Twitter was alive yesterday morning spreading a link to Jeremy Grantham’s 2Q 2010 letter (complete version found here.) In Grantham’s letter on page seven he outlines “Everything You Need to Know About Global Warming in 5 Minutes,” which for shorter reading can be found here amongst a number of places.
Beyond being a clear minded and thoughtful summary of why global warming is not a hoax (my words), Grantham hit on a very powerful idea – that science needs to up its game PR and marketing wise, even though it goes against their core nature, that of objective presentation of facts and analysis.
This isn’t the first time I’ve seen this argument in the past few months. The June issue of Wired contains a great essay by Erin Biba on this very topic, titled “Why Science Needs to Step Up Its PR Game.” Biba does a nice job outlining the issues scientists have with moving into the limelight and some ideas on how celebrity ambassadors can lend a hand to elevate the conversation to larger mass awareness.
Both of these examples hit on what the core need is to make sustainability a longer term mass goal for society – how to translate these facts into stories that everyone can relate to. PR has sometimes rightfully gained a reputation for being “spin.” After ten plus years in the business I’ve seen my fair share of that. However I’ve also seen how when done well, earned media through PR efforts can lift a brand and an idea to new heights.
The stakes are too high for the scientists to sit on the sidelines – they are the objective resources with the facts whose voices can carry the most weight with the general public. We need to hear those voices, and PR can absolutely lend a hand.
For a while now my wife has been augmenting our regular food shopping with a trip to Whole Foods. Initially it was an extension/filler for our meat CSA when we wanted fish. However as we looked to start a family – and now have our little one to think of- her theory on shopping at Whole Foods expanded to include the idea that the meat and vegetables there are better since they are “organic.” Besides, it’s “good for the environment” since they purport to support local farmers and after watching Food Inc. she was determined to make smarter food choices for our family.
I was willing to take Whole Foods at face value regarding their claims of sustainability efforts, and as long as we selectively shopped there and didn’t spend whole paychecks (pun intended) I was ok with her decision.
That is until last January, when Whole Foods CEO John Mackey famously stated he didn’t believe in climate change.
It seems to me the consensus has moved on this issue and only the most biased claim there isn’t at least some form of climate change going on today. So I started to think about what Whole Foods was actually claiming in their marketing via in-store and flier materials regarding their sustainable chops. My wife and I discussed it and we started to somewhat curb our Whole Food shopping, focusing on our local produce wholesaler and our meat CSA more heavily.
Then we became busy as most expectant parents and laxed on our diligence. More Whole Foods started appearing in our house again, and I didn’t have the will to put up the fight. However, as my wife came home this past weekend the Whole Foods Market 2010 Spring Magazine was in the bag and what did I find? A number of small articles discussing how to be more “green”, tips on saving energy (air dry dishes, cool before the fridge, etc) and a whole page on your green home with their EcoCzar Lee Kane. And I felt…sad. Sad because I feel most of the folks involved in Whole Foods and at this magazine in particular likely really do care. Sad because all their hard and honest work was met with skepticism since I was triggered to remember Mackey’s statement. It made me wonder – how do they rectify their presence in a magazine for an organization fronted by a man that doesn’t believe in one of the core tenants of why the world is changing in the first place?
When an organization claims sustainability, it is hard to support them in the long run if it doesn’t come from the top down through the organization. It comes off as opportunistic marketing in the worse sense. I won’t go as far as to say I’ll boycott Whole Foods for life; however the dissonance I feel will certainly limit my support for them and encourage me to let others know as well. That word of mouth is the worst marketing any company could want, because it’s the silent majority that you’ll never reach. And it all starts with one loose-lipped comment.