There’s high trust in clean power despite the negative headlines

I just read a statistic that jolted me out of my cleantech hangover. Despite low cleantech VC funding, the limelight-hogging shale boom, and an avalanche of anti-cleantech advertising during the 2012 U.S. election, renewable energy enjoys a notable trust premium over other forms of energy.
In new data provided by the Edelman Trust Barometer survey of 31,000 global respondents, 68 percent of respondents trust the “renewables” business to do the right thing, as compared with 58 percent for natural gas, 53 percent for utilities and 49 percent for oil (see image below).
Trust in Renewables
That’s a license to lead, folks. Despite significant perceptual headwinds, renewables emerge with a 10 point lead over its nearest energy competitor. As a marketer, I’m reminded of why I originally found this sector so energizing and inspiring during the cleantech boom of 2007-2008.
Note the high trust in places like China and India. Not surprising, considering the clear messages sent by those governments about cleantech deployment, and the ability of those nations to leapfrog traditional energy systems to meet electricity demand for growing middle classes. Both countries boast cleantech leaders like Hanwha Solar, Suzlon and Tata.
Note the low numbers for Japan (66 percent) and Germany (63 percent). These are consistent with both countries’ lower trust in business and energy.
The German numbers shocked me the first time I saw them. But for this country, renewables have graduated to the “big energy” establishment, which I expect engenders less trust than the sheen of new technologies in emerging markets.
For Japan, trust in the entire energy industry is lower than other countries post-Fukushima, but renewables are trusted most within the Japanese energy sector.
Broadening focus to the entire energy industry, this data corroborates another trend: so-called “purpose-driven” energy innovators enjoy a trust premium over other energy professionals. This not just a cleantech thing, it’s an advanced energy thing. This is for two reasons:
When asked to rank attributes that shape trust in a company, respondents ranked “purpose” – protecting the environment, partnering with NGOs – as most important, and being an “innovator of new products” close behind (see image below and note the orange and purple attributes that respondents rank as more important for the energy industry as compared with general business).
Clearly, energy companies can earn more credibility by better communicating real global citizenship and helpful innovation.
Trust Attributes
On the flipside, communicating about the success of business “operations” (dark blue) was valued only as table stakes for being an energy company, not as a major trust-builder. I would argue this is true if we’re talking about large companies, but I think the opposite is true for advanced energy start-ups where the onus is much higher to prove operational success.
The data also shows how technology is trusted more than energy. In my opinion, the marriage of technology and energy is a net gain for energy company trust building. See the image below, which depicts how much higher technology is trusted than energy (78 percent vs. 67 percent). I interpret this as further proof that innovation gives the energy industry license to lead.
This is reflected in the strong Silver Spring IPO on Wednesday. Silver Spring is an innovative energy IT company, not just an energy company. Energy IT is a highly credible sector populated by other promising companies like OPOWER and FirstFuel, and a primary focus for venture capitalist still focused on cleantech. The public trust data corroborates the investor enthusiasm.
Trust in Tech vs Energy
Would you like more data on trust in the energy industry? Don’t hesitate to contact me at [email protected].
Joey Marquart is the global cleantech sector lead for Edelman, the PR firm. He is based in Silicon Valley and oversees communications programs for solar, bio, EV, materials and smart grid companies.