TerraPass stands up to the PR challenge
In many situations when a company or person is questioned in the press, it blows over when the media and their audiences move on to the next news of the day, week or month. There are times, though, when the questions hit too close to home, as it did a few weeks ago when BusinessWeek’s Another Inconvenient Truth attacked the fundamental business model and realized benefits of carbon offsets. The article chose to focus on TerraPass, one of the leading carbon offsets companies, by making a case that some of the projects being funded by the offsets were no better off than they were before, suggesting that they would have been done with or without the help of TerraPass.
BusinessWeek wasn’t the first to question offsets so rather than write about the article when it ran, I decided to wait a few weeks to see how TerraPass handled the PR challenge. By confronting the article head on, it was undoubtedly going to increase awareness of the issues raised with offsets. Proof in point, I probably wouldn’t be writing this blog post if they had sat on it. But TerraPass had no choice and they believe in their product. Since BusinessWeek’s article ran, TerraPass has used their popular blog and newsletter to start a transparent debate, guiding the discussion with several actions aimed at building trust in their business:
- New financial, regulatory and timing tests of Tontitown, one of the projects questioned in the article
- TreeHugger, an information resource for the green industry, interviewed Tontitown to show that the project results exceed what would have been necessary without TerraPass’ participation
- A refined review process and review panel was introduced
- Articles are running on their blog that aren’t about this “problem,” showing that business is still moving ahead as usual
Like any good company in 2007, TerraPass is using a community on the Web to defend and refine their business. It’s like a 24/7 focus group. They’ve set a good example by standing up to the challenge. The carbon offset market, wherever it ends up, will be better for it.
This comparison is far out there but I saw a documentary last night that made me realize how far we’ve come in the past 100 years. Companies can accomplish in a few weeks what it took Buffalo Bill’s Annie Oakley six years of train rides around the country to do after she was misrepresented in the press. She had a reputation to uphold and didn’t stop until she took each of the 56 newspapers that she disagreed with to task. Social media has changed the course of things. No more train rides.
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