Why good storytelling is fundamental to a low-carbon future
As the economic downturn continues and the focus of businesses and consumers turns increasingly to the simple matter of surviving, climate change has all but slipped from the agenda. For those of us committed to creating a sustainable, low-carbon, positive future, the story we tell has to change to reflect this - and the success of the sector depends on getting it right.
I recently visited All-Energy 2012 in Aberdeen, the UK's largest event dedicated to all forms of clean and renewable energy, and I was struck by the breadth and scale of the show as well as the palpable atmosphere of potential and prosperity. There was also a definite sense of pride that Scotland, with its considerable resources, government commitment and evolving oil and gas industry, is a real hub for renewable innovation.
Scotland is an excellent example of the power of good storytelling to underpin the success of the low-carbon sector. The story is all about jobs, investing in the economy and national leadership, which is why it benefits from such good support; these are positive messages that resonate with people in a way that climate change currently only rarely aspires to.
Scotland has recognised that to develop its low-carbon energy sector successfully it must communicate the benefits and opportunities to a wide audience. The potential rewards of developing this industry in Scotland include the promise of £30 billion of inward investment, the creation of 20,000 direct and 20,000 indirect jobs, and significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions from its urban areas. Raising awareness of these benefits appears to have created optimism, pride and confidence in Scotland's ability to become a world-leader in renewables.
In contrast, UK ministers were last month criticised by the Green Alliance for having no national communications strategy in place to encourage consumer adoption of the various energy efficiency measures it plans to implement, most notably the Green Deal. There is a general consensus about the need for a major marketing and information campaign but no sense of who might take responsibility for this crucial work.
In my opinion, the sooner the government gets some serious communication support on board, the better. This is a need highlighted by the very choice of the title "green deal:" neither word is attractive to consumers. The term "green" has sadly slid well down the agenda in recent years and is firmly superseded by pressing financial concerns; whereas "deal" connotes banks and financing, hardly a popularly association.
Effective storytelling is integral to generating support for any new idea because public acceptance and consumer demand are crucial to the success of the vast majority of novel concepts, products or services. Unless people understand the benefits of new technologies they are unlikely to accept change. Furthermore, there are plenty of examples of consumer demand for more sustainable products or services driving innovation.
The particular challenges faced by the clean tech industry make it all the more important for companies to get this right. Communications work is one thing when selling something that people already want, but in the clean tech arena you're often selling something that nobody yet knows they need. Everyone already buys toilet rolls, clothes and crisps; you just need to make them buy your products specifically. When you're making a fuel cell, an intelligent room control or a water pipe monitoring system, there isn't necessarily an existing demand. You have to tell a wider story, focusing on what really matters to people, and place your offering at the heart of it.