How Comms Declare is harnessing ad industry employees to stop fossil fuels

David Attenborough famously said that changing the world is now a communications challenge. Comms Declare founder Belinda Noble agrees, so four years ago she set out to disrupt Australia’s advertising and PR industries to tackle fossil fuel greenwashing at the source.

Sarah Smith
April 4, 2024
3 min read
Belinda Noble Comms Declare

How Public Relations and fossil fuels grew up together

PR and the fossil fuel industry have had a long and mutually beneficial relationship. It’s one that Comms Declare founder Belinda Noble is working to undo. 

“Once you know the role that public relations, advertising and marketing have had in enabling bad industries – cultivating denial of climate impacts, and then orchestrating the delay tactics that we're still seeing now – then it's kind of incumbent on you to do something.”

As Belinda explains, it was public relations pioneer Ivy Lee who worked furiously to rehabilitate the image of the Rockefellers when striking coal workers were massacred on mines owned by the family back in 1914. “The techniques used to reframe this event in the media a century ago are still used today to help aid and abet the fossil fuel industry. There's not a great legacy, unfortunately,” she says.

Determined to change advertising and PR for the better, Belinda – who has worked in communications and as a journalist and producer for some of the world’s largest news agencies – started Comms Declare following the Black Sunday fires in 2019/20. The aim? To mobilise comms industry folk for the better and have them declare their commitment to not work for the fossil fuel industry. “Our focus is very much to stop the promotion of climate pollution and to make fossil fuels as socially toxic as tobacco.” 

The F-List: Finding out who is naughty and nice

“We know that between 40 and 70 percent of emissions reductions by 2050 will have to come from behaviour change,” Belinda explains. “PR, agencies and the media play an integral role in shaping people’s behaviour, so we work to influence the comms industry by causing discomfort around working for fossil fuel clients.” 

This is no small task, but one that Comms Declare tackles on two fronts. First, with the annual publication of the “F-List”, an exhaustive index of agencies who work with fossil fuel clients which names and shames those who are helping promote climate breakdown.

And second, through legislative and policy change via their fossil ad ban campaign. “We realised that trying to influence the advertising industry, while important, is not going to get us where we need to be in this critical decade. So we are pushing for tobacco-style bans on fossil fuel ads and sponsorships,” she says. “We've been campaigning against companies or organisations that have fossil fuel sponsors, in addition to lobbying politicians to strengthen the laws around fossil fuel advertising restrictions, like we have for gambling, alcohol and tobacco.”

“Our focus is very much to stop the promotion of climate pollution and to make fossil fuels as socially toxic as tobacco.” 

The pressure is building 

Comms Declare has achieved a lot in just two short years. They’ve moved 16 local councils to vote for fossil ad bans, introduced bills for fossil fuel ad restrictions into the NSW and ACT parliaments, and are having ongoing conversations with federal politicians around climate labelling – a global standard not yet implemented in Australia – so the public knows the climate impact of their purchases. 

And the F-List is also having an unexpected impact. “We're seeing so much pressure not just from us, but also internally from staff members who care about climate enormously, that agencies have been forced to question their alliances.”

How to bring about change from the inside 

Belinda knows better than most the discomfort that can come with being a climate disruptor in your own industry or workplace, but her advice to people wanting to bring about change is to hang in there and find your allies.

“It can be challenging and there are different avenues depending on the company you work in,” she says. However, if you’re concerned about taking that first step, Belinda suggests starting conversations with influential people, forming a climate group alongside like-minded co-workers, or suggesting the adoption of climate-friendly rules or regulations (i.e. measuring emissions).

“The benefits of being true to yourself in your workplace aren’t just about personal satisfaction; you will also be contributing to an organisation that will do better in the future, because it will be working from its values, rather than solely the profit motive.”

If you’re a communications professional who is committed to stop the promotion of greenhouse gas pollution, join Comms Declare. Or join the WorkforClimate learning community to connect with other employees making a difference on climate.

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