Oral Histories

Bruce Harrison

Interview Segments on Topic: PR Education/Training

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 what do you see as something that we in education can do to try and help prepare public relations professionals of the next generation? Do you see the people coming out with the skills necessary to act ethically and effectively in the positions that they will be going into?

Harrison: That’s a good tough question. Good question, the good questions are tough. You know I think schools are doing a great job whether it’s Penn State or Georgetown or GW, University of Maryland. I got to stop here because I am going to exclude some. But Barrett [Honors] College [at Arizona State University] they are doing a good job because you guys do understand what it is that corporate communications people, organizational communications people need to know to be successful. I have a tilt toward learning more history, learning more economics, learning more government policy. I am learning more international studies. Learning more culture influence. Things like Francis Fukuyama and what he teaches at Johns Hopkins about what it takes to build trust. And trust is built on understanding, social capital in various countries and various cultures. So understanding culture. Understanding behavior. I mean after all we are out to influence behavioral change and are we teaching that to corporate communicators? You tell me Lee.

Ahern: Well it’s difficult. One of the hardest things to do is to change people’s behavior. We try and teach methods and ways to measure and evaluate your effectiveness in your in your attempts to do that. As well as some of the basic models for how that persuasion might come across and it’s certainly a challenge but I think the idea of broadening the curriculum to include economics.

Harrision: Right.

Ahern: Understanding culture, government policy, international relations [inaudible]

Harrision: I have this leaning toward business and business management. I mean, are you teaching Drucker management basics? Those are things that if you are heading toward corporate or not organizational, may be different, but the corporate business side. That’s what. Maybe you ought to ask them that. Where do you want to go when you graduate here? Are you going into business or are you going into something else? Business, you have to understand management, economics, accounting, financial affairs and how politics affects all of that.

Ahern: Well finally I just like to give you the opportunity to for any other observations you have on ethics and the commitment of the Page Center which is to foster integrity in public communications and any other programs or ideas or things that we should implement or emphasize that can make us more effective.

Harrison: I’d say the only in America could there be a Penn State Center or could there be a center like we now have at Penn State. I know of no other country that has such inquiry into what it takes to be successful, and ways the social, the economic, and the personal morality and equity as well as ethics of everybody concerned. So this is, this is the place to do it, so I am grateful for that, that we’re doing it here in America and that Penn State and others are engaged in this. I’m just looking ahead to what may be troubling to me, is that young people may not have the focus on some of the outcomes that our companies are engaged in, right now. They are going through a period now where there’s international conflict, there’s economic uncertainty. They are hearing from their parents and others that institutions are failing, that the mighty are falling and so what are we doing to young people in giving them what they need to have confidence that after all, democracy, capitalism, ethical enterprise, has a future for them. We don’t need all of them to go into government or go into social affairs. That would be a, that’s my concern right now. Thinking about my grandkids and kids.

Ahern: Well certainly those are major concerns of the universities and of the Page Center moving forward and things that we’re going to be working on. Do you have any final thoughts or other points you’d like to talk about in terms of ethics? I think that we’ve covered a lot of ground and certainly I appreciate your time and your commitment to the Center by agreeing to be part of the oral history project.

Harrison: Well thank you, Lee.

Ahern: We talked a lot about different ethical issues and that is the commitment of the Page Center at Penn State University to foster integrity in public communications. Do you have any observations about things that a program like ours should be emphasizing or implementing in order to achieve those objectives?

Harrison: First let me say that the Center at Penn State is terrific. It’s leading the way in the kinds of things that are needed right now. And I would place a lot of emphasis in the future on the values of this country and how they will how they will and can be sustained on the ultimate strength of business. Right now they are hearing a lot of our young people are hearing a lot of uncertainty. Jim Collins’ new book has just come out on how the mighty fall which leads some folks to think, I thought you said we’re going to have sustainability. We’re going to have the good becoming great. And we we’re going to have companies that would prevail. Enterprise will prevail. And working for companies will have a need for young people who understand history, politics, economics, and the American success story.

Ahern: Well Bruce Harrison, thank you very much for taking the time to participate in the Page Center Oral History Project at the Penn State College of Communications. It’s been a pleasure talking to you.

Harrison: Thank you, Lee.