RESEARCH STRATEGY GROUP has considerable expertise in giving clients clear, actionable, and powerful strategic insights to guide the development and launch of successful consumer and stakeholder sustainability campaigns.
Creating, maintaining, and enhancing perceptions of sustainability in the Power Industry is a complex and long-term undertaking. Several of the fuels used to generate electricity are finite and non-renewable. Nuclear electrical generation, while accepted by consumers, has significant underlying environmental challenges. A truly green energy position for any jurisdiction or market is highly dependent on increasing the share of electricity generated by hydro, solar, wind, and other sustainable sources.
Recently a regional electric utility retained RESEARCH STRATEGY GROUP to benchmark and better understand perceptions of customers and stakeholders as they related to the sustainability of the utility’s operations.
We designed a custom two-phase approach to addressing the client objectives. The first involved undertaking a secondary research review of industry resources and articles to better understand the current issues around sustainable electricity production and help frame our research objectives. At a high level we reviewed key sources of information on the global efforts underway to achieve a state of zero net emissions in electricity production by 2050. We also reviewed the client’s current sustainability messaging efforts, and commitment to a more sustainable future.
The second phase of the research program involved qualitative research with two target groups. The first was a sample of current electricity customers and area residents. We recruited 28 individuals to participate in a 4-day ethnographic discussion platform. Over the course of the four days the moderator progressed though a set sequence of questions and respondent exercises. We incorporated structured psychoanalytics exercises to uncover deep and unconscious beliefs and motivations related to sustainability. We also incorporated behavioural science observation to help illuminate cognitive biases that could be underpinning attitudes and behavior. Defining these biases allowed us to make recommendations on nudge messaging that would circumvent important biases.
Research objectives for ethnographic observation centred on:
- Benchmarking the current perceptions of the utility
- Assessing awareness of existing sustainability efforts
- Outlining the space within which the client could talk credibly about sustainability
- Identifying the themes that would be most likely to influence attitudes and behaviour
The results of the ethnographic community resulted in new learning and specific recommendations for improving the client’s sustainability position amongst customers and area residents.
In general, there is only a moderate understanding of the role and business of the utility. While there are some negative legacy issues, the utility is free to further develop a positive brand identity with consumers. Sustainability represents a critical area of opportunity. The results of the online community provided the client with a clear sense of the visual cues and messaging themes that would be most likely to create positive impressions. A significant opportunity was uncovered to become a champion of decarbonization for residential and commercial markets, with a clear brand positioning focused on being a leader on sustainability.
The second research target was a selected sample of utility stakeholders. Seventeen one-hour in-depth interviews were conducted via video conference. The discussion covered four main areas:
- Benchmarking their opinions on sustainability and energy production
- Current relationship with the utility
- Reactions to the sustainability priorities currently established by the utility
- Reaction to specific examples of sustainability communications
The results of our investigation confirmed a few vital points and provided clear guidance on where the utility sits now and what priorities would help create effective messaging. For customers and residents, it was clear that the notion of sustainability had both economic and environmental components. Among stakeholders, creation of green energy jobs, provision of adequate government support and supporting local businesses are all seen as important components of sustainability. On the environmental side, it was seen as important that we preserve our finite natural resources and strongly promote the development of green energy solutions such as solar PV, wind and hydroelectric. It was clear from the research that investors will exert notable pressure on the utility to continue its efforts in the area of sustainability. Very specific recommendations were articulated around how to best communicate with stakeholders about sustainability.
Several cognitive biases were indicated that have implications for sustainability communications. Due to the complex nature of sustainability issues, communications must be clear and simple and use consumer friendly language. They should incorporate the notion of reciprocity or “giving back”. They should rely on simple concepts that are already well understood by consumers. Finally, to position itself for the future, the utility must stand out from the crowd and position itself as a leader. Customers and stakeholders alike see the utility as capable of taking positive steps in this direction. Overall, the results of the research provided concrete positive learning that is acting as a guide/roadmap to position the utility for success as a credible leader in sustainability.