Oral Histories

Bruce Harrison

Interview Segments on Topic: Counselor/Counseling Advisor

Bruce Harrison Biography

Bruce Harrison, author of Corporate Greening 2.0: Create and Communicate Your Company's Climate Change and Sustainability Strategies (2008) and Going Green: How to Communicate Your Company's Environmental Commitment (1993), has been called the pioneer of corporate greening.

Bruce has provided counsel on greening/sustainability matters to more than 50 Fortune 500 companies over the course of his career as vice president of Freeport-McMoran, CEO of his Washington-based consultancy, and founder/franchiser of EnviroComm International in the U.S. and Europe. He was the first executive director of the Arthur W. Page Society, comprising senior corporate communications executives, and has since 1998 worked as a team member creating Green Diesel Technology® products at Navistar International. Bruce assists companies in connecting with effective EnviroComm professional counselors.

Bruce is a frequent speaker on greening and sustainability. His lecture, "Factors Favoring Chief Communication Officers Involvement in Climate Change and Sustainability Issues", was recognized as the best paper presented by a practitioner at the 2008 Corporate Communication International conference at Wroxton College, England.

He was recognized by PRWeek in 2001 as one of the "Top 100 Most Influential PR People of the 20th Century" for his work with companies in environmental and social responsibility.


Ahern: Well part of your career as a counselor and correct me if I am misstating this, but it was to raise the awareness and to heighten the importance of environmental issues in the minds of leaders of industry. To help them understand how important it is to their image in the long term and how to protect themselves against coming trends in terms of legislation, in public opinion and position themselves for the future. Does that point to a, if you like to rephrase that that would be helpful.

Harrison: Yeah, but I don’t know that I’ve ever had to push that at all. I really feel as though my job as a consultant is to listen real hard to what the problem is and what the company is facing. And then try to interpret it in terms of what I know about what folks out here in government, in the community are expecting and requiring. And try to then come up with some initiatives and some ways of dealing with things including such things as, let’s form a team. Folks that you usually wouldn’t’ sit down with. Let’s talk with some folks outside as I did with a couple of companies facilitating a dialogue with those who should have a stake, and do have a stake in the company, and to work towards them, compromise, and amicable win-win decisions. Example of that is in the trucking industry, where some years ago government started to require the kinds of reduction in tailpipe emissions that just could not be achieved unless everybody got together, decided they ought to change the fuel that’s going into those vehicles, and I am talking about diesel. And so we put around the table some folks who had a stake in that. A good outcome there ended up—had a good outcome—taking it all the way to the Supreme Court to get the ruling on what sort of sulfur content it was in diesel fuel changed. So that’s the kind of thing, working with others and not pushing. It’s just trying to find out how you collaborate toward a reasonable win-win outcome.

Ahern: I’d like to ask you a few more questions now about the industry in general, and how it’s changed over the last decades, and how it’s gotten to where it is today. Specifically, do you think that the counseling role of public relations is still as vigorous and important as it once was, or in your opinion is the role changing?

Harrison: Counseling? More important than ever, it’s grown. I see people in corporate PR who are counseling at a higher level than ever before, and they aren’t’ all just, they certainly are no longer just media people. And they are counseling on everything from politics, to economics, to social behavior, to production problems, to international problems, to trade issues, just a huge, larger gamut of responsibilities. So counseling inside companies has, as it seems to me, moved up the scale and I know there are those who say you got to get a set at the table or what not. Companies, I look at the table and it is large and we are there in various important and maybe new capacities. I see PR people moving into other areas, from HR to government relations, to investor responsibilities – greater than ever before.

Ahern: Is some of the confusion over the role of the PR counselor due to the different and changing names that are applied to the function – counselor, communications officer, and marketing communications. Do you see any of that as making the role more difficult to define?

Harrison: Sure, it’s more difficult to define if we insist on a common label that we call everybody. Why has it happened? Because inside companies, being acceptable to the folks who make the ultimate decisions at the top about who is in these jobs, has changed our terminology. So therefore, a public relations person inside a company may be thought of in a different way than a corporate communications person. I personally, if I had my druthers, I would call them something else – “vice presidents of sustainable operations,” or something much bigger than the name “media relations” or “communications” or even “public relations.” Maybe it’s “stakeholder relations” we’re talking about.