Public Relations

Renewable Energy Communications Programs: How to Create Yours

By Starr Million Baker

The Business Council for Sustainable Energy’s 2017 Factbook is out, and the numbers are good. In this country, renewable energy continues on a tremendous growth path, with deployment hitting record levels in 2016. Wind and solar costs continue to fall, making renewables one of the most cost-effective sources of energy in many states.

While the numbers continue on a positive trajectory, every stakeholder in the renewable energy ecosystem knows that’s not a given. Particularly with a new administration in the White House and questions about the future of the EPA under Scott Pruitt. All companies hoping to be successful in this ever-changing industry must be cognizant of building strong relationships with a wide variety of internal and external stakeholders. Smart, multi-faceted programs are key for renewable energy communications.

To survive and thrive in this mercurial environment, consider these five areas when planning your communications strategy:

1. Local and Regional

Even though the industry continues to grow, utility-scale renewable energy projects are still relatively new in some areas of the country. A “what’s in it for me” attitude can be prevalent in local rural communities. Communications programs should always include a transparent strategy that taps into the local mindset, via community participation (events, schools, meetings) as well as local media relations.

2. National

Legislation of renewable energy policy in the U.S. is always volatile, with no exception under the new Trump administration. And volatility is not a concept financial markets willingly embrace. Public relations efforts on the national front should include a high level of policy understanding both as it pertains to building and financing projects, and willingness to take a vocal position, be it as an educational resource to media, via owned content on one’s own website, or in an effort to lobby influencers in DC.

3. Global

Too many companies prioritize local and national efforts in their communications strategies and ignore the bigger picture. Yes, renewable energy is smart for the economy in that it creates new jobs and can lower our dependence on foreign oil. But here’s the deal: climate change and the threat posed to the environment are scientific facts. And renewable energy has a significant role to play in how we tackle the challenges this very real problem brings. It doesn’t have to be the biggest part of your story, but how your technology positively affects the Earth is certainly a valid part of your story and should be shared.

4. Crisis

Renewable energy communicators must be prepared for crisis. What constitutes a crisis? Lawsuits, fires, tornadoes, loss of life, construction and technology failures, permitting issues, NIMBYs, protected ground issues, noise, legislative changes…the list goes on. And while knowing what you might say and to which media outlet is great, what we’ve found is that the holes in the plan lie in who didn’t get the word. Whether that’s the local community or policy and lawmakers. Where are the holes in your plan?

5. Brand

Communicating that yours is a trustworthy brand is paramount in this space. Don’t overlook how critical it is that for people to listen to you, they must trust you. Trust is built in a multitude of ways, but consistency in communication is key, and in-person touches (events, meetings, opening of your doors) don’t hurt either.

All companies, large and small, in the renewable energy industry run into the same challenges communicating their value to investors, community partners, environmentalists, naysayers, legislators, and consumers. For the last decade, INK has worked to mitigate these communication challenges and tell the renewable energy story. We are passionate in our belief that the world is a better place with renewable energy in it, and we work with massive enterprises and brand new start-ups, in wind, solar, biofuels, hydro, and geothermal, to help ensure they continue to make a difference.

We’ll be digging into each of these areas in future blog posts. Check back for more information on how you can build the strongest renewable energy communications plan possible.