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«13TH INTERNATIONAL PUBLIC RELATIONS RESEARCH CONFERENCE “Ethical Issues for Public Relations Practice in a Multicultural World” Holiday Inn ...»

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H4: Practitioners with more knowledge about environmental issues will have a more positive attitude about the issues.

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members of the environmental section of PRSA were added to the sample. A pretest was conducted with 6 members of the organization. Only minor changes were made to wording of the questionnaire in response to the pretest. Of the 4083 emails sent to PRSA members, only 3573 had working email address, and 320 of those subjects completed the survey. This resulted in a 9% response rate. 1 Variables measured in this study were environmental topic, amount of communication, communication channel, public type, transparency, practitioner knowledge, and practitioner attitude.

The environmental topics used in this study were collected through a content analysis of two constructed weeks of press releases issued through PR Newswire between July 2007 and

June 2008. The nine topics of environmental responsibility that emerged from the study were:

lowering greenhouse gas emissions; reduction of fuel consumption; recycling; reducing product packaging; offering environmentally-responsible products or services; reducing waste;

conserving water; improving energy efficiency; and offsetting energy usage. Participants in the current study were asked to assess the amount of communication that their organizations engaged in around these nine topics. Responses ranged from 1 (very little) to 9 (a lot). The reliability of this variable was assessed using Cronbach’s alpha (α =.93), and was judged to be high. To create the variable “amount of environmental communication” a mean score of all environmental topics was created. This provided a score that reflected the overall amount of communication on these environmental topics.

The degree to which organizations use channels of communication to disseminate information about environmental issues was measured by asking practitioners to indicate on a nine-point scale how much their organizations use 11 channels for environmental communication. Channels included press releases, company website, company intranet, customer newsletter, employee newsletter, annual report, company blog, company wiki, company social networking presence (Facebook, MySpace), company Twitter site, and company podcast. An open-ended question was also asked to capture an additional channels used for environmental communication. Reliability of channel of communication was high (α =.91).

To evaluate the degree to which organizations target specific publics with their environmental communication, participants were asked to indicate the amount of communication on a 9-point scale to five publics: customers, employees, activists, shareholders, and government.

Reliability for this variable was moderate (α =.78).

Transparency of an organization’s environmental communication was measured using a modified version of Rawlins (2008) transparency measures. Four measures were used, “My company wants to understand how its decisions about environmental issues affect key publics,” “My company provides useful information about its environmental behaviors to key publics for making informed decisions,” “My company wants to be accountable to key publics for organizational actions toward the environment,” and “My company wants key publics to know 1Participants were recruited in two waves – October 2008 and May 2009. The initial response rate in October was 6% which was judged by the author to be too low. October 2008 was a time of high turbulence on Wall Street, and it is possible that this interfered with participants’ likelihood to read and respond to a survey request. In addition, the tracking software used in this study was not able to determine the number of emails captured by spam filters. With the increased sophistication of spam filters, larger numbers of emails are identified as spam and do not make it to the inboxes of the intended receivers (Evans & Mathur, 2005).

53 what it is doing in regard to the environment and why it is doing it.” Responses were given on a nine-point scale. The reliability of transparency measures was high (α =.93).

Practitioner knowledge was measured by asking participants to self-assess their knowledge of the nine environmental topics listed above. Reliability for this variable was judged to be good (α =.87). In addition to knowledge level, participants were also asked to indicate the sources from which they had learned about environmental issues. On a nine-point scale, respondents indicated the degree to which they had learned from websites; reading or watching the news; in-house training or seminars; external training or seminars; reading books on environmental issues; class at a college or university; talking with colleagues; and talking with family or friends. This was followed by an open-ended question which asked for any additional sources that participants felt were important in building their knowledge about the environment.

To measures attitude of practitioners toward environmental responsibility, participants were asked to indicate the priority that they felt their organization should give to the nine environmental characteristics, the same topics assessed under knowledge. Reliability for practitioner attitude measures was strong (α =.93).

Participants were asked to respond to a number of demographic and classification questions including employer industry, employer size (number of employees), individual job category, years of service to employer, years of employment in public relations, level of education, salary, gender and ethnicity.

Results The respondent group was 71% female and 29% male. Most (88%) of respondents said that they were Caucasian with another five percent indicating African-American, two percent Asian, three percent Hispanic/Latino, one percent Middle Eastern, and one percent Native American. The average number of years employed in public relations was 15.7 (SD = 10.0) with an average of 7.8 years (SD = 7.6) at the current employer. Ninety-seven percent of respondents had at least a bachelor’s degree and 26% were APR certified. Sixty-eight percent of respondents were classified as manager, director, vice president, or chief financial officer. Approximately 30% were in jobs with titles including specialist, associate, assistant or coordinator. Two percent did not indicate title. Sixty-one percent of respondents worked for a for-profit entity, and 33% worked for government, municipalities, or military. Six percent did not indicate their industry classification.

The study explored the characteristics of environmental communication and the knowledge and attitude of public relations practitioners regarding environmental issues. The first research question explored the most popular topics of environmental communication among corporations and governmental organizations. To answer research question one about communication of environmental topics, participants were asked about the amount of communication in which the organization engages about the nine environmental issues.

Practitioners scored their organizations near the middle of the scale (M = 5.4, SD = 2.9).

Organizations communicated the most about improving energy efficiency (M = 6.1, SD = 2.9), recycling (M = 6.0, SD = 2.7), and environmentally-responsible products and services (M = 6.0, SD = 2.9). They were least likely to communicate about reducing product packaging (M = 4.2, SD = 2.8). See table 1.


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The second research question asked about the channels of communication used to deliver information about environmental issues. To identify the channels most commonly used, the survey asked participants to rate the degree to which their organizations employ 11 channels of communication to deliver environmental messages. The most commonly used channels were intranet (M = 6.5, SD = 2.7), websites (M = 6.2, SD = 2.9), and employee newsletters (M = 6.2, SD = 2.9). Least used channels were Twitter (M = 1.8, SD = 2.1), wikis (M = 2.3, SD = 2.5), and podcasts (M = 2.5, SD = 2.6). See table 2.

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environmental messages, an open question was used. Participants were asked if their organization used other means to communicate about the environment. Results indicate that organizations are using many additional channels for communicating about their environmental responsibility. These channels included speeches and presentations, special events and meetings, presentations, videos, TV & radio interviews, printed material, sponsorships, advocacy, and sustainability programs.

The third research question asked about audiences of environmental communication. To identify the most common public groups targeted with environmental communication messages, participants were asked to rated the amount of environmental communication aimed at five public groups. Results suggest that employees are the most common target audience for environmental communication (M = 6.9, SD = 2.4), and shareholders are the least common target (M = 4.2, SD = 3.6). See table 3.

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The fourth research question asked the degree to which organizations are communicating transparently about environmental issues. To answer this question, a mean score was calculated for the four measures of transparency used in this study (M = 6.6, SD = 2.3). The mean score fell above the mid-point indicating a positive assessment of organizations’ environmental transparency.

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Hypothesis one predicted a positive relationship between environmental transparency and environmental communication. To test this a Pearson’s bi-variate correlation was run, and the results suggest that there is a strong positive relationship between transparency and communication (r =.65, n = 297, p.001).

The fifth research question asked about public relations practitioners’ level of knowledge about environmental issues. The mean scores of practitioners’ self-assessed level of knowledge of the nine environmental topics are listed in table 5. Results indicated that practitioners rated their knowledge of environmental issues above the mid-point of a nine point scale (M = 6.9, SD = 2.0). They felt that they knew the most about recycling (M = 7.7, SD = 1.5), waste reduction (M = 7.3, SD = 1.7), and energy efficiency (M = 7.3, SD = 1.7) and the least about offsetting energy usage (M = 6.0, SD = 2.3) and green packaging (M = 6.1, SD = 2.5).


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The sixth research question asked about the source of practitioners’ knowledge of environmental issues. Participants were asked to rate the sources from which they had learned about environmental issues. Results indicated that they felt that reading and watching the news (M = 7.0, SD = 1.9) was the most productive source along with websites (M = 6.8, SD = 1.8) and talking with colleagues (M = 6.8, SD = 2.3). The least likely to be used was classes at a college or university (M = 3.0, SD = 3.0). See table 6. To probe for other sources used by practitioners to educate themselves about these issues, the survey included an open-ended question asking for other sources. The most common responses were blogs, social media sites, local nonprofit alliances, meetings, magazines, newsletters and other sources of employee communication.

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.001) between the amount of knowledge a practitioner has about environmental issues and the amount of communication that person’s organization conducts about environmental issues.

To answer the seventh research question, participants were asked to what degree they felt their organization should make a priority of the nine environmental topics. Their attitude toward environmental issues was much higher than their knowledge with respondents indicating that they felt their organization should make a priority of all nine environmental characteristics. The mean score for their overall attitude fell toward the high end of the scale (M = 8.0, SD = 1.7).

They felt the most strongly about recycling (M = 8.5, SD = 1.3), waste reduction (M = 8.4, SD = 1.3), and improving energy efficiency (M = 8.4, SD = 1.4), and the least strongly about lowering greenhouse gas emissions (M = 7.5, SD = 2.1) and offsetting energy usage (M = 7.5, SD = 2.2).

However, it should be noted that on a nine-point scale, the lowest score of 7.5 was well above the mid-point. See table 7.

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The third hypothesis predicted a positive relationship between practitioner attitude and the amount of environmental communication at an organization. A Pearson’s correlation was run between the two variables, and a strong positive relationship (r =.39, n = 292, p.001) emerged suggesting that the strength of a practitioner’s attitude toward environmental issues is in some way related to the amount of environmental communication the practitioner’s organization conducts.

The last hypothesis predicted a positive relationship between practitioner knowledge and attitude. Results of a Pearson’s correlation suggest that this is the case (r =.43, n = 282, p.001). A practitioner’s level of knowledge about environmental issues and the person’s attitude toward the issues is strongly related.

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media. Employees and customers are most often the target of environmental communication and activists and shareholders are much less often a target audience. Public relations practitioners in this study considered their organizations to be above average in their transparency on environmental issues, and they felt that they were above average in their knowledge of environmental issues. They have garnered most of this information through self-education, including websites, media consumption, and conversations with family and colleagues.

Practitioners expressed a very strongly positive attitude toward environmental issues and felt that their organizations should be highly involved in ethical environmental practices. Correlations showed that practitioners’ environmental knowledge and attitude are both strongly related to the amount of communication an organization produces on environmental topics. Knowledge and attitude are also strongly correlated.

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