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Top PR firms will reject climate deniers as clients

Some of the world's most influential PR firms have decided to reject climate deniers as clients. Creative Commons: John Griffiths, 2013

Some of the world’s most influential PR firms have decided to reject climate deniers as clients. Creative Commons: John Griffiths, 2013

A handful of the world’s top public relations firms have confirmed that they will no longer conduct business with climate change deniers, according to the Guardian, which calls the move “a fundamental shift in the multi-billion dollar industry.”

The confirmations were obtained from surveys conducted by the Guardian and the Climate Investigations Center (CIC), a Washington, DC-based group that monitors individuals, corporations, and other organizations that work to impede climate policy action.

Climate Investigations Center Executive Director Kert Davies said:

The PR industry is a major component of the influence peddling industry that stretches across Washington and the world, and they are making large sums of money from energy companies and other important players that have businesses connected to fossil fuels and energy policy.

In responding to the surveys, a number of top 25 global PR firms said that they would not take clients who deny man-made climate change or seek to block regulations on carbon pollution. These companies include Waggener Edstrom Worldwide, Weber Shadwick, Text100, Finn Partners, and WPP. The UK-based WPP is the parent company of Ogilvy and Burson-Marsteller, two well-known public relations firms.

Weber Shadwick spokesperson Michelle Selesky said:

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.

Peter Finn, managing partner of Finn Partners took a similarly strong stand:

Finn Partners would not work on any campaigns that deny the reality of climate change nor would we take on a campaign that would obstruct regulations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions or renewable energy standards.

Nevertheless, other companies surveyed were less inclined to forgo environmental foes as clients by taking a position on climate denial. Only 10 of the 25 firms contacted by the Guardian and CIC responded to inquiries communicated by emails, phone calls, and certified letters.

Companies that neglected to comment included those that have promoted action on climate change as well as those with contracts from the fossil fuel industry.

Some firms also have found themselves on both sides of the debate.

Edelman, the world’s largest independently owned PR firm, has taken steps to reduce its own carbon footprint. At the same time, though, the company’s client list includes the American Petroleum Institute, the influential fossil fuel trade association. Edelman also has run campaigns in favor of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, which would transport dirty Canadian tar sands oil to refineries on the US Gulf Coast.

Edelman spokesperson Michael Bush said that his firm takes on clients on a “case-by-case basis.”

Public relations campaigns have been central to the climate fight in recent decades by shaping the discourse on climate impacts and climate science.

They are also partially to blame for the spread of disinformation about climate change and climate science—a problem that continues to persist today.

According to a recent poll conducted by Gallup, 40 percent of Americans believe that increases to the Earth’s temperature are due to naturally occurring changes in the environment, despite an established scientific consensus that climate change is happening and is caused by human activities.

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