EARTH, WIND, FIRE … AND YOUR BUSINESS: Environmental Communications Policy


It used to be that liberal lip service fulfilled corporate/industrial America’s need for an environmental communications policy. Claiming a commitment to healthy environmental practice, then looking the other way was standard operation.

Times have changed. Lip service is no longer enough. Action is what matters to the American public’s growing concern over our threatened environment. Today the issues of solid waste disposal, illegal dumping, all forms of air pollution, acid rain, the relative biodegradability of materials and other environmental concerns have become the focus of the nation’s collective conscience.

Along with the rise in environmental awareness comes an increased consequence for a company not fully prepared to address questions that may arise regarding its environmental shortcomings. The problem remains that many corporate/industrial leaders have failed to correctly assess the potential public and media impact such questions can have on their companies.

Traditionally, only a few companies took a proactive leadership role on environmental questions. The typical reaction of many American businesses was to curl up in a defensive position and pray the spotlight didn’t find them should issues arise.

Again, times have changed. Recent oil spills, nuclear accidents and waste management are forcing corporate/industrial America to come out of hiding and prepare for the worst. A crisis situation, especially one involving a very visible issue like the environment, will send shock waves throughout a corporation that is unprepared to answer critical questions.

In the worst case, a company can experience a full range of losses, including employee confidence and respect, public trust, leadership, investor confidence and corporate image.

What is the solution? First, determine how vulnerable your company is to environmental problems, and then create a plan.

Once a corporation’s exposure to environmental concerns is measured, develop a three-pronged planning strategy. The strategy should plan communications to address crisis operational procedures, legal and regulatory issues and media/public relations concerns. Each arm of this strategy should be thoroughly outlined and explained, keeping all involved publics in mind. Those essential to implementing the strategy should have input into the plan. They should also review the plan periodically to make any pertinent adjustments. The only scenario worse than not having a plan is turning to one in a crisis situation only to find it is sorely outdated.

An environment crisis can oftentimes be averted by reparation. However, should a crisis arise, a prepared communications strategy is what will help a company weather the storm.

Penny Ohlmann Neimann

The Ohlmann Group has a rich history that began in Dayton, Ohio in 1949, where the agency was founded as Penny and Penny by Bob Penny and his wife Jean. In 1964, Walter Ohlmann joined the firm. Ralph Neiman came on in 1969 and the firm became Penny/Ohlmann/Neiman. In 2011, P/O/N was renamed The Ohlmann Group to better reflect the agency's ongoing evolution and collaborative nature.

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