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Utilizing brand to drive an authentic response to climate change in the energy industry
October 28, 2021
As the dust settles on the release of the recent IPCC report, and the truth that humans are unequivocally responsible for climate change has been confirmed beyond doubt, the focus of the mainstream media has started to wane. While newer headlines inevitably push the topic further down the page, as well as to the back of people’s minds, the effects of climate change continue to impact our everyday lives.
It is no longer just a topic of discussion. We are witnessing the impact first-hand. Stark reminders such as the first recorded rainfall on the peak of Greenland ice caps will appear more frequently. In the month of August alone, we witnessed record temperatures in the northern hemisphere along with unusually low temperatures in the global south. Floods hit 36 countries. This followed a record month of global flooding in July. The IPCC report it appears, serves only to confirm what we are all seeing in our everyday lives.
There is a sense that people are starting to recognise the emergency in climate emergency, and possibly, more organizations are too. With many brands now accepting responsibility, and reacting authentically, there is an opportunity to learn the from mistakes and successes around in the world around us.
Global brands and responsibility
To successfully tackle climate change, citizens have historically relied on governments to make the right decisions and implement the appropriate policies. Yet perhaps attention should focus more squarely on companies, many of whom have larger market caps than the GDP of the majority of countries. Not only do global corporates have an ability to reach customers on a global level, but labor costs, tax laws, and standards of regulation all provide many with a means to lessen costs and maximize profits. This regional fluidity also offers a certain level of power to the organization over local government through the threat of relocating jobs and investment, making it difficult to hold organizations to account. However, with a renewed sense of urgency bubbling in the general population, governments and companies alike may very well experience pressure to genuinely do their part in the fight against climate change.
Companies have been martialled by the steady increase in customer, and latterly shareholder, expectations over the last few years. Coupled with an understanding of their collective power, customers are demanding more from brands. Brands that recognize this shift in sentiment will benefit, while those that choose to ignore it will undoubtedly suffer the fallout.
Are changes in oil and gas genuine, or all just hot air?
There is no shortage of accusations of greenwashing and deflection towards brands in the energy sector. As an industry, oil and gas has a particularly bad rep, where any semblance of green initiatives is undermined by the obvious juxtaposition of fossil fuel extraction and production. Many will argue that the dependence on fossil fuels cannot end overnight. It’s a valid point, although the damage caused by fossil fuels has been understood for a long time. The real question, however, is how authentic are these changes?
The idea of a personal carbon footprint first came to prominence in the early 2000s and was promoted by many of the leading oil and gas majors. It was a successful strategy for deflecting attention away from the energy industry and back onto individuals. Although effective, initiatives like this ultimately serve to demonstrate to the public that profit is the highest priority, and any environmental initiatives are inauthentic. This paints the entire industry in a negative light, including the many brands that are making positive contributions to the fight against climate change.
Danish energy brand Ørsted has transformed its business, reducing its carbon emissions by 83% since 2006, and was named the most sustainable company in the world 2021. UK energy brand, Octopus Energy, has become the country’s fastest growing energy supplier, as well as one of the biggest investors in renewables in Europe. These investments are undoubtably resource-intensive for brands. While the temptation to continue with profit-rich fossil fuels is of course strong, as Ørsted and Octopus Energy realize, the opportunity that the climate emergency is providing to the energy industry is monumental.
Learning from the pharmaceutical industry and Covid-19
Like the energy industry, the pharmaceutical industry has struggled with a brand perception problem. Often seen as putting profit above people, particularly in the United States, the industry has struggled to find opportunities to celebrate positive press. However, with the devastating impact of Covid-19, the world looked to the pharma industry to develop much needed treatments and vaccines. This allowed the major pharma brands to demonstrate their true value to the world and shifted the public’s perception of the industry. Parallels can be drawn between Covid-19 and the climate emergency, with a similar opportunity presented to energy brands; take action, shift the narrative and demonstrate the central role energy companies can play in the fight against the climate crisis.
Leveraging brand to drive authenticity
Brand is a powerful aspect of your business. Leveraged authentically, it shapes how people view an organization. It is a catalyst to attract like-minded people and inspires movements towards a common good. However, brand is not a story we tell. It runs deeply through an organisation and is based on a core and simple truth.
When a brand like Ørsted expresses its carbon emission goals and climate change initiatives, it does so with authority. Its actions allow it to credibly join the conversation. Values and purpose based on a simple core truth are the foundation for an authentic brand. Not only can they be a differentiator, but also a driver of future success for energy brands with sincere ambitions to tackle the climate emergency, leading an industry and the world into a sustainable future.