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The power of energy brands to build a brighter future

Tom Zara
April 22, 2016 marks the historic moment when 174 countries assembled at the United Nations to formally ratify the Cop 21 agreement, addressing the health and well-being of the planet Earth.

The energy industry, which represents six of the 10 largest corporations in the world, now has a significant contribution to make in service of future generations to come. For those in the energy sector, this is not just a challenge, but an opportunity to grow in the right direction and to evolve the entire industry.

Where we are

As we examine the energy category as a whole, we are forced to consider a long-standing web of often-conflicting priorities, irrational arguments that are unsupported by science and logic, geopolitical biases that impede progress, deep-rooted beliefs that obscure decisive action, and public opinion that fuels unresolved debates.

The industry’s tumult has only slightly abated over the past decade. The glimmer of rational hope lies in the very public demonstration that supports the Cop 21 agreement. Legacy of brands and leadership will determine the resolve of their commitments and ability to provide positive contributions to the well-being of mankind. In no industry segment is the weight of action and responsibility more acute than in energy. Powerful brands can effect powerful change.

Today, the facts and figures of energy consumption are steadily moving in the right direction. A reduced dependency on fossil fuels and a growing adoption of renewable alternatives indicates a favorable trend away from harmful contributions to climate change to a more sustainable energy future. However, while positive headlines are more prevalent, the declaration of success is hardly appropriate.

Where we need to go

The energy titans, defined by the global stage of energy exploration, refinement, and distribution, have started to embrace their shared responsibility to influence the character and environment of our world for generations to come. The level of investment and public visibility of brand-led messages in support of sustainability are evident in both paid media as well as social and earned media. Gazprom, Royal Dutch Shell, Exxon Mobil, Chevron, BP, PetroChina, Petrobras, and Total top the list of oil and gas titans who bear the lion’s share of the responsibility of shaping the dialogue that will influence the regulatory, political, economic, and investment actions that will define success. Each of these actors in the energy sector has accepted varying degrees of accountability and responsibility to support sustainable energy objectives. Campaigns by BP, Shell, and Exxon Mobil represent a prevalent narrative around innovation and investment in cleaner energy, renewable energy, increased access, and lower costs of energy alternatives. This is to be applauded.

However, the underleveraged asset of the industry continues to be the power of their brands. These high profile companies can build a sustainable vision into their brands—to alter the course we are on in order to steer towards a new horizon, defined by a global energy behavior that rectifies the ills of the past and adopts a worldview that creates new opportunities, new solutions, and a new sense of optimism about the security and democratization of energy. A powerful brand builds a powerful change.

It is no longer sufficient to broadcast well-intended, well-documented, and well-articulated support for corporate responsibility and accountability as players in the energy sector. The key to real, sustained change is to create a sense of urgency and a shared vision that both invites and galvanizes all constituents of energy consumption.

The collective growth opportunity

Growth is the goal of any organization, and in the energy sector, growth is tempered by natural demand. According to UNICEF, over 130 million new lives join the human tribe each year, lives which will rely on safe, reliable, and affordable energy. The demand is undeniable. But the countervailing forces of reduction create unique challenges. The volatility of pricing, the environmental impact of fossil fuels, the consequences of climate change, the controversy surrounding natural gas and fracking, the economic value proposition associated with renewable energy alternatives, and the lack of regulation and policy are all forces that impede growth or, at minimum, confuse the debate around growth. In this context, brands must confront and resolve these tensions.

All energy players have a collective opportunity and responsibility to activate their brands, their employees, and their customers to change their behavior in support of a common goal. This includes oil and gas, coal, solar, hydro, nuclear, wind, kinetic, and their partners; as well as distribution, utilities, petrochemicals, transportation, and manufacturing. In all cases, the business is the brand proposition, and if change is embedded into the brand, then there is significant hope for growth. It is at this moment in our lives when every brand that has built trust with its constituents must examine the power of its brand to measurably effect change. These core tenets of a brand and dimensions of success are as follows:

  • Are we clear in our commitment to responsible energy practices?
  • Are we persuasive in the messages we create to embrace change?
  • Is the brand demonstrating tangible evidence of change?
  • Are employees active in advocating change inside and outside of the organization?
  • Is the consumer/customer a partner in behavioral change?
  • Have we created a movement of responsible energy consumption?

It is the urgency of two degrees Celsius, the fate of seven billion inhabitants, and the legacy of energy brands that hangs in the balance. Energy and climate change are irrevocably linked to the problem and to the solution as defined by the global scientific debate surrounding the future state of our blue planet. The legacy of these corporate titans rests on their commitment to stem growth that is harmful and pursue new avenues of growth, which are beneficial to mankind.

What’s to come

Growth is multidimensional, it can mean many things, and in this case, it’s not just in boosting bottom lines, but effecting real change—internally, in the industry, in people’s lives, and the world at large. Energy brands must become the beacons for change and the stewards of prosperity. These brands will be the heroes of the future, shedding the heritage of the past and lauding the merits of a collective will to shape a better future. This is the ambition of all brands, and, appropriately, the energy sector has the greatest opportunity to shine as the flag bearers of responsibility, for others to celebrate and emulate.

President, New York/San Francisco
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