SmartPower is smart marketing

Wednesday, February 1, 2006

Hunter Lovins, President of Natural Capitalism (and former CEO of the Rocky Mountain Institute), met recently with a small gathering of energy consultants in Boulder, Colorado. An advantage of living in Colorado, aside from sunshine (300 days a year) and great skiing, is access to talent like Hunter and her colleagues, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Western Resource Advocates and Interwest Energy Alliance, among many others.

In Colorado, we have leading marketers of renewable energy credits (Renewable Choice Energy, Clean & Green, NativeWind). We are home to WhiteWave Foods (Silk and Horizon Organic) one of the nation’s top 25 green power purchasers. New Belgium Brewery in Ft. Collins is on the forefront of sustainable industrial practices (and even has on staff a Sustainability Goddess). In 2004, Colorado voters made history by passing the only voter-mandated renewable energy portfolio standard, overcoming opposition from utilities and coal companies.

Yet, progress toward the next industrial revolution is molasses-slow in Colorado, even with all of our talent and significant milestones…despite rosy reports of clean energy’s dawning over Red Rocks in the Rocky Mountain News. At the gathering at D’Napoli Ristorante, Hunter asked how many of us had read the article by Briton James Lovelock, an independent environmental scientist and Fellow of the Royal Society. (“The Earth is about to catch a morbid fever that may last as long as 100,000 years; each nation must find the best use of its resources to sustain civilisation for as long as they can.”) Hunter asked, what are you – you with expertise in energy – going to do about it?

Building public awareness is front and center for market transformation – a market in which, to quote from “Natural Capitalism,” “business and environmental interests increasingly overlap, in which businesses can better satisfy their customers’ needs, increase profits, and help solve environmental problems all at the same time.”

For cleantech products and services to gain traction, the public needs to know about them, to believe that they work, to know how and where to buy them – and how to finance them if necessary. Competitive pricing, favorable regulations and legislation matter, too, but public awareness, education and marketing are critical for the next industrial revolution to take hold.

“It’s here. It’s real. It’s working. Clean Energy. Let’s Make More.”

SmartPower based in Hartford, Connecticut, gets public awareness, education and marketing. It is a non-profit marketing campaign that promotes clean energy (their tagline: “leading the effort to market clean energy”). SmartPower used “innovative and traditional marketing techniques to identify and create effective messages that resonate with the general consumer, aiming to capture attention, create customers and cultivate a mainstream market for clean energy;” it conducted market research around messaging to find consistent nomenclature (such as “clean energy”), core messages, and branding with emotional hooks.

SmartPower collaborated with the Clean Energy States Alliance (CESA) on public education. “In 2003, as part of the Clean Energy States Alliance (CESA), several state clean energy funds joined resources to develop a public education approach to clean energy. These states (Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New Jersey and Pennsylvania) faced similar market issues: despite consistently reported research findings that showed consumer preference for clean energy over fossil fuels, even at higher prices, market activity failed to materialize. Clean energy has remained a low interest, low purchase commodity that has yet to penetrate at meaningful levels.”

Far from doom and gloom, SmartPower created insightful, uplifting material. Its advertising agency, Gardner Nelson & Partners out of New York City, first conducted focus groups with consumers, businesses and opinion leaders. Participants were asked to: 1) write an obituary for fossil fuels; 2) draw a picture of their clean energy world, name it and date it; 3) review concept ads that reflected a range of potential messaging themes; and 4) select those messages that most resonated.

Gardner Nelson’s findings can explain why people say they want clean energy, but don’t buy it: “Our focus group participants understood that clean energies such as solar and wind would possibly take [the place of fossil fuels], but these energies were described as ‘quirky’ and possibly not up to the task.”

To demonstrate clean energy’s viability, SmartPower produced dynamic tv, radio and outdoor advertising – as well as a streamlined website that provides resources for taking action (options, costs, suppliers). The organization also puts out a newsletter, “The Monthly Charge” to deliver news on clean energy adoption in the CESA. Businesses, faith-based institutions, governments, educational institutions and other organizations that purchase clean energy get their names listed on the website (that’s smart marketing to give recognition where it’s due).

SmartPower plans to expand its message nationwide….and we sure could use it in Colorado. Take a look, and spread the word.

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