Thursday, January 6, 2011

Doing good? Tell somebody about it

Waste Management’s High Acres Landfill in Perinton, N.Y. seems to be an ongoing source of community controversy. Most recently, the landfill’s expansion proposal was opposed by residents concerned about air quality and other issues. I haven't seen or heard much positive publicity for this site in the local news -- outside of its cameo appearance in an early episode of "Undercover Boss" on CBS -- until recently. An article in our weekly community newspaper announcing that High Acres received national recognition for its "green" community relations activities seemed like a nice change -- but it also made me wonder why I didn't know more about what the company does right.

I learned through the article that High Acres was recently honored as the Wildlife Habitat Council's Corporate Lands for Learning Rookie of the Year. The award recognizes the company’s work to be a good neighbor by creating a more than 400-acre wildlife habitat for community-based activities. These include Eagle Scout projects, bio-diversity and college field studies, migratory bird reviews, habitat enhancements, removing invasive species, public trails, and presentations to local groups.

There’s no doubt that High Acres management is trying to counter negative perceptions of the landfill and its environmental impact by transforming some of its acreage into an impressive community resource. But I live in Perinton, I'm an outdoorsy-walking/biking/hiking-kind-of-gal, and I'm a media consumer, so how is it that I'm not more aware of High Acres' contributions to my community? I suspect it's possible that the company's communications resources are focused on responding to criticism and complaints about the proposed expansion or other negative issues and don't have enough time for positive community outreach. Or maybe they're doing it and I'm not in the target demographic. (But as a taxpayer, how can I not be?)
It's not enough to be a good corporate citizen -- people have to know about it, too. National recognition for facilities like the High Acres Nature Area is validating, but that doesn't help much if the local community is unaware. Companies of all sizes need to find a way to spread the word about what they're doing right so it helps diminish the impact of perceived wrongs. And if you can't share news of positive activities or accomplishments through the media (because, well, they like controversy more than they like stories about class field trips to a corporate-owned wildlife habitat adjacent to a landfill), then go straight to the people:
  • Invite local groups on guided tours.
  • Develop environmental educational programs for schools.
  • Staff a booth at local festivals and engage passerbys not with brochures but with wildlife or other tangibles that will entice them to visit or learn more about the habitat.
  • Present a wildlife slide show at the library.
  • Teach a class at the recreation center.
  • Host technology recycling events.
  • Lead guided birding tours.
  • Identify the community's key influencers and invite them to volunteer or serve on advisory committees.
It's possible that High Acres does all this and more and yet isn't on my radar screen. Regardless, High Acres obviously understands that when a business has any potential for controversy, it's important to counter that by giving back to the community, as it does. But you have to also tell the community what you're doing, too. The old Nike slogan -- "Just do it" -- isn't enough. 


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