“A better web. Better for the environment,” is Google’s glinty-green promise to the climate-conscious web user. Its massive, energy-devouring data centers use half the power of other such facilities – and so on, and so on, as the company contends in setting forth its conservationist bona fides.
So it’s completely understandable that the Jolly Green Giant of web search, whose corporate motto is “Don’t be evil,” would raise eyebrows and ire for hosting a fund-raiser for one of Congress’s most outspoken climate change deniers, Republican Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma. The fundraiser, at Google’s Washington, DC headquarters last Thursday, drew a smattering of protesters, condemnations on the web, and news coverage of both.
Google, whose political donations rain down equally across ideological and party lines, initially declined to comment, but wisely thought better of its reticence. A spokesperson subsequently noted that Google has invested $700 million in job-creating data centers in Inhofe’s state that are powered by wind energy. Hosting the Inhofe fund-raiser is not blanket endorsement of all his positions, the flack said. “While we disagree on climate change policy, we share an interest with Senator Inhofe in the employees and data center we have in Oklahoma.”
THE PR VERDICT: “B” (Good Show) for Google, for not dodging a difficult situation and telling it like it is.
THE PR TAKEAWAY: Hold fast to your principles, and don’t let a public outcry turn your compass. Google’s green commitment is indeed substantial – the Inhofe fundraiser doesn’t change that. Like any publicly-held company, it has to balance obligations to corporate values with obligations to shareholders. Its forthright and unapologetic response in a slighty sticky situation constitutes reasonable deference to exigency over rigid adherence to ideals. Down the road, such realpolitik preserves Google’s ability to exert its potentially considerable influence in the conservation conversation. Its public response in this teapot-sized tempest confirms that being PR-savvy means making sure you never have to say you’re sorry.