Communicating low-carbon business: battling buzzwords and scepticism


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For businesses in the low-carbon sector, how is it possible to convince customers that sustainability and business growth are inexorably linked?

The prolonged economic downturn has radically changed the landscape of business, and it has perhaps hit suppliers and manufacturers of low-carbon products hardest of all. Reducing carbon emissions has taken a backseat to simply staying in business. What’s more, it feels like ‘green’ is fast becoming just another buzzword: a survey by the business advisory body, the Carbon Trust, reports that just 7% of the British public believes carbon-reduction claims made by companies.

Battling this growing scepticism is one of the greatest challenges facing low-carbon and green-tech businesses. It can be particularly frustrating, since the irrefutable reality is that improving energy efficiency in line with sustainable goals remains one of the simplest ways for businesses to reduce their bottom line costs. Defra research shows that UK businesses could save £4billion a year through improved energy efficiency, and they could save a further £18 billion per year by using raw materials more efficiently.

“The good news is that many organisations are still open to making energy-efficiency upgrades, investing in micro-renewables, being resource-efficient and seeking out new ways to cut carbon,” comments Joanna Watchman, Managing Director of Content Communications. “However, the priorities of business directors have changed. The days of benevolent Corporate Responsibility are gone – now it’s all about return-on-investment; meeting targets; and adhering to legislation. The companies that understand the new priorities of this new economy are the ones that will prosper.”

New economy, new priorities

One of the most pronounced consequences of the economic downturn is the shift in emphasis from new-build construction to refurbishment. Buildings dating back 25, 50, 100 or more years are still in use and, what’s more, they’re set to stay in use. These inefficient, energy-wasting buildings are a key contributor to UK CO2 emissions. However, for the low-carbon sector, they also represent an immense opportunity. Transforming these sources of energy waste, through retrofit upgrades, has become a lucrative response to the ‘make do and mend’ economy.

“In this economic climate, companies have become extremely risk-averse,” says Joanna Watchman. “They want any energy-efficiency upgrades to be easily retrofit-installed, non-disruptive to staff, and achieve rapid payback. For these reasons, the retrofit low-carbon market has blossomed over the last few years. Whereas in the past, our green-tech clients might have led on their environmental credentials, now they brand their low-carbon equipment as a low-risk investment that can reap tangible financial savings through lower energy consumption.”

Case study: Energys

Energys Group – a long-time Content Communications client – is the model of a low-carbon specialist that has undergone incredible growth, despite the recession. Energys offers business, industry and the public sector cost-effective, retrofit-installed upgrades: energy-efficient lighting converters, boiler controls, power optimisation and more. Energys’s runaway success is exemplified by its award-winning ‘Save It Easy®’ lighting product, which has been installed at RNAS Yeovilton, Alder Hey Children’s Hospital, Trinity College and Debenhams, among others.

“It is important for Energys to position itself as a company that understands the low-carbon sector and the state of the market,” comments Energys Chairman, Richard Stirrup. “The Content Communications team was able to use their sector expertise to craft intelligent, on-message articles, and place them in specialist trade magazines. By targeting the right people, and using the right sort of ‘pitch’, Content Coms has given us a strong – and widely listened to – voice in the market.”

Knowing your stuff, gaining competitive edge

Another barrier facing the low-carbon sector is the perception that it is more complicated than most, due to complex legislation and changing funding streams. “Take the Carbon Reduction Commitment, for example,” comments Joanna Watchman. “It directly affects approximately 5,000 organisations – and indirectly affects many more – but it’s such a dense and complicated piece of legislation that few companies fully understand it.”

“Yet the fact remains that anybody marketing energy-related products or services has a stake in the CRC. The same is true for every similar low-carbon initiative or piece of regulation,” she adds. “It’s not just the MD who needs to know what’s going on. Sales teams need to be fully briefed so that they can knowledgeably advise customers. Company strategists need to know how they can use sector developments to competitive advantage.”

Case study: GE Lighting

For GE Consumer & Industrial Lighting, one of the world’s largest suppliers of energy-efficient lighting, it was vital that its sales and marketing teams stayed sharp on energy issues and market drivers. Yet providing them with a sheaf of dry legislative material would obviously be counter-productive. Instead, GE Lighting enlisted Content Communications on a project basis to compile more than 25 bespoke, one- or two-page briefing documents on government initiatives, legislation and funding schemes relating to energy-efficiency and green building.

“When compiling briefing sheets for GE Lighting’s sales teams, it was important to present the information in a manner that wouldn’t bog them down with too much technical detail,” comments Joanna Watchman. “The briefings summarised each topic’s key points in easy-to-understand language, while including specific information on how the topic relates to GE Lighting and the lighting sector.”

The result? The sales and marketing teams could feel confident advising customers on energy issues, and use their newfound sector knowledge to gain competitive edge. “Content Coms’ incisive market intelligence briefings keep our sales teams informed on critical market drivers,” says Steven Reed, Marketing Manager at GE Lighting.

Key messages, multiple platforms

As customers have grown more discerning – or, perhaps, simply more sceptical – the traditional hard sell of marketing has become less relevant. Generic ‘copy-and-paste’ press releases don’t cut it any more. These days, marketing is about knowing your sector, knowing your customers’ priorities, and demonstrating frankly that your product is right for them. And there are more ways of communicating with your customer base than ever before.

“Sending out one press release is unlikely to get your message across,” comments Joanna Watchman. “There are now so many ways to access information that a multi-pronged approach is necessary to ensure you catch every potential sales lead. E-newsletters; web video; social networking; technical White Papers – these might seem like wildly different mediums, but they all share a common characteristic. They’re about getting across your words; communicating your core messages.”

Case study: Priva

Content Communications has aided Priva, the market leader in indoor climate management technology and water recirculation for buildings and greenhouses, in communicating its key messages of sustainability and energy-efficiency across a range of platforms. As well as undertaking traditional PR activities for Priva, the Content Coms team also assisted Priva in editing its brochures and web text for the UK market. Additionally, the team sends out quarterly e-newsletters to Priva’s partner organisations and maintains the Priva UK Twitter account.

“Content Coms understands Priva’s business ethos and USP – what makes us different and relevant to the low-carbon sector,” comments Anders Noren, Priva’s UK Managing Director. “Press releases still form a part of our marketing, but Content Coms also reiterates those messages in many more ways, weaving them into issue-based articles, technical brochures, web copy, and even 140-character tweets. As a result, we’re able to communicate with different audiences on different levels.”

Recently, Priva even swept the board at a major trade association awards night. As a result of entries crafted by Content Communications, which pinpointed Priva’s key achievements, Priva and its Partner companies and employees picked up award wins in three of the four categories entered.

“The days of traditional marketing are behind us,” says Joanna Watchman, “and this is definitely a good thing, because it opens up endless possibilities for exposure.”