Is it time that renewables and clean tech started telling a different story?
With Donald Trump undoing the clean power plan to “bring back jobs and reduce the cost of electricity” in the USA and the UK government slashing subsidies for renewable energy leading to a fall of 95% in investment in renewables, is it time for renewables and clean tech businesses to tell a different story?
The environmental impact of renewables and clean tech has been widely discussed and the Paris Agreement as a framework for countries to reduce greenhouse gases has been the obvious story to tell for businesses in the sector. But like all things that you hear over and over, are people becoming complacent? And has this complacency allowed governments and investors to ignore this critical sector?
Maybe businesses need to reposition themselves, moving away from the environment message and focussing more on the multiple socio-economic, money-saving and money-generating benefits they offer.
What do we mean by positioning a business?
Take a quick scan through the websites of renewable energy companies and you will see lots of crashing waves, bright blue skies and rolling countryside. Like all businesses, they need to offer a service or product that their audiences want and value but their competitors cannot fulfil. It is often difficult to tell these businesses apart, to truly understand the need are they meeting and who it benefits.
Surely the message can’t always be about saving the planet. It’s time to focus on something more tangible, the things that impact people’s day-to-day now. For example, by itself a battery does little, but taking battery-enabled propulsion, we can completely rethink transportation, mobility, robotics, drones, and much more. Rather than emphasising the technology breakthroughs, shouldn’t we be getting excited about the endless possibilities they bring?
Benefit driven themes
In one brainstorm, we’ve come up with four ideas for benefit driven stories that renewables and clean tech businesses could be telling.
In the USA renewable energy is creating jobs 12 times faster than the rest of the economy. It is one of the fastest growing sectors in the world. This creates a huge social-economic impact and is something that should be more widely known and celebrated.
Renewable energy is still viewed as the energy of the future, but in 2015, renewables surpassed coal to become the largest source of global electricity capacity. Renewables are expected to cover more than 60% of global power capacity growth over the next five years. So instead of being seen as the future, it should be seen as the energy that has replaced fossil fuels as our main source of power. Within this lies the little-known fact that renewable energy is now cheaper than the more traditional forms of electricity generation.
Green investments were always seen as “nice to haves” in an investment portfolio, but increasingly an investment into renewable energy is seen as a sustainable investment. In recent years, 180 institutional funds totalling $50 billion have pledged to divest of fossil fuels. It isn’t just a moral investment anymore, but a sound economic one.
After the initial rush of record breaking investments 10 years ago by VCs that caused a bubble that inevitably burst, should businesses steer clear of the label cleantech? Whilst annual investment in cleantech increases year-on-year should the focus be less on the “tech” and more on the benefits? Take the domestic fuel cell, the benefits are around power reduction and therefore making power cheaper for the customer. This is something that every household could benefit from, but that very few even know about.
Alongside storytelling, company culture is another critical component in changing the narrative.
This takes us back to the positioning of a business and the importance of brand. A brand should position an organisation (or product or service) in the market place to meet the needs of its audiences. And by audiences we don’t just mean customers, we mean everyone involved in and with the organisation – employees, shareholders, partners, the media, everyone…
A good brand defines the proposition of an organisation, how it helps achieve its strategic objectives and meets the needs of its audiences. Put simply it is “how it does business”. Brand should be used to create a specific and unique culture that joins together the employees’ beliefs, attitudes and ultimately their behaviour. This generates specific and predictable employee responses which can lead to greater discretionary effort, a commitment to stay and motivation as a team member and/or leader. These responses have short-term and longer-term outcomes that improve both employee success and company success.
Standing out from the crowd
So by now the point is clear we hope. If yours is a renewables or cleantech business, have a think about how your business is positioned. Are you telling the same story as everyone else, are you part of the ‘white noise’ syndrome, or could your focus be more benefits driven?
As well as talking differently, perhaps your business needs to start acting differently, only then can the discussion really change.