The power of brands to combat climate change

Tom Zara

No industry is more affected by the forces of change than energy. We are captivated by the daily headlines that trumpet the vast array of influences in the energy sphere in tones of both exasperation and inspiration. Change in the energy sector permeates every aspect of human endeavor inexorably linked to commerce and industries, which will retard or accelerate growth across all geographies.

Energy companies are called to take up the standard and lead the charge into a world in which their brands’ actions and messages will help the global marketplace to understand the profound impact of stakeholders’ behavior.

The Paris Climate Agreement is the most significant global acknowledgement that change is a universal mandate and innovation will be the engine that confronts and ultimately halts the CO2 assault on our planet. Never in human history could one collective assembly better represent a shared sense of accountability and responsibility to fix what mankind has been engineering since the dawn of the industrial age.

A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity;
an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.

—Sir Winston Churchill

Churchill’s optimism fuels the energy sector’s innovation agenda. Some recent energy statistics support the spirit and goals of the Paris Climate Agreement. According to the REN21 Renewables 2017 Global Status Report,

Renewable power set new records in 2016, with 161 gigawatts (GW) of capacity added globally.

Solar photovoltaic was the top performer, accounting for around 47% of total additions. Wind power represents 34% of renewable energy additions, and hydropower 15.5%.

The world now adds more renewable power capacity annually than it adds in net new capacity from all fossil fuels combined. The facts applaud the commitment to innovation and the drive to shift how and where energy is sourced and consumed.

The innovation surge is not contained in the manufacture of kilowatts (kW) alone. Energy conservation must counter the appetite for energy consumption. The growing investment and application of AI and IoT is a huge contribution. The pressing need for change, and innovation achieved through the vast accumulation of data and analytics, is accelerating the demand against excessive energy usage while improving the efficiency of man and machines. While energy consumption is most evident in industrial sectors, there is continued optimism and evidence of change in transportation and home use. In 2016, global passenger electronic vehicle (EV) sales reached an estimated 775,000 vehicles, and more than two million of the vehicles were on the world’s roads by year’s end. Meanwhile, popular smart-learning thermostats from Nest have saved a collective 14 billion kWh since introduced in 2011.

Nowhere is this commitment to change more evident than in the recent announcement by Royal Dutch Shell that it’s accelerating the move away from crude, aiming for 20% of its sales from fuel stations worldwide to come from recharging electric vehicles and low-carbon fuels by 2025. This move by a Best Global Brand sets a benchmark for others within—or connected to—the energy sector. Such clear and actionable objectives from powerful figures like Shell prove that brands can be a catalyst for change.

The current of change in the energy sector is tied to innovation that seeks to solve one of the greatest threats to global prosperity: climate change. The United States’ unwelcome decision to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement, joining Nicaragua and Syria, has not deterred the global community—or individual citizens and corporations in the US—or prompted abandonment of energy conservation commitments and the adoption of renewable and sustainable energy priorities. Energy brands have an obligation to support the global community and foster a collective sense of responsibility, shared with their consumers and organizations.

The tangible devastation of climate change—as witnessed in recent months by catastrophic storms in Bangladesh, Hong Kong, Houston, and the Caribbean, along with record-setting heat and droughts around the world—reminds us that we must be vigilant and inventive to find the means and measures to protect our environment and promote global prosperity. This is the clarion call to the energy sector, and the evidence is encouraging that the work continues and will that the work will never never end.

President, New York/San Francisco