Breaking through the Green Ceiling

By Joey Marquart

As we get a break from the heated partisan debate around the debt ceiling, the clean tech sector has a moment to recalibrate and sharpen focus on messages that will speak to a new era of US austerity. As reported in The Hill, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid will revive energy legislation when Congress returns in September, giving cleantech leaders an opportunity to better communicate and justify public sector support. The conversation will surely hinge on jobs (a top concern according to this Gallup poll) and innovation (an Obama growth strategy, evidenced by new programs like the Advanced Manufacturing Partnership).

Post-debt ceiling, cleantech firms must prove they are competitive in both, as described by Climate Progress today.

But delivering this proof is difficult without a good communications strategy. Cleantech firms need to package their novel technologies and achievements in a simple way that speaks to Wall Street and Main Street. This might seem to give short shrift to the R&D team, but consider the takeways from this new column in Nature Geoscience.  Journalists and scientists are not getting each other.

Reading this column through the prism of the clean energy sector, the onus is on us to communicate our technical and scientific achievements in a clear, compelling and succinct way. Journalists will never do justice to the complexities of any clean tech innovation – that’s not their job – so companies are forced to hone in on the key points. This means a reporter may call a CIGS developer a simple “solar company” or a lignocellolosic biofuels provider an “ethanol company.” Again – not their job to get in the weeds. Journalists are charged with finding that intersection between company story or innovation and the general public. You may feel uncomfortable letting go of detailed technical descriptions, but its crisp, consistent messages in clear language that will shine through for better coverage and to position the company as more competitive.

At the same time, companies must become less dependent upon journalists for telling their story. In this era of dwindling news rooms and shuttered newspapers, an integral piece of communications strategy is creating your own content for public consumption. Here are my favorite recent examples of corporate video (Solazyme – below), blogs (IBM), podcasts (A123 – client) and infographics (GE – client).

Amid so much change on the Hill, Wall Street and Main Street, cleantech firms have a new opportunity to explain their contributions to US economic growth. Let’s gear up for a busy Fall!