‘Oil spill won’t affect clean green image – yet’

Press Release – Massey University

The Tauranga oil disaster does not yet pose a threat to the clean green image of New Zealand but the authorities need to act quickly or perceptions may change, says brand expert Professor Malcolm Wright.Wednesday, October 12, 2011
‘Oil spill won’t affect clean green image – yet’

The Tauranga oil disaster does not yet pose a threat to the clean green image of New Zealand but the authorities need to act quickly or perceptions may change, says brand expert Professor Malcolm Wright.

Professor Wright, who heads Massey University’s School of Communication, Journalism and Marketing, says news coverage of the spill from the stranded container ship Rena can actually reinforce international understanding of New Zealand’s pristine environment. Images of oil spilling into the usually clear-blue waters of Mt Maunganui and washing up on white sandy beaches would have sparked dismay around the globe, he says.

“When the Exxon Valdez disaster happened, people saw the dreadful oil spill but remembered the pristine Alaskan wilderness in which it had occurred, and there may be a similar effect here. It will make people think of New Zealand, and of the image of a spectacular environment that we project to the world. It is precisely because New Zealand has such wonderful beaches, wildlife and unique eco systems that the oil spill is a tragedy. Yet, in thinking about this tragedy, people are reminded of the beauty of the New Zealand landscape. So that could even slightly strengthen the country’s brand.”

However, he says, if authorities are not seen to be acting quickly it could then become reputationally damaging. “It depends how they handle this clean up. In other similar disasters oil companies have been involved quickly because their brand is at risk and there is huge interest in handling this well. Here we have a Greek-owned Liberian freighter. There is no money pouring in, no corporate brand at stake.

“In the absence of an interested multinational, someone needs to seize the initiative to manage this situation and the Government hasn’t.”

If the issue drags on, there is a risk that New Zealand starts to be associated with environmental disaster.

“We have had a bad run. Earthquakes, a coalmine explosion and dirty dairying issues. We need the authorities to show our brand is about responsible environmental management as well.”

ENDS

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