Four Strategies for Communicating About Environmental Remediation

Communicating about environmental remediation is critical to maintaining one’s freedom to operate. Industrial companies should have a robust communications strategy to protect their reputation and brand equity.

Environmental remediation is a challenge many industrial companies must face, especially if they have been operating for a long time. While cleanup costs alone can be steep, the impact is not just financial in nature. How you handle the task can have significant repercussions for your freedom to operate — ranging from regulatory restrictions, community rejection, loss of employee trust and, not least, the threat of litigation. All these can erode your corporate reputation and brand equity.

Environmental remediation is a complicated, multi-year process. Whether the site is under federal or state jurisdiction, the cleanup may involve elaborate sampling, feasibility studies, technical plans and complex negotiations with the authorities. All this work is usually scrutinized by stakeholders who are driven primarily by fear, emotions and even political considerations. So, how should industrial companies navigate these challenges? While every situation should be addressed with the necessary degree of nuance, here are four strategies you should consider if environmental remediation is on your company’s agenda:

1. Know your stakeholders

Cleaning up a site is not just a matter between the responsible company and the regulators. Many other groups have a stake in the process and your first step is to map all your stakeholders and understand their positions. Your most immediate priority should always be your employees, the surrounding community, neighboring businesses and elected officials. Their trust is essential, and it can be gained through regular, face-to-face communication. Even if they don’t become advocates, they will appreciate having the ability to engage with you directly. If community groups and/or NGOs are interested in the site, it will be important to understand their questions and concerns and find a path toward productive engagement.

2. Deliver a clear message

Whenever a subject involves regulatory and legal components and has the potential to become contentious, it is important for all communication to be clear and consistent. Start with a message platform that states your remediation commitments, shows empathy towards those impacted, and provides transparency. While it might be tempting to provide technical details, keep the information as understandable and as relatable as possible. Even though legal review is essential, your message should strike the right balance between legal accuracy and empathy. Once your message platform is completed, create a communications toolkit that includes fact sheets, frequently asked questions, illustrations and timelines to help you tell the story. Depending on the situation, you also may want to consider a digital strategy that covers your website and social media channels.

3. Prepare your public ambassadors

Having good intentions is not enough. Determine who will be your organization’s public face when communicating about this matter and set that person up for success. This is a responsibility to be carried out by a company executive, although it does not have to be the CEO. Someone relatable who can listen, show concern, and yet project trust is the right candidate for the role. Having the right qualities is not enough. Message training is important to ensure the spokesperson is familiar with the information and can deliver it effectively to a variety of audiences. Any other team members, including technical personnel, who may have to communicate with external audiences should also go through message training.

4. Plan ahead

If your organization faces other risks, in addition to environmental remediation, don’t let those challenges take you by surprise. Assemble a cross-functional team of executives tasked with proactive issues management. Meeting several times a year to identify and map issues and assign responsibility for addressing them can help organizations avoid negative surprises.

Environmental remediation is complex and time-consuming. If you don’t have the resources to tackle this challenge, contact one of our experts at

Share This Article