WPP, Weber Shandwick, Waggener Edstrom (WE) Worldwide and several others in the top 25 global PR firms have told the Guardian they will not represent clients who deny man-made climate change, or take campaigns seeking to block regulations limiting carbon pollution.
The PR firms were responding to independent surveys conducted by the Guardian and the Climate Investigations Center (CIC), a Washington-based group that conducts research on climate disinformation campaigns. The purpose of the surveys was to better understand the mechanics behind the framing of messages on climate change, as well as the disinformation campaign.
Despite mounting evidence that climate change is, in fact, real and caused by man, environmental groups and scientists have struggled with the public relations war against well-funded oil and gas companies who continue to hamper broader public support for action.
Now, with ten of the world’s top PR firms saying they will not work with climate deniers, this could mark a momentous shift in the multi-billion dollar industry. PR companies have played an important role over the years in framing the debate on climate change and its solutions, as well as the widespread disinformation campaigns launched to block these initiatives.
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“We would not support a campaign that denies the existence and the threat posed by climate change, or efforts to obstruct regulations cutting greenhouse gas emissions and/or renewable energy standards,” a spokesperson for Weber Shandwick told the Guardian.
UK-based WPP, the world’s largest advertising firm by revenue and parent company of Burson Marsteller and Oglivy Public Relations, said taking on a client or campaign disputing climate change would violate company guidelines.
“We ensure that our own work complies with local laws, marketing codes and our own code of business conduct. These prevent advertising that is intended to mislead and the denial of climate change would fall into this category,” the company said.
However, WPP also said its 150 companies make their own decisions on clients and would not rule out campaigns opposing regulations to cut greenhouse gas emissions.
While only 10 of the 25 firms responded to multiple emails, phone calls and certified letters from the CIC, some that refused to comment included those that have worked for groups calling for action on climate change – as well as those working to block it.
Seven of the firms told the researchers their companies viewed climate change as a threat, but a smaller number would rule out taking on clients that deny climate change is occurring, or work on campaigns that seek to block policies to deal with climate change. The majority of the PR firms appear to want to keep their options open by remaining neutral on the issue, according to CIC.
With the effects of climate change becoming more and more difficult to ignore, perhaps more PR firms will come around to fight on the right side of history. And there is still time to act, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Though the effects of climate change already are occurring on all continents and across the oceans and the world, there still are opportunities to respond to such risks to avert catastrophe. Granted, these risks will be increasingly more difficult to manage as warming continues to increase.