To mark the 50th
anniversary of World Environment Day on Monday 5th
June, Telum spoke with an array of journalists and editors to discuss and answer the question: How do you combat misinformation in PR pitches when reporting on sustainability and the environment?
Tim Langdon, Publisher of Eco Voice
This is a real and ongoing issue, particularly with content coming from inexperienced or lazy media participants. It is a usual and expected practice to cite reputable references when any claims are made because it helps combat misinformation in PR pitches (to some degree) when reporting on sustainability / the environment.
As a content aggregator and publisher, Eco Voice
, requests that PR pitches that make any claims are well referenced, otherwise the article is usually rejected. Once aware of any misinformation in a published article, the article is corrected or deleted.
Lottie Dalziel, Sustainability Expert / Founder of Banish
This is something that I see too often. The biggest thing I would say would be to truly understand the claims and descriptions that you're making. If you as a PR professional don't understand the message or claims that you're writing, chances are the journalist and consumer won't either.
Ask your client for clarification on anything that you don't understand and look for third-party certification. Avoid words like "eco-friendly", "sustainable", "green", and "planet-friendly". If there is no research or studies to back it up, I would be extremely hesitant to use any of these words.
Olivia Wannan, Senior Reporter on Stuff's Climate team
I think it's rare to see outright misinformation from companies (it's probably too risky). I find greenwashing is about being selective, such as an airline highlighting its use of recyclable coffee cups while saying nothing about the environmental impact of its choice to introduce larger business class cabins. Asking for numbers is a great strategy.
A pitch is less trustworthy if a company assumes a particular initiative will reduce carbon, much more so if the company has robustly calculated how many tonnes of emissions it will prevent, taking unintended consequences into account. Even better, the organisation will have a (preferably independent) expert calculating the full impact of its operations and every decision, plus be upfront with that data.
Ilona Marchetta, Freelance Sustainability Writer / Founder of In A Sustainable Way / GRI-certified Sustainability Practitioner
One of the biggest indicators that a PR pitch on Environment Social Governance (ESG) is misinformed or that the publicist may not have a good grasp on the subject matter, is the general use of the words "sustainability", "eco" or "green" without any data or information on what makes the company, product or service sustainable. This tells me that the publicist is not across ESG indicators or frameworks.
I will generally run my eye over the email to see if there is any further depth, data or information to back up the sustainability claim. Unfortunately, because I don’t have the time to go back with questions to find out whether something really is "sustainable" or not, if there is nothing to back up a sustainability claim, I will overlook these pitches. Publicists are also welcome to reach out to me for a short informative upskilling session to help them better craft their sustainability pitches.