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OK but what is it? PR musings

Since I cover the Golisano Institute for Sustainability, RIT’s new education and research center devoted to the field, I am often asked, “What is sustainability?” I try to give the technical response, which covers life cycle management, pollution prevention and asset health management, but people then often go, “OK but what is it?”

This issue came up again recently when a reporter from a major newspaper asked me to provide some background on sustainability and RIT’s work in the field. I provided her with carefully constructed material that included information on RIT’s vision and how we will use sustainable education and research to enhance our next generation of engineers. And sure enough, a little while later she came back to me and said (you guessed it), “OK but what is it?”

This scenario further emphasized to me the important job a public relations person plays. We are not only responsible for getting publicity for specific events and projects but we are also tasked with crafting a message that people who may not be well versed in a subject can understand, whether that person is a reporter or the man on the street. If you cannot hook your audience it does not matter how good your news is.

When you are dealing with a topic that is as broad as sustainability, this is particularly important. A PR representative needs to present the information in a manner that is understandable and relatable without dumbing it down.

Thankfully, I have had enough practice now to provide a concise, clear answer to the question and was able to give the reporter the answer she needed. But it was a good lesson for me to always remember that news has to be relatable or it is not news.

For those of you who are wondering, I provide my answer to the sustainability question below. Please feel free to let me know if I got it right, or if I didn’t.

A sustainable process is one which can be carried out over and over without negative environmental effects, such as air and water pollution, solid waste, or biodegradation, which can lead to larger, global problems including climate change and destruction of natural resources. Education in sustainability seeks to provide our next generation of engineers, scientists, policymakers and CEOs with an understanding of sustainable development and give our leaders the skills and knowledge to implement sustainable processes in all aspects of our community.


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