When Smog Clogs Cleantech

smog clogs cleantechThe PR world is abuzz with the Guardian headline from last week, proclaiming that the world’s top PR firms won’t represent climate deniers. “World’s Top PR Firms Rule Out Working with Climate Deniers” the UK-based publication declared. It’s a great headline, even if the story is not nearly as black and white.

Yes, a number of PR firms said they wouldn’t represent groups that deny climate change, but others, like Edelman, were not so willing to toss aside clients based on ideology. Quite a few others didn’t even respond to the survey. The basic premise of the study, conducted by the Guardian and the Climate Information Centre, is that PR firms play a strong role in crafting the messages that are fogging the climate change discussion.

“I think that public relations people are right at the elbow of powerful people in industry and government,” James Hoggan told The Guardian. He is a former PR firm owner who also founded DeSmogBlog, a site devoted to separating PR spin from fact when it comes to climate science. “You are an insider – a very trusted insider – and you can have a huge influence. It really does matter. These are influential organizations,” he continued.

It is true that there are certain areas of black and white in the cleantech world. Yes, the world is undergoing a major change in climate, the science points to that. Yes, that change is happening quickly and is man-made.

But elsewhere in cleantech we find a lot of smog. We represent cleantech clients here at HB as part of our Energy and Sustainability practice and sometimes you need to trust your gut when hearing the claims. Add to that  the fact that the very nature of “cleantech” keeps changing. In a recent piece in Xconomy about VC funding for cleantech startups, National Reporter Martin LaMonica calls this out:

In the first half of [2014], the three big areas were transportation, solar, and agriculture and food, according to the Cleantech Group’s definition. Energy efficiency also remains a consistent area.
During the go-go years, energy technologies, notably solar and biofuels, dominated startup funding. But now, agriculture and food—a category that wasn’t necessarily considered cleantech—is quickly rising; about $471 million went into that sector in the first half of this year, almost as much as all of last year.

Peel back the covers and what’s in that agriculture column? It could be companies engineering plant life to grow with less water or companies using drones to better monitor crops. Also falling into the cleantech bucket is a company like Uber because it’s about reducing car trips, as well as solar energy installer Sungveity, which doesn’t develop its own technology but installs solar panels.

Even for those concepts that seemingly fall firmly into the “green” category, not everything has a bright line. A recent article on Citylab (formerly Atlantic Cities) focuses on green parking. The premise of the article is that parking itself can be a “greener” process if developers look at the right factors. The counter to that, however, is that driving itself should be discouraged and that focusing on parking at all is the wrong way to go in order to be “green.” It’s an argument that has no true answer, both sides have their points. It would be great if fewer people drove in individual vehicles and instead chose less polluting forms of transit. But the reality is that driving is a big part of our transportation infrastructure and our culture. Shouldn’t we accept that and take pains to improve, even if it isn’t the ideal?

In many cases the lines between cleantech and confusion are clear, but in many more cases it’s all clouded in a bit of smog. The best we all can do is listen to the facts and make our own informed decisions.


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Boston's Mower office is a full-service technology marketing, PR and branding agency. Our B2B stories illustrate projects and campaigns in a variety of markets and media that range from local impact in Boston and New England to global proportions.

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