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What could my career as a public relations specialist for sustainability initiatives look like?

September 24, 2018 · 3 min read · By ASU Online
Public relations professional is an important role and the field of sustainability needs skilled PR specialists. Learn more about this career path. 
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As pointed out by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, public interest in climate change and sustainability has risen considerably in recent years, and there are few signs of this perception changing. This is evident in the increased number of job openings related to sustainability, as well as the wider availability of higher education courses focused on environmental science and conservation.

Given the public’s awareness of these issues, businesses have begun to communicate directly with consumers on issues such as renewable energy, corporate waste and sustainable products via public relations specialists. These professionals must be excellent at communication, both within their companies and outside of it, and understand the nuances of sustainability in order to share that information in concise, clear and compelling ways.

A typical day in the life of an environmental public relations specialist

Public relations is a demanding field, as these professionals must keep track of the 24/7 news cycle and monitor issues related to their customers.

PR experts work first to shape the content of a company’s messaging, explaining exactly what the company will be doing to embrace sustainable best practices and how these policies will be rolled out. They also determine optimal timing and methods for distributing this news to the media and public—which social media channels to employ, the degree of media saturation and any other essential aspects.

Situations in which PR specialists work could include a business seeking to raise awareness of efforts to use clean, renewable practices throughout its factories—as Anheuser-Busch recently did, according to EcoWatch—or publicizing a new partnership with an environmental nonprofit organization.

PR specialists speak at conference.
Sustainability PR specialists speak at a conference.

A closer look at the professional landscape of an environmental public relations specialist

Public Relations specialists sometimes serve as the public face of their companies, in place of CEOs or other C-suite personnel. Even when they aren't the representatives of their firms, they determine how that public face is perceived, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. More specifically, they craft the messaging that corporate individuals follow when they speak to the media. The successful delivery of that message can help guide public response to whatever sustainability effort an organization is launching, or plans to launch. As such, communication skills across multiple media channels are a must.

Reputation management can be another major duty of PR specialists. In cases where their organizations previously have been criticized for actions that were either detrimental to their customers and/or the environment or did not take sustainability principles into account, the PR department will try to improve customer sentiment. For example, a mediation-focused outreach strategy in the wake of an oil spill would be most effective if it acknowledged what happened and clearly laid out the business's response plans. Additionally, it would benefit a PR specialist to clarify measures the organization will undertake to eliminate or mitigate this issue's recurrence.

BLS data indicates that PR specialists should expect a median salary of about $59,300 a year, with an expected rate of job growth at 9 percent between 2016 and 2026—slightly higher than the U.S. national average across all professions during the same time span. However, the more specialized nature of an environmental PR strategist's work could create greater demand for those with this skill set. The BLS’s projected growth rate for environmental and sustainability specialist jobs—11 percent for the same period—supports that possibility.

PR specialists look at a tablet and computers in an office.
Sustainability PR specialists look at a tablet and computers in an office.

Becoming an environmental public relations specialist

According to BLS data, it's not uncommon for PR professionals just getting started in the field to have a bachelor's degree and internship hours as headlining items on their resumes.

However, more experience may be required for someone hoping to find work as an environmental PR specialist, due to the specific knowledge of environmental sciences that will be essential to do the job well. Pursuing a master's degree in sustainability leadership or a similar discipline could make a prospective sustainability PR strategist appear more attractive to potential employers after completing all necessary studies.

Learn more about your potential career as an environmental public relations specialist

Those seeking to enter the field of sustainability PR are taking on important responsibilities because they communicate the necessity of green strategies in a fast-moving and increasingly globalized corporate world. Enrolling in the online Master of Sustainability Leadership degree program from Arizona State University can serve as a strong foundation for those who hope to influence green business strategies.

Sources:
O*Net OnLine – Public Relations Specialists
Environmental Science.org – About Us 
EcoWatch – Budweiser Re-Labels as Climate-Friendly Beer
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics – Public Relations Specialists
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics – Environmental Scientists and Specialists
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics – Careers in Environmental Remediation
PayScale – Public Relations Specialist Salary


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