Some of the world’s top public relations companies have for the first time publicly ruled out working with climate change deniers, marking a fundamental shift in the multibillion-dollar industry that has grown up around the issue of global warming.
Public relations firms have played a critical role over the years in framing the debate on climate change and its solutions — as well as the extensive disinformation campaigns launched to block those initiatives.
Now a number of the top 25 global public relations firms have said they will not represent clients who deny climate change of human origin, or take campaigns seeking to block regulations limiting carbon pollution. These companies include WPP, Waggener Edstrom (WE) Worldwide, Weber Shandwick, Text100 and Finn Partners.
“We would not knowingly partner with a client who denies the existence of climate change,” WE spokesman Rhian Rotz said.
Weber Shandwick said it would also not take any campaign to block regulations cutting carbon emissions or promoting renewable energy.
“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,” spokeswoman Michelle Selesky said.
“There may be scenarios in which we could represent a client that has different views on climate change, just not on this issue,” she said.
The 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, Fiona McEwan, a spokeswoman for the company, said the 150 companies within WPP made their own decisions on clients and would not rule out campaigns opposing regulations to cut greenhouse gas emissions.
The US-based Edelman, which is the world’s largest independently owned public relations firm, did not explicitly rule out taking on climate deniers as clients.
“Expanding the dialogue in a constructive manner, and driving productive outcomes to solve energy challenges are the key criteria for evaluating client engagements,” spokesman Michael Bush said.
He said Edelman takes on clients on a case-by-case basis.
The firms were responding to surveys conducted independently by the Guardian and the Climate Investigations Center, a Washington-based group that conducts research on climate disinformation campaigns. This could have a knock-on effect on the advertising and lobbying campaigns targeting US President Barack Obama’s regulations limiting carbon emissions from power plants, and the international negotiations for a climate change treaty, now entering a critical phase.
“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,” Climate Investigations founder Kert Davies said.
Davies said his group took on the research to try to get a better grasp of the mechanics behind the framing of messages on climate change — and the disinformation campaign.