A broader PR palette now critical to move clean technology industry forward

Wind turbine - PR critical to move clean technology industry forwardClean technology investment was a major platform for Obama during his campaign.
He said, "My energy plan will put $150 billion over 10 years into establishing a green energy sector that will create up to 5 million new jobs over the next two decades."He promised to create a Clean Technologies Venture Capital Fund, hoping to invest $10 billion per year into this fund for five years. Obama also promised to double science and research funding for clean-energy projects, including those making use of biomass, solar and wind resources. This was such an encouraging vision for our industry.
But the encouraging news is that this wasn’t campaign rhetoric.
Yesterday, President Obama boldly acted on fuel efficiency and global warming. He urged passage of the $825 billion economic stimulus package in the House and Senate. Those bills include billions for investment in renewable energy, conservation and an improved electric grid. He said, “No single issue is as fundamental to our future as energy.”
There’s never been a more critical time for authentic, persuasive, pragmatic, inspired communications. But does “traditional PR” play within this unfolding drama? Are messaging, thought leadership and media relations the core PR elements needed to affect the necessary change?
 
No, certainly not.
 
The clean technology industry is a complex ecosystem that includes economics, politics and public policy. Clean technology companies must continually balance these considerations. The industry also has a vibrant moral dimension – a making the world a better place element – that adds legitimacy, scope, involvement and urgency.
 
In this dicey economic time, the clean technology industry needs even greater support from investors, public policy makers and the public itself to blossom. To achieve the progress President Obama envisions, we must think, plan and act holistically from a communications perspective as the clean tech industry develops and markets products and solutions that ultimately enable us to live cleaner, greener, better lives.
 
Thankfully, public relations now represents a much wider palette. It should – and must - embrace a variety of strategic areas including thought leadership, public advocacy, social media, crisis communications, ethnography, employee communications, corporate social responsibility, multi-cultural relations, healthcare, change management and financial communications.
 
To name a few.
 
Depending on the clean tech company, product/service, market segment and challenges faced, many of these communications ingredients must be thoughtfully weighed, integrated and acted upon, often in the same relative timeframe. Again and again and again.
 
Yes, these are complex, critical, consuming, highly charged challenges for communications professionals.
But what a historic moment to shape a societal/global movement that will continue to grow in urgency as tough times morph … into stable times … and better times.

Kamen segues into LED lighting

Photo by: John Brandon Miller - New York TimesInventor Dean Kamen has taken his three-acre island off the grid by retrofitting the buildings and grounds with LED lighting – some in dazzling colors – to cut power consumption in half. What power he does still need comes from wind and solar. The catch? It wasn’t cheap. Check out the details and the slide show. 

Photo credit: John Brandon Miller, The New York Times

Greenwashers versus mob rule

mob ruleAn interesting battle is being waged through social media channels between General Motors and electric vehicle (EV)enthusiasts, who believe GM’s recent embrace of hybrid cars is just another disingenuous attempt to greenwash its image. It’s a great example of how social media has not only given the little guy a voice against corporate interests, but how the little guy can now drown out the big guy, sometimes to a tyrannical extent.

The EVs cite as evidence the Sony Pictures documentary Who Killed The Electric Car? It chronicles a sinister collusion between auto makers, Big Oil and Big Brother to terminate the fledgling electric car industry before it could take hold. Beyond its theatrical and DVD release, the movie got even wider distribution as a viral video via YouTube, social networks and blogs. And it didn’t help GM's cause when general manager Bob Lutz was widely quoted throughout the blogosphere saying “Global warming is a total crock of sh*t.”
 
Conspiracy theories and impassioned rants soon followed on social nets and forums such as the Yahoo!Groups electric vehicle group. EV activists descended on auto shows, policy making events and GM press conferences. An EV movement was born.   
 
GM countered with social sites like gmnext, where people were encouraged to submit media and comments to help GM answer questions like “How can we best address global energy issues we’ll face for the next 100 years?”
 
Nice try. But the Rainforest Action Network, which called it “one of the biggest and most ambitious online corporate greenwashing campaigns,” quickly rallied its supporters to post photos and comments. GM was forced to kill “the conversation” on the site immediately.
 
The on-going debate has been fascinating. GM argues they can’t win with the EVs … that they’re investing billons developing the Chevy Volt by 2010. Yet skeptics say it’s red herring vaporware. The activists counter with the fact that GM built a perfectly good electric car a decade ago, so what’s the hold up?
 
I suspect the truth lies somewhere in the middle. I haven’t forgiven trusted GM since I bought my sh*t box Chevy Citation back in the 80s. Nor do I suffer well the tinfoil hat fringe of community activism. That’s what’s great about the web. Activists can help keep The Man honest, conspiracy theories can forment, and everyone has a voice. But is this always a good thing, or sometimes tyranny of the majority?

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