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ENERGY EFFICIENCY AND COMMUNICATION: Is the Return Worth the Engagement?

In energy efficiency, the good news is that communication helps achieve goals – both in business and with the citizens around the world. Firms ranging from Pew Center to Verdantix document that sharing information engages. That engagement, in turn, motivates action. The bad news is that there isn’t enough communication, not in the private sector and not in campaigns, targeted at the public.

In a survey about energy efficiency in business, Pew Center found that 89 percent of companies rated as having the best practices in energy efficiency established formal programs for employee engagement. One kind ties energy performance to compensation and annual reviews. Of course, that can’t miss getting attention and shaping behavior. The other kind is informational. The outreach includes:

  • Newsletters, emails, flyers
  • Training and development
  • Intranets and websites
  • Surveys
  • Campaigns and contests

Both kinds of efforts are most effective when led by company efficiency champions who “own” that energy initiative. This is analogous to champions for rollouts of new products and services. They provide the leadership and enthusiasm. In energy, the ideal champions are chief executive officers, senior managers, and facility heads.

In nations, ranging from Cuba and Chile to Russia and the United States, public awareness does significantly increase when communication campaigns are run. The best share these features:

  • Target audience is clearly defined
  • Information is tailored
  • The government program has partners from all sectors
  • High-cost traditional media is mixed with lower-cost social media
  • There is continual repetition as well as immediate course correction.

Successes include the U.S. Driver $marter campaign. This is what environmental firm Motiva Services Oy describes in 11 case studies of government communications packages for energy efficiency.

As for not enough communications, there are lots of reasons or excuses why this happens throughout corporate America. At the top of the list, in these global recessionary times, is the tried and true “not enough money.” That is exactly why there is more communication in the OECD nations than in emerging nations and some parts of Eastern Europe. However, innovative and persistent leveraging of web and mobile media overcomes that expense argument. The use of those is growing quickly in developing economies.

Another major reason for a communication gap, explains Verdantix, is fear. That fear comes in two flavors.

One is that any outreach, externally as well as internally, will be derided as “greenwashing” or pushing for publicity. Yet, a communication blackout results in being ignored by sustainability raters such as Newsweek, Climate Counts.org, and Greenpeace.

The second type is the angst of having a company’s green shortcomings made public. Yet, companies smart about public relations are turning this into a plus. Starbucks, for example, has a section in its “Goals & Progress Report on recycling” labeled “Needs Improvement.”  With interactive communications such as Facebook, Twitter, blogs, YouTube, and Google+, consumers, environmental activists, and scientists can be invited to co-create solutions. For years, companies have been doing just that with their products, services, and even commercials. Now they can add on energy efficiency.

The first step in energy efficiency, be it in a company or village in China, is knowing how much energy is being consumed. Tools for monitoring that and creating solutions to eliminate waste are now easy-to-use and affordable. There’s no getting off the hook on getting started.