This month’s PR Profiles guest thought he was going to end up pursuing biology. “It wasn’t until later that the sales personality in me steered me in the direction of communications and ultimately public relations,” says Tony DeFazio, founder of Sustainable PR. Now, after more than 30 years in the industry, Tony’s a PR guy through and through.
Even so, he never lost his love for the natural world. “I’ve had a vision for many years—probably since the mid-90s—to combine my skills and experience in PR with my passion for the environment.” But it wasn’t until 2020 that Tony felt the time was right. “[COVID] shook up every one of our lives and we started to reassess our priorities.”
While on a hike in May 2020, Tony’s childhood friend challenged him to do something big with the next 10 years of his life. Later that year, Tony relocated from Philadelphia to Glens Falls, New York and started Sustainable PR. “I knew the time was right for a pure play green PR firm,” says Tony. “I looked at the numbers, hired an intern and we started grinding through data. We found some research that suggested the market was going to grow $10 billion over the next five years alone.”
Earned media is Sustainable PR’s bread and butter. Tony used both media relations and a “boots on the ground” approach to successfully campaign for his client, Cipriani Energy Group and their community solar project in Guilderland, New York. “Our campaign focused on rallying the troops,” says Tony. “We went into the community and started pressing the flesh. And that’s kind of odd in today’s digital age.”
In addition to media coverage, paid ads, and organic social, Tony and his team went into coffee shops and supermarkets and just talked to people about the benefits of community solar. “We built a targeted list of supporters that we could energize and empower to attend the zoning board of appeals meeting and speak up in favor of this proposed development.” In the end, the decision for Tony’s client was unanimous. “As we speak, they are building that solar farm,” says Tony.
Tony wants to pass his agency’s know-how on to other sustainable agencies or brands to help combat one of the biggest issues plaguing the industry: greenwashing.
“Companies are so excited about telling the story of their green attributes that they’re overstating what these products actually do,” says Tony. “They’re getting called out left and right, particularly by millennials who are highly educated and highly attuned to transparency and authenticity.”
His firm’s e-book, How to Pass the Millennial Greenwashing Test: 7 Winning PR Tactics for Green Companies is available for free download. “We’re arming businesses who want to tell their green story with what they need to know to reach their target audiences effectively and authentically.”
Tony is excited for the future. “I think public policy and venture investing are going to continue to drive the marketplace,” says Tony. “We are in the right place at the right time in a perfect storm. And you know what? We’re doing well by doing good.”