Clean Communications for Clean-tech

12 years, 6 months ago

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Responsible corporate conduct and credible communications are closely interlinked when it comes to clean-tech companies. By Korinna Penndorf.



Clean-tech is a term that describes a vast field of companies, products and services focusing on technologies to keep the environmental footprint small. It is mostly associated with sustainable energy production and resource saving, ranging from renewable energies to green transportation and information technology.

Spurred on by wider concern for climate change, clean-tech has outgrown the grassroots movement. Now major investments have launched ‘clean-tech’ off the ground to becoming a mainstream economic sector. For a company, being clean-tech results in some very specific challenges for its communication.

The close link of an enterprise to a cause as complex as ‘being clean & green’, will obviously put it under pressure. There is a demand to live up to the expectations induced by this concern. The demand is not only valid for a company’s products but for the enterprise as a whole.

Furthermore, it comes with a multifaceted, informed and strongly involved stakeholder group. As someone responsible for communications, one has to ask: How clean are the products and the company truly? Which environmental impact does this technology or product really have? If I want to communicate ‘green’ issues, I have to make sure the company acts accordingly.

Careful alignment

It is an absolute necessity to carefully align actual sustainable conduct and respective communicative messaging, in order to avoid any speculations on possible ‘greenwashing’ including subsequent loss of image and trust with crucial stakeholders. To steer clear of the trap of greenwashing it will prove helpful to crosscheck messaging and corporate conduct with the so-called six sins of greenwashing: Hidden Trade-Off, No Proof, Vagueness, Irrelevance, Lesser of Two Evils and Fibbing, which were identified through a study on green-branded products by TerraChoice (TerraChoice Environmental Marketing Inc.: The “Six Sins of Greenwashing”, November 2007) last year.

Nevertheless, being green provides you with manifold opportunities to position your brand beyond the classical USPs of a product, into a wider accepted context of high significance. Clean-tech is en vogue! But the positive effects can be misleading. As much as being green might trigger branding opportunities, so do its risks challenge your strategic communication.

Both can affect your branding and your company performance significantly. The topic of environmental responsibility is deceptive as it helps to gain plus factors for your image, but it shouldn’t remain the single major distinguishing criteria in your positioning.

A move to the mainstream

Clean-tech is becoming mainstream because the issue of climate change has moved up the agenda. Environmental responsibility might be a strong key asset, but there has to be more to a successful communication proposal. Successful clean-tech companies manage to balance both of these aspects and in addition, they ensure not to rely on ‘being green’ alone, when it comes to their branding.

The green perspective on your company and products can provide you with a meaningful, even emotive frame for your corporate clean-tech story. Such a narrative communication tool is a powerful instrument no matter whether it is about gaining positive media coverage; increasing sales or to secure funding.

Storytelling techniques are an especially practical tool to reasonably and effectively link ‘clean & green’ with further USPs such as innovation capability. Innovation, for example, is a useful theme for clean-tech communication. It is at the core of any clean-tech company and decisive for the development of this branch as a whole. Other USPs should derive from the specific product.

Audience expectation

As a communication professional, especially when working in the clean-tech sphere, you are expected to communicate truthfully and transparently. Audiences even expect your own vision of a clean, industrialized world. Often you have to state your point clearly against industries and technologies with high carbon output. Therefore in-depth knowledge is needed, including insight on energy production, energy efficiency and the latest developments in science and policies affecting the environmental footprint.

Whether in the clean-tech community or towards the media and policy makers, a substantial standpoint in current discussions increases the share of voice of even small, emerging clean-tech companies with low PR budgets. It is necessary to build a sustainable network which integrates the multifaceted stakeholders of clean-tech companies mentioned before.

To this network should be carefully targeted your set of reliable ‘clean & green messages’ as well as showcases of respective corporate conduct such as commercial and CSR projects, plus corporate policy, for example on waste disposal or resource friendly production technologies reflecting green attitude, in order to build awareness and trust through credible and verifiable communication.

Growth challenges

In my role as communication professional at Odersun AG, a German thin-film solar company with a cutting-edge technology moving into global markets, I come across the particularities of clean-tech communication every day. Like most clean-tech companies we are a capital hungry technology start-up, facing challenges of growth, ongoing innovation and increasing competition in our markets.

Additionally, Odersun brings different clean technology sectors together, by developing and producing solar cells and modules not only for standard applications such as roof-mounted systems and power plants but its technology also provides solutions for the integration of solar, in buildings for example. This is where the clean-tech sectors of solar energy, green building and energy efficiency merge.

In the course of Odersun’s development it becomes more and more important to establish a distinct positioning of the company in the clean-tech market and beyond, taking the mentioned specifications into account. Odersun proves to be on a good way, as it was ranked number one clean-tech company in Europe by The Guardian and Library House this year.

Whatever you do in the emerging clean-tech sector, you can’t go without environmental responsibility and carefully coordinated messaging. In a nutshell: It is all about clean communication for clean-tech companies. The way to successful clean-tech communication means to live and skillfully ‘wrap the cause’ and then, to stamp the package with your brand.

 

 


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The Author

Korinna Penndorf

Korinna Penndorf, Corporate Communications, Odersun AG, Germany.

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