Jim Macnamara's 'Measuring Up'
Analysis Shows Companies
Need to Set
and Achieve Measurable
Climate Change Goals
Environmental performance will be a key driver of reputation.
A major new study of public debate and discussion on energy completed by my company, Media Monitors – CARMA Asia Pacific, presents some important warnings and advice for companies, organizations and governments and concludes that environmental performance is likely to increasingly be a key driver of reputation. We used content analysis to examine statements and commentary by organizations, spokespersons and consumers in leading mainstream media and blogs in Australia and major Asian countries including China, Hong Kong and Singapore.
The analysis covered discussions of nuclear, coal, wind, solar and other alternative sources appearing in more than 1,500 print news articles, radio and TV program segments and 170 blogs appearing between May and July 2007. It focused on Asia Pacific because China is fast becoming the world's leading polluter. Australia is the world's largest exporter of coal and uranium, and 16 of 29 nuclear power plants under construction or proposed worldwide are due to come into operation in Asia in the next 10-15 years.
Companies must achieve measurable targets on the environment or their reputations will suffer.
The report found mild optimism that solutions will be found to balance environmental and economic interests, although serious fears and concerns also abound in relation to safety, the environment and consumer protection.
Specifically of interest to companies and organizations is a finding that they face widespread criticism if they do not implement meaningful measures to reduce carbon emissions. Environmental performance is likely to increasingly be a key driver of reputation, the report says.
The report concluded that companies adopting policies and planning measures to address climate change need to set and achieve significant measurable targets. "Broad unspecific policies and 'aspirational goals' are not going to cut it and may backfire leading to public criticism. There are signs of this already happening," the report warns.
- Positive messages outweighed negative messages about energy production and use – albeit the margin was narrow. (The analysis examined discussion and comment from the perspective of a balanced position between protecting the environment and maintaining economic development and standards of living.)
- Nuclear energy is the most discussed form of energy and is mired in controversy and near evenly divided opinion for and against, the analysis found. Most opposition and concerns in relation to nuclear power are about safety.
- Solar and wind power are being actively promoted by environmentalists, but are described in most discussions as not being able to make a substantial contribution to energy needs.
Despite a number of initiatives, governments are generally not seen to be doing enough.
Carbon trading is one initiative that is being welcomed by a majority of spokespersons and commentators and is set to become a multi-billion dollar industry over the next few years. However, some are warning that it is still uncertain whether carbon trading will stimulate a net reduction in carbon emissions. Some energy producers and consumer groups have pointed to lessons in Europe where too many permits were issued, resulting in a price collapse below levels necessary to stimulate investment in carbon reducing initiatives.
Also, concerns are being expressed that carbon trading is insufficiently regulated and could lead to scams and fraudulent schemes. One leading environment group has warned that some companies are selling trees without accreditation and that their claims of carbon credits or neutrality are not substantiated. Consumer groups are also expressing concern that consumers may be paying levies and surcharges with no guarantee that their money will be used to address climate change.
The report says:
"While the efforts of some companies to reduce their carbon footprint may be commendable and genuine, there is considerable concern over a lack of safeguards for consumers on how extra charges will be used and whether they will reduce carbon emissions... With carbon trading set to become the next big thing in the financial world, strict regulation of the carbon trading industry, including accreditation and monitoring of carbon offset providers, is seen as necessary to avoid scams and corruption... and to ensure that offsets are real and effective."
Clean coal technology (CCT) is also creating some optimism that a balance can be achieved between reducing greenhouse gases and continuing to exploit vast coal reserves. However, environmental groups and some commentators are cynical, pointing out that the technology is still unproven.
Blogs were found to be more unfavorable than mainstream media coverage (48% unfavorable compared with 30% of mainstream media content unfavorable). However, 30% of blog discussion was favorable. While much of this was supportive of renewable forms of energy, some bloggers support clean coal technology and carbon trading – albeit with the same concerns as mainstream media commentators and spokespersons.
Analysis also showed that bloggers often include scientists and technical experts and, therefore, blogs need to be recognized as an increasingly important medium, reflecting the viewpoints of influencers and thought-leaders.
Dr. Jim Macnamara BA, MA, PhD is Group Research Director with Media Monitors – CARMA Asia Pacific which conducts media monitoring, media analysis, e-surveys, reputation research and sponsorship analysis. He has a 30-year career in the media and PR in Asia Pacific and is the author of 11 books on media and communication. In August 2007 he was appointed Professor of Public Communication at the University of Technology, Sydney.