocacy

I know of and have been involved with many projects that address current legislation and political practices: Tar Sands XL pipeline prevention, control of fracking practices, guaranteeing a clean water supply (no matter the economic level), industrial hemp production. Along with others, I have been a public advocate for banning single-use plastic bags, against building sports parks inside the flood zone of a watershed, for getting Pasadena to stop using coal to produce electricity, against the state legislation that would have undermined our state's Clean Air Act. I have supported local non-profits in taking remedial action, like cleaning up trash along the river, planting trees, and helping protesters finance their legal fees when they were arrested to "set an example."

Picketing in public places gets the attention of passersby, who often honk in agreement.
Picketing in public places gets the attention of passersby, who often honk in agreement. | Source

This kind of promotional action can take many forms like writing letters to legislators, speaking at city council meetings, spreading the word about an issue via email, writing letters to local papers, climbing historic trees to prevent them from being cut down, and picketing legislative offices or key spots in the public eye. Some people do key research for legislators to make sure their issue is heard fairly. Some set up websites or blogs. Some join, start, or donate to non-profits that promote their issue.

Fair News Coverage

As well-known as the news media is for sensationalizing everyday news, they are also notorious for not covering things that are really important. Who cares if Romney badmouths Obama early on in his campaign, when so many people are losing jobs and gas prices are skyrocketing? Why talk about this or that occasional murder or bad car accident, when the streets are filling with homeless people? Why is the media favoring Israel's moves, while ignoring the fears of Iran that Israel is building a nuclear arsenal pointed at them? Why is there so much bad news and not much good news?

The media is a great venue for spreading awareness of issues, but it needs to be more observant, well-balanced and fair. People like you and me can make sure it is by writing letters to the editor, calling in with requests for information, even researching and writing our own press releases on the issues that are important to us. Reporters of all types are short on time and pressed for ideas (hence keyed up and not very creative). Most respond well to offers that will help them save time.

You can also start your own newsletter or contribute articles to those started by others. Look up,, or for news about positive events and new technologies, then use them for your newsletter, copy key articles to your friends, or post them on Facebook.

Government Rebates and Other Public Relations Programs

There are hundreds of programs financed and provided by government bodies and agencies at all levels that promote earth-friendly practices. Become part of the promotion by taking advantage of them and spreading the word. Encourage others to utilize them too.

Utilities, schools, and other public agencies develop and carry out public education and experimental projects funded by the state and federal governments. Many offer free house audits for water or energy efficiency, classes in how to grow native gardens, free conservation fixtures and tools (like electric lawn mowers) with information about how important it is to conserve, and rebates for many items that you purchase yourself (Metropolitan Water District). Some agencies provide a way for you to suggest your own project. Call them up or check their websites to see if there is anything you can take advantage of. Then help them spread the word.

Entertainment as a Promotional Medium

Related to drama, entertainment is a great way to make an impact. Well-known musicians have been writing songs about their issues for years. John Lennon wrote about peace, as did Bob Dillon, Joan Baez and many others. Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie wrote about taking action to create the world you want to live in (We Are the World) and many famous musicians sang it with them.

Many people who have become strong advocates have created their own productions - movies, plays, or videos. Think of Michael Moore and Al Gore (with Rapper Coolio). Most good actors have performed in stage shows or movies that promote issues of various types, as well, or have joined and promoted their issues via non-profits: Robert Redford with the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Leonardo diCaprio Foundation are two good examples. By contacting them you can sometimes recruit them to your cause . . . or join with them in theirs.

Writers spread the word via plays, movies, and stories they write, including children's books. Think of Rachel Carson's Silent Spring that changed the world's relationship to pesticides, or the children's books Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak and The Lorax by Dr. Seuss, recently made into a movie.

And visual artists and photographers have long been known for promoting environmental issues in their works. Ansel Adams with his incredible photos of nature is just one example.

Here is a sweet composition that combines drawing with music:

How Can You Promote Your Issue?

Everyone has different skills and talents. Everyone cares about different issues and speaks to different audiences through different venues. The first step toward becoming more skilled at promotion is looking to see what you are doing right now. Then improve it. Then expand your promotion in some way, especially if what you're doing now doesn't work well.

Does your current method interest a different audience? Then offer it there. Do you want to keep addressing the same audience, but in a different way? Check to see what they pay the most attention to - money, learning, fun? Engage the help, interests, and skills of others to expand your reach. Team up with a local company or celebrity who want to enhance their own image.

Above all, start with yourself and your family and friends. Do the things you want to see in the world. Be the example you want to see others follow.

How to Help the Earth-by the Lorax (Dr. Seuss) (Step into Reading)
How to Help the Earth-by the Lorax (Dr. Seuss) (Step into Reading)
This is a followup to Dr. Seuss' "The Lorax," with the Lorax giving kids tips on how to go green in their own lives.


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    • Sustainable Sue profile imageAUTHOR

      Sustainable Sue 

      8 years ago from Altadena CA, USA

      Cat on a Soapbox, time bank records are kept on a database online. Each member is responsible for recording their own transactions. The database is set up to make sure there's a balance, i.e. that when someone records a debit, someone else is recording a credit for the same thing. Then when someone has acquired too many credits they aren't paying back for, the dbase sends them an automatic notice.

      However, the Time Bank people tell me the more common practice is for people to accumulate hours they've given, not the other way around. Kind of like savings. That's healthy. More people should do that with their money, instead of overspending.

      As far as state spending is concerned, the effects of the Enron debacle years ago, combined with Wall Street, the banks, and the real estate problems will not be resolved by time bankers and the average person out of work or with skills, but jobs paying less than they deserve. On the other hand, we need to keep up our skills and our self confidence, even when few jobs are available. Time banks are invaluable for that.

      For taxes, the government needs to go after those who are trying to avoid spending for the services they rely upon (roads, education), those who have been taking so many of their profits into off-shore banks, so they don't have to pay taxes. And they need to stop the wars. Have you looked lately to see how much money we're throwing away on wars that aren't working?

    • Sustainable Sue profile imageAUTHOR

      Sustainable Sue 

      8 years ago from Altadena CA, USA

      Yes FPack, and that bottom level of the pyramid is growing large and larger. The middle level is disappearing and the top is getting more pointed. (lol) I think it's time for us to create a different kind of economy.

    • cat on a soapbox profile image

      Catherine Tally 

      8 years ago from Los Angeles

      I like the idea of time banking but am curious about who would be keeping the records. I see time banking as a practical way for those who have lost jobs or are unemployable to survive by getting services in exchange for their own. The majority of people still need to earn actual wages because money is what stimulates the economy. California is already in terrible shape because the state can't sustain administrative costs and public service pensions. State services are being cut to the bone, but city and state workers won't consider giving up perks although the majority of the nation is dealing w/ wage freezes and lay-offs. Any suggestions?

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Time banking and community gardens for street people sounds like a really innovative and efficient concept. I agree: the current way most of the world operates it's monetary policy makes it too unequal on humanity, where it seems one has to labor and hurt more on the bottom of the social pyramid than does an individual on top.


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