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Uncertainty is Opportunity: Engage with Purpose

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President Obama revealed his climate change plan for the nation this week. It clearly indicated his lack of confidence in Congress to move any climate change initiatives forward, noting that his plan to reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions does not require Congressional approval. The President knows that trust in government is low – and considering that his speech coincided with a number of major Supreme Court decisions as well as his significant trip to Africa – you may wonder how much of an effect his plan really had. Timing notwithstanding, it will be a very long time, perhaps years, before plans become laws, if they do at all.

What does this uncertainty mean for energy stakeholders, especially those included in the plan for better or worse? It’s a long-term opportunity to earn your license to lead by building trust in your organization. Trust allows you to take action in the future — and you’ll no doubt need to during an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) comment period or a lawsuit resulting from government action per the climate plan. If stakeholders grant trust to organizations, they open the door for leadership.  So, how do you get there?

  • Energy companies, such as those in the power plant industry, are trusted most when they have a clearly identifiable and articulated purpose — especially with respect to the environment. Organizations that provide and promote technologies and services for monitoring and reducing greenhouse gas emissions have a deeper remit to “protect the health of our children,” as Obama said, but also to better communicate the regulatory and business objectives their solutions will provide to power plant customers. Even a company licensing smokestack scrubbers should be claiming their purpose. Moreover, their solutions should be inclusive: it is exponentially more credible to consider stakeholder feedback in crafting your solution to an energy problem than it is to work in a silo. Engagement is key.
  • Energy efficiency organizations certainly feed into this purpose — they are expected to help remove three billion tons of carbon by 2030, but they must consider another key trust driver of energy companies — innovation. Smart thermostats, meters, LED lighting and other efficiency drivers face their own challenge of demonstrating their massive importance to squeezing carbon out of our lives, and this will hinge on their innovation stories. Efficiency is difficult to see, however, and visualizing this content is key. Sleek product design, mobile device compatibility and gamification are all key innovations coming out of efficiency companies that, when better communicated, will build trust in the sector’s President-appointed role in the new energy economy.
  • Renewable energy companies have a more nuanced position resulting from this plan. Their purpose must be balanced between providing clean affordable power with ensuring local communities and their lands are sensitively considered. The direction for the Department of the Interior (DOI) to open enough federal land to power six million homes and to install 100MW on federally assisted housing, both by 2020, reflects the increasing need for renewable organizations to express their purpose in society as clean power that serves the masses, honors the local citizen and respects the land. It’s all part of the pivot from distributed renewables to big clean power. Community partnerships will be a very important trust factor for this sector, whose license to lead is still at an arm’s length.

Take this time to build trust. Continue to do some of the things you’ve always done, but you also must transform. Engage. Act with purpose and integrity. Innovate. And most of all, communicate.

Amy Hemingway is global Energy lead for Edelman based in Washington, D.C. and Joey Marquart is global Clean Tech lead based in Silicon Valley. 

Learn more about Trust in Energy.

Image by Senior Airman Brian Ybarbo, USAF.
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