Oral Histories

Bruce Harrison

Interview Segments on Topic: Code of Ethics/Mission Statement/Credo

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: So, central to the mission of the Arthur W. Page Center is the exploration of the role of ethics in public communications. So in your professional opinion, what constitutes or what are the key elements of ethical public relations?

Harrison: Yeah. Thanks Lee for asking me about ethics, certainly critical, central to communications. I would just take a minute to compliment you and Larry Foster for having created the Center there and the focus not only on Arthur Page but on the development, status and future of corporate public relations; communications just so critical in the times we are going through right now with the economy and the state that it’s in and looking ahead to the involvement of government, which I’ll talk something more about maybe if we have a chance - the role of government as it impacts corporate behavior and certainly communications. Definition of ethics for me is pretty simple. It is a matter of honesty and fairness. Fair dealing. It was in fact some years ago, I was chairman of the counselors’ academy of the Public Relations Society back in 1990 at which time we came up with our own, we called it code of ethics, but codes of ethics are difficult to put together. You can’t really require anybody to be ethical. It all comes down to what do I believe. I believe in honesty and fair dealing. Certainly the gross forms of dishonesty gets us back to what Arthur Page years ago reminded us, back in the 20s and 30s, when he said that the first principle of dealing with publics and getting their support is to tell the truth. Tell the truth and back that up with your proof. So for me and for all of us, ethics is a state of mind and that state of mind is, I will do no harm in our relationships with anybody else whether they are competitors or customers. In fact, I’ll try to contribute some good, add some value, help to create what I think is essential and that’s the win-win deal between each company and its stakeholders. And ethics come into play there with more moral behavior and mental conditioning, mental attitude.

Ahern: Is there an inherent conflict between the short term goals of business and some of the goals which, as a counselor you are going to want to bring to the C suite, which is to think long term in terms of corporate imaging adhering to higher ethical levels.

Harrison: Right, well what you are asking is how do you sustain a company’s success when that company’s success relies very much on stakeholder opinion versus the short term – what do I do this quarter, What yield do I report to my investors? And that tension is always there. I mean company CEOs, the C suite, the leaders, the CFO are under constant pressure – what do I do this quarter? The stakeholders starting with investors do want to see a return now and a recovery now if they are in difficulty so that is there. But CEOs who understand the game, who go back to Jim Collins’ book on Built to Last or Moving from Good to Great understand that this is a long term perspective and the focus is on not only the return for this quarter, but the longer term, and how do we sustain the long term deal with our stakeholders. How do we anticipate change? How do we beat the competition for the longer term? Ethics come into play there but again it’s back to honesty and fair play.

Ahern: Do you believe that ethical standards, I believe we touched on this a little bit, do they need to be a top down approach. Or do they need to be a bottom up kind of grassroots movement within an organization. What is the balance about where those ethics need to be?

Harrison: Well, the question is where do ethics start. And ethics, I think, start with each individual and the kinds of people that are hired into a company either will sustain or detract from the ethical behavior that the folks at the top want. Yeah, the standard, the acceptability, the behavior that is allowed, has to start at the top. It starts with the hiring process. And it has to be exemplified by the folks in the C suite or at the plant level – the plant manger or the sales level – the sales people in charge of sales. Production – the same thing. This is what we will do. This is what this company does. This is how we have succeeded in the past. This is what I pledge to do. Here are our company’s commitments. Johnson & Johnson credo – putting those things out there and showing this is what we believe and we’ll back this up. If you don’t believe this, you know it’s not a good match for you and shouldn’t probably be doing business with us, or being an employee of ours. It starts with the top, becomes a mindset, becomes a mantra, becomes rewarded or discouraged within the organization. A commitment has to be expressed. I do believe that in things like credos, or commitments for this year, or this we believe, or this is our mission, corporate mission. We’ll put in some of that belief and language that says we care about people. We care about outcome. We will do no harm and try to leave things better than we found them.