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A Strategic Nature

Public Relations and the Politics of American Environmentalism

Melissa Aronczyk and Maria I. Espinoza

Publication Date - 07 January 2022

ISBN: 9780190055356

320 pages
6 1/8 x 9 1/4 inches

In Stock

In A Strategic Nature, Melissa Aronczyk and Maria I. Espinoza show how public relations has dominated public understanding of the natural environment for over one hundred years.


A look at how public relations has dominated public understanding of the natural environment for over one hundred years.

In A Strategic Nature, Melissa Aronczyk and Maria I. Espinoza examine public relations as a social and political force that shapes both our understanding of the environmental crises we now face and our responses to them. Drawing on in-depth interviews, ethnography, and archival research, Aronczyk and Espinoza document the evolution of PR techniques to control public perception of the environment since the beginning of the twentieth century. More than spin or misinformation, PR affects how institutions and individuals conceptualize environmental problems -- from conservation to coal mining to carbon credits. Revealing the linkages of professional strategists, information politics, and environmental standards, A Strategic Nature shows how public relations restricts alternative paths to a sustainable climate future.


  • Offers an as-yet untold account of the promotional agents who have influenced public perception of the environment since the beginning of the twentieth century
  • Provides new insights on sustainability communication and lessons on how to deal with climate change misinformation and denial
  • Includes archival material that has never been published before for a behind-the-scenes look at how the public relations industry works

About the Author(s)

Melissa Aronczyk is an associate professor at Rutgers University in the School of Communication & Information. She is the author of Branding the Nation: The Global Business of National Identity (Oxford 2013).

Maria I. Espinoza is a PhD candidate in the Sociology department at Rutgers University.


"Diverse and sometimes contending perspectives inform the book's seven chapters, each one examining a significant historical moment in the development of the American environmental movement from the early 20th century to the present." -- Z. Albertson, CHOICE

"Aronczyk and Espinoza deftly reconstruct the dynamic coevolution of public relations, environmental politics and regulations, and public opinion in their book. Capturing this dynamic is essential for demonstrating how it is that some environmental problems have come to be taken seriously while others are dismissed.... Adopting a strongly historical approach and direct writing style, the authors draw from a wide range of social science literature and bring their research findings together with interview data and other primary sources in a compelling and readable narrative that spans a century of environmentalism in the US.... Environmental historians, sociologists, communications scholars, and would-be changemakers will appreciate this work, and its lessons will help the latter to exert their influence further toward a more resilient and just future." -- CHOICE

"Written by two Rutgers University academics A Strategic Nature explores the relationship between American public relations and American environmentalism, arguing that they emerged alongside each other, and that neither would look the way they do today without the other." -- Ian Sinclair, Peace News

"The real strength of this book is its offer of a way to think about public relations (PR) beyond being journalism's evil twin or a source of spin in the context of environmental politics. It provides a fascinating history of how PR professionals have actively constructed and managed public understandings of the environment. It illuminates the mechanics of PR, which are often obscured or written off as the value-neutral communication of the positions of other actors. This reconsideration of the role of PR in framing environmental politics positions the PR industry among other epistemic communities, such as scientists, whose potential to shape policy has been more widely researched.... This book provides an essential understanding of what environmental PR has been and the effects of that history on framing public understandings of the environment." -- International Journal of Communication

"Not every public relations scholar or practitioner will agree with the authors' depiction of public relations' often pernicious role in democratic and deliberative society. But this rich, wholly worthwhile, generative journey into a strategic history of "nature" and the constitutive role of communication in society's relationship to the environment serves as a crucial and essential text. It will help public relations and communication scholars, advanced undergraduate and graduate students, and professionally minded practitioners ask the right questions about the ethics and foundations of how we teach, research, and practice public relations and strategic communication." -- Journal of Communication

Table of Contents

    List of Figures and Tables
    List of Abbreviations
    Introduction: Public Relations and Its Problems
    1. Seeing Like a Publicist: How the Environment became an Issue
    2. Bringing the Outside In: Managing Industry's "External Environment"
    3. Environment, Energy, Economy: The Campaign for Balance
    4. PR for the Public Interest: The Rule of Reason and the Hazards of Environmental Consensus
    5. Sustainable Communication™: Green PR and the Export of Corporate Environmentalism
    6. The Climate of Publicity: Climate Advocates and the Compromise of PR
    7. "Shared Value": Promoting Climate Change for Data Worlds
    Conclusion: We're Supposed to Be Engaging
    Appendix 1. Interviews and Observation Sites
    Appendix 2. E. Bruce Harrison Company, List of Clients, 1973-1997