PR & thought leadership, strategy

Message to cleantech companies: Don’t give up on Washington

Carolyn McMaster | October 12, 2017

photo: Jomar Thomas/Unsplash

“I hope you won’t give up on Washington.”

That heartfelt plea came from U.S. Rep. Jared Huffman (D-California), during a panel on business advocacy at the recent GreenBiz VERGE conference.

“Do not step away from policy now because it looks daunting in Washington, or at the state level, because you all have a lot more sway than you think,” advised moderator Nicole Lederer, CEO of E2 (Environmental Entrepreneurs), a membership organization committed to advancing a clean economy.

The voices of cleantech and sustainable businesses are more important than ever, agreed everyone on the panel, which also included Jon Powers, founder of Clean Capital and former chief sustainability officer in the Obama administration, and Michael Terrell, who heads energy market development for Google.

The group followed a plenary session, “How Cleantech Leaders Can Accelerate the Clean Economy.” As someone involved in PR and policy for cleantech and sustainable businesses, I found these two sessions inspiring and somehow reassuring, even though advances in fighting climate change are getting reversed on a near daily basis—this week, it’s the EPA’s move to rescind the Clean Power Plan. (Lederer provided an action plan to fight that in GreenBiz.)

“The Trump administration is loaded up with fossil fuel interests,” said Huffman. “They’re making decisions across the spectrum of public policy… . The idea that you would not be fully engaged right now is not strategically sound.”

“Policy touches everything [cleantech businesses] do,” agreed Powers. “And if you don’t understand it, or at least try to follow it, it’s going to significantly affect your market.”

How to tell the right story
So, how can we affect policy? Most companies don’t have the luxury of a dedicated governmental affairs staff, but there are things even the smallest companies can—and should—do at the local, state and federal levels.

The important thing, said Lederer, is knowing how to represent your company to lawmakers—you need to be able to articulate your story in ways that will resonate with their concerns. The elements of a persuasive story include:

  • The economic impact (direct and indirect) you have on your community, state and the country
  • The number of jobs you create (directly and indirectly), and where those jobs are, including your supply chain
  • The additional benefits your company provides, including reduced demand for scarce resources, reduced costs to consumers, predictable supply and price of energy and other resources, public health benefits, improved national security and export opportunities

The jobs drumbeat needs to be hit over and over again, said Powers, citing a New Energy America jobs report that found clean energy jobs are trumping fossil fuel jobs in 41 states.

“That’s an incredible message in places both red and blue,” he said. “The other thing… it hurts me to say it, but separating out the climate conversation for the clean energy economy conversation has to happen.”

Finally, let politicians know you’ll keep their constituents informed. “We have to stop making nice on these things and hold them accountable,” said Terrell. And you don’t have to stick to your hometown district—companies have a voice wherever they have a supply chain connection. (Google is spending millions on renewable energy, often in regions that are not friendly to clean energy.)

Companies can reach the voting public through the media by writing letters to the editor and op-ed articles, and going on talk shows. If you’re pitching journalists to write about you, they need the same points in Lederer’s list, framed with stories that use people to bring the numbers to life.

And if your representatives are climate deniers? asked one audience member.

“Work like hell to unelect them,” advised Powers.

Watch a video of the VERGE session, “How Cleantech Leaders Can Accelerate the Clean Economy.”

See the related post, “Cleantech Needs Good Stories—and the Right Storytellers—More Than Ever.”

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