Chartered Institute of PR denounces ‘misuse of PR’ by Big Oil

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The Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) has issued a statement in response to ‘Big Oil vs the World’ – a three-part BBC film out this month, which explores the impact the PR industry has had on climate change by working with fossil fuel companies.

The programme examines decades of delay in effective measures to tackle climate change, prompted by what it calls ‘an audacious PR plot’. The films, which are available to view on iPlayer, show how public relations tactics were used in the United States to spread doubts about risks to the environment and lobby against new regulations to curb emissions.

In a statement on their website, CIPR says the documentary is “an eloquent reminder of the possible abuses of PR [which] shows the terrible costs to society when strategic PR campaigns are conceived and delivered without ethical foundations” and that they ” deplore the misuse of PR shown.”

CIPR is the world’s only Royal Chartered professional body for public relations practitioners in the UK and overseas, with nearly 10,000 members.

The professional body advances professionalism in public relations by making its members accountable to their employers and the public through a code of conduct and searchable public register, setting standards through training, qualifications, awards and the production of best practice and skills guidance, facilitating Continuing Professional Development (CPD), and awarding Chartered Public Relations Practitioner status (Chart.PR).

The CIPR’s code of conduct requires members to act with the highest standards of integrity and to deal honestly and fairly with the public.

Their statement goes on to say:

“Trying to downplay the risks of climate change, today, unquestionably fails this requirement. Indeed the BBC also reports that a growing number of agencies are now refusing to work for fossil fuel clients at all.

As the scientific consensus on climate change has firmed up, some unethical corporate communications work has shifted lately from denial and doubt to a pretence of making a contribution to the solution. This does not represent the best efforts of many in the PR industry. Just as much as the historic denial of the problem, this kind of dishonesty is a breach of our code.

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Not only is it unethical, but it is increasingly ineffective – a recent report shows that consumers are increasingly wise to greenwashing and punish organisations that indulge in it.”

As an organisation, CIPR has signed the COP26 commitment to achieve net zero by 2030 and adopted ESI Monitor as the standard for measuring progress towards that goal.

The industry body has encouraged people to view the documentary, saying “‘Big Oil vs the World’ should be watched attentively for everything that organisations and the PR techniques they deploy must not be in today’s world.”

In June 2022, #EthicalHour Founder Sian Conway-Wood joined a CIPR panel to discuss the role of PR in tackling the climate emergency, which you can view here:

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