Originally published on PSFK and Sustainablelifemedia
This week I was reminded again that a rather large component of the climate solution, massive reductions in current CO2 emissions (US is committing 80% by 2050 for instance) and a move to a low-carbon, sustainable economy, is mobilizing public through knowledge first, then belief and solutions. This is beyond ‘climate awareness’, which we now understand has reached a wide audience. I’ve said this already in my previous article referring to what John Grant describes as “Knowledge role” but I will say it again, I think here lies an important role for brands to take on issues and become a ‘champion’, and provide value-generating solutions to these issues. Actually it’s more than just knowledge: it’s knowledge and then empowerment through new markets. Maybe it’s asking too much for a brand to engage so vocally and actively in an important economic, environmental and political issue that will affect them and/or that they are affecting? And I mean REALLY engage – taking on communicating and translating this issue for consumers and presenting pathways for a brighter future.
But it could also be seen as an opportunity: educate your audience around specific issues (best related to the impact of your sector – water, energy, energy consumption, transportation etc.), present an alternative vision for the future, invest in it, create new markets by becoming part of the solution and then own the market. Climate change and the implications of the proposed Energy and Climate Bill is a case in point. The public and lawmakers need to greater understand the issues and implications of this on society, jobs and the new economy: for instance, the effects of climate change (the need to adapt to changing weather patterns, rising water levels and the impact on natural resources) and the failing economic paradigm of today (dependent on exporting production and importing fuel) on society if this bill and the proposals for the green economy are not met. AND, in contrast, the positive impact on jobs and prosperity, and a world leadership position of a country that fully embraces the carbon economy and invests in clean solutions.
What is clear is that climate change and some related environmental issues are very present at an awareness level in the public eye; what’s less clear to the public at large is exactly how to work with these issues, to transform local infrastructure and lifestyles, and to generate opportunity and value from this transition. The path forward for people is not yet clear, but could be. In the words of Bill Becker, a US policy advisor and head of the transition team task force: “There is a need to lead and to mobilize the public”. And he’s banging on what I’m banging on about, but who is going to do this mobilizing?
I got to listen in on a Climate Group webinar last week: “US Climate Policy: What to Expect in 2009”. They are definitely one force for mobilization. Their task is to communicate and demonstrate to the geographic centre of the country (those with both heavy coal and farm intensive industries and major economic concerns) that the carbon market can drive value and jobs for their regions, from ground-up, and to create a future for this country it must lead development of the new green economy, advance on China’s efforts and become energy independent. They’re doing this partly by showing where else in the world it has created value for workers on the ground, social innovation and GDP. This message needs to trickle down to the public, make-sense to them and show a vision of the future and solutions that are relevant to THEM (jobs, transport, prosperity and a secure future), in order for congressmen to put their reputation on the line and vote for the bill. At the moment the camp is split into two: “The Dingell Gang of 15”, from coal dependent states who oppose the current bill, and “Obama/Waxman”, virtually all of whom are from California or the East Coast pushing the bill. On the webinar a large global bank (name withheld) and Climate Group “Climate Champion” asked what role they could play in supporting the bill. The answer came back: helping to drive public support through engagement, thereby engaging lawmakers support for the bill. The conversation tailed off there.
This ‘engagement’ piece is exactly the opportunity I’m talking about. It’s not JUST a communication plan to convince people that heavy investment in renewable energy is good for the US economy and our environment that’s needed; it is educating communities about what the green economy means to their lives and their jobs in their State, and then supporting this with economic development and the transition to a low carbon economy. For instance, training programs and retooling for the clean tech boom, investing in and supporting a transition to new forms of transportation (combining private and public sector), creating programs and businesses for updating and insulating housing stock or developing new green builds, encouraging localization of food production and manufacturing through CSA programs or investment in the supply chain, improving network infrastructure and domestic energy consumption, as well to developing heavy clean technologies.
All of these creating new forms of wealth and jobs. All of these require capital investment, knowledge generation and new products/services to create new markets. I’m pretty sure there’s a role for brand investment, investment and communication in all of these opportunities, alongside the top-down Federal investment. Yes, some brands have taken-on chosen environmental/social issues aligned with their ideologies and competencies, or indeed have built their brand around issues. They are usually relatively small and already socially conscious brands and not the big players who are trying to find their position and role in a sustainable world. (Method has taken on toxicity in the home, Timberland environmental stewardship taken to the level of the packaging industry’s first ‘nutritional label’, Whole Foods on organic food production, Michael Pollan on real food and local food production, TapProject on bottled water etc.) How might a car company play a role in this transition and public engagement role I’m talking about? Could GM educate, train and retool car-makers and engineers to develop clean technologies? Could they build rail infrastructure and design cars and systems in partnership with IBM to build an integrated transport system? Would they educate communities around smart transportation use, efficient driving and new models of mobility – helping to secure money and generate new solutions? 25% of energy consumed in the developed world comes from land transport. Auto travel and carbon intense cars is not a viable solution for the future of transportation, nor does it represent a stable market and jobs for life. And the public, including those dependent on jobs in this sector, need to fully understand these implications and be presented with alternative visions of the future and jobs to supply these visions. Could Bank of America or HSBC and the Federal Government come together to develop small business loans and start-up funds to build green buildings, and lower mortgage rates to renovate housing stock? Could a bank and Home Depot come together to educate around green buildings economy, and provide seed investment or home loans to instigate this transition?
According to Ed Mazria, in a piece on Worldchanging, the energy bill will likely include a plan for making all buildings carbon neutral 2030. Mazria calls for a Two-Year-Nine-Million-Jobs Investment Plan to meet the requirement for green buildings. He proposes every federal dollar in, should be matched $2 private investment. I say here lies an opportunity to invest in and create significant value in a new economy big brands… Could IBM, Cisco or GE enter energy generation and domestic supply market, helping to inform the public that Renewable Electricity Standards (RES) part of the Energy and Climate Bill – requiring that utilities generate a certain amount of their energy from renewables, would actually lower energy bills overall, create jobs, reduce energy security issues, generate capital investment and an increase in low tax revenues in the longer term. How might GE help me, as an individual, generate some of my energy and supply to the grid to help provide some to meet the standard? Or, how can I easily invest in this new energy economy, as a citizen, and help fuel new jobs in this sector?