What happens when creatives and renewables collide?

By guest contributor Charlotte Webster

My message to The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA)

Last month I was invited to The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA)in Abu Dhabi. I joined a workshop on strengthening social acceptance and dispelling misconceptions about renewable energy, sharing experiences from the UK.

The three-day meeting gathered a coalition of over 40 advocates and experts from across the globe. The group included representatives from The American Council on Renewable Energy (ACORE), Masdar, Vestas, The Rocky Mountain Institute, WWF and Greenpeace International; all of us united in finding a solution to bringing clean power into the mainstream.
I’ll be producing a series of blogs on our learnings, kicking off with a summary of my presentation to the group ‘How to work together to improve social acceptance’.
The Challenge: Fossil Fuel Spend and Anti-Renewables Media
Worldwide, we are witnessing growing public support for renewable energy but a lack of political will and leadership.  We know the latter is key to breaking the status quo and barriers to entry. But, we also know that knowledge is power. Education and information, combined with public will, is the key to change.
Providing information alone is not enough. We face another challenge, our mainstream communications channels are broken.  Despite the democratisation of the media with the internet, there remains dominant traditional media through which we receive information. This mainstream media is in a battle to survive, increasingly reliant on maintaining relationships with those who spend on advertising.
As Mahatma Gandi said, “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.”
The fossil fuel industry is fighting hard, and the industry needs to step up its communications. The industry is creating myths, maintaining them and influencing the editorial sway of the media, spending more than $146 million on lobbying in 2011 in the US alone.
While individual reporters do, the ‘media’ does not support renewable energy. CCgroup’s 2012 study ‘How the media treats renewables’ found only 21% of UK broadsheet articles to be positive on renewables with only 10% containing a renewables spokesperson. This ‘disinformation campaign’ recently highlighted by Amory Lovins of the Rocky Mountain Institute.
What’s clear is that information and rebuttal is an important first step, but it’s now more important than ever to get creative.
The Opportunity for Renewables:  New media, creativity and networks
There is some good news. There are a number of new opportunities for the renewables community to be heard. First, social media has opened up vast number of channels to communicate our messages and earn engagement.
Cut through really depends on creativity, and the community’s ability to reframe arguments in a fresh, new and compelling way. But the even better news is that the creative community is broadly onside. An increasing number of designers, artists, writers and film makers are wanting to stand up against the status quo and use their skills to help promote a sustainable future. This talent pool is crucial to success and I fundamentally believe that only when technology and the arts merge that we see effective reframing and true transformational change. But if the industry is to succeed it must engage with this resource, welcoming this community on board with resource and information.
We only need look at the success of grassroots campaigns from 350.org, Fossil Free and Aavaz to see the power of connecting large numbers of people for social change. There is more support for the industry than ever, but the renewables community must join these dots in a way that meaningfully drives change. This involves organisation, partnerships, creativity and clear calls to action.
What’s next?
Workshop participants agreed to form a “coalition for action” to improve public support for renewable energy, building on IRENA’s broad convening power.
There will be more on IRENA over the coming months as the organisation looks to formalise its activities in early 2014. In the meantime, more information and presentations from the workshop can be found on the IRENA website.

In my next blog, I’ll share some of the key insights from the group and lessons from the ‘We Support Solar Campaign’, which drove social acceptance of solar power in the UK.

Charlotte is head of clean technology at CCgroup, having joined them in June 2012. Former PR Manager at Solarcentury, Charlotte has over eight years’ Clean Technology and sustainable business PR experience. Charlotte co-launched SolarAid, a charity that aims to replace kerosene lamps with solar alternatives in developing countries. She holds a BSc. in Geographical Sciences from the University of Bristol and has trained in PR, journalism and documentary production. 

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