The Rising Significance of the Sustainable Energy Brand
2015 was the target year for achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and the launch of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Energy is a dominant contributor to climate change, accounting for around 60 per cent of total global greenhouse gas emissions. The UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is leading the ’Sustainable Energy for All’ initiative to ensure universal access to modern energy services, improve efficiency and increase use of renewable sources.
The SDGs goal number seven is to ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all by, among others, facilitating access to clean energy research and technology, including renewable energy, energy efficiency and advanced and cleaner fossil-fuel technology and promoting investment in energy infrastructure and clean energy technology.
In the backdrop of last year’s COP 21 UN climate change conference in Paris, billionaires Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Richard Branson and other high-profile entrepreneurs pledged to spark a “new economic revolution” based around clean energy after launching a new investment drive for renewable energy.
The Breakthrough Energy Coalition, made up of more than 25 investors from 10 countries, will mainly invest in early-stage clean energy companies across a range of sectors, such as electricity generation and storage, transportation and agriculture. The initiative has been announced in conjunction with Mission Innovation – an effort from 21 governments, including the US, Britain, Australia, Germany, China and Brazil, to double the amount of public money going into clean energy innovation. It is expected that this will bolster governmental assistance in renewable energy such as solar to wind energy to $20bn (Kes. 2trn).
The Breakthrough Energy Coalition includes Reid Hoffman, founder of LinkedIn, who at the coalition’s launch said, “Efforts to transform energy sources have struggled because they require collaboration between private and public sectors. The swords that cut this Gordian knot are breakthrough technologies built and deployed by entrepreneurial companies with global scope”.
One local company with a global scope is Ariya. The Ariya Capital Group is an experienced fund manager that develops, structures, invests, and manages clean energy and infrastructure projects throughout sub-Saharan Africa. Ariya has partnered with African Solar Designs (ASD), another Kenya-based renewable and rural energy company, and Windfire, a UK-based renewable energy company that provides medium-scale Vertical Axis Wind Turbine solutions to provide end-to-end cost-effective, low-risk renewable energy generation and energy efficiency services to local flower and horticulture farms in Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania. Ariya and ASD are among many other companies that are making the renewable energy sector in Kenya the most active in Africa. According to Wikipedia, investment in renewable energy in Kenya has grown from virtually zero in 2009 to over US$1.3 billion across technologies such as wind, geothermal, small-scale hydro and biofuels. Ranked eighth in the world, Kenya is Africa’s first geothermal power producer with only one other African country producing geothermal power being Ethiopia. In 2011, Kenya was also the first country in Africa to open a carbon exchange. It is clear that the renewable energy sector is experiencing significant and sustained growth that few industries in our economy have undergone. With an expected increase in the demand for renewable energy, businesses will need help finding information on how renewable energy can reduce their energy consumption and minimize their bills. Sustainability marketing and brand development have a vital role to play in achieving this.
Big oil companies like Shell and Exxon Mobil have spent billions on their brands over the years. However all is not smooth sailing for the fossil fuel producers.
In February 2016, BP announced that it is to axe 7,000 jobs after reporting an annual loss of $6.5bn (Kes. 650bn), the worst in its history. Bob Dudley, BP’s chief executive, blamed the annual loss on the collapse in oil prices, coupled with the continuing fallout from paying off liabilities for the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. The company recently agreed a final settlement of $20.8bn (Kes. 2.8trn) with US authorities over the damage caused by the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The settlement – the biggest pollution penalty in US history – was reached after a federal court found the company guilty of gross negligence. While the jury is still out on whether the Deepwater Horizon spill had a lasting effect on BP’s public image, the outcome of the settlement and the subsequent effect on BP’s financial performance definitely present a case for sustainability marketing.
The most successful brands of the future will be those that create the most positive change for people, their communities and the environment. Companies need to create and facilitate the processes needed to put brand substance thinking into practice across the entire business. Since what you get is about what you give, the more positive change your brand creates in people’s lives, the more they will reward you for it. The starting point is to understand how and where value is being created today and identify the biggest opportunities for future growth. Increased competition in the renewable resources market makes it critical for companies in this sector to develop a unique positive contribution for their brands rather than the traditional unique selling proposition. It is time for renewable energy companies to adapt the sustainability mantra, “Think Globally and Act Locally” when it comes to developing their brands.