Companies don't exist in a vacuum. Beyond the legal and regulatory rules that must be honored, to stay in existence companies must have the permission and acceptance of the population in the geographic areas in which they operate. They are a part of their communities by their very existence with employees living and raising families there and the companies dependent on services of other companies in the community. Maintaining effective community relations is an essential part of a company's successful operation, especially when there are environmental issues involved.
Environmental conditions in an area affect everyone living and working there. The community has a right and obligation to be concerned about local industry that may have either a direct or indirect impact on local water, soil, and air quality. These concerns must be answered and resolved to avoid potentially serious and damaging consequences to both the company and the community stakeholders.
Technical information needs to be translated into easily understandable concepts and terms and effectively disseminated to the public in order to open a dialogue between the company and shareholders. The public is less interested in technology and science than they are about the safety and health of their families, their property values now and in the future, and their quality of life. These factors make environmental issues particularly subject to serious controversy and opposition to a company's practices or existence.
The effective community relations program begins with a thorough and intimate understanding of the community. A community assessment gathers information from public records, in-depth interviews, media coverage review, economic data, and more. These data are used to analyze the political, social, and economic dynamics of the community in order to design an effective community relations program. The assessment enables insight into the direct concerns of the public to determine the information most relevant to those concerns as well as the best communication methods to answer them. This assessment can also provide information to allow companies to predict the response of the community to future environmental issues.
In most cases, community stakeholder fears and anger over what they perceive as an environmental threat can be successfully addressed with misinformation being corrected in an understandable way. A community and media relations consultant experienced in environmental issues has the skills to both open and sustain the dialogue between the company and community to enhance the company's role and reputation while easing public fears based on half-truths and rumor. This vital link is good for business and good for the community.