Thought Leadership

Empathetic Energy Conversations: Communicating Environmental Sustainability to Customers

June 4, 2024
An image of a team discussing how they can better engage with customers on their environmental sustainability efforts and programs

Sustainability is a complex topic and one that remains amorphous in many consumers’ minds. Yet the energy industry is amid a profound transition to truly become more environmentally sustainable. The twin drivers of this are declining costs of low- and no-carbon solutions (such as wind, solar and batteries) and increasing pressure from consumers and policymakers on the energy industry to address the climate crisis. At the same time, data from Escalent’s Cogent Syndicated Utility Trusted Brand & Customer Engagement: Residential study reveal how customers’ perception of their utility’s Environmental Dedication has reached historic lows.

With this background, we led a workshop during the 2024 CHARGE—Powering Energy Branding conference in Houston to help energy companies think about how they can effectively communicate their company’s sustainability efforts to their customers. When it comes to consumers’ sustainability habits and expectations, 78% of consumers say that an environmentally sustainable lifestyle is important to them yet 62% of consumers who do not adopt sustainable behaviors claim this is because the lifestyle is too expensive. Specific to energy, two-thirds of consumers seek personalized energy solutions, meaning that energy companies need to understand and relate to consumers on an individual level.

To help frame the workshop discussion, we presented four customer persona groups we’ve identified in our Energy research over the years who care about different things:

  1. Income-Driven Customers who seek to maximize their savings wherever they can.
  2. New Customers who may not be as knowledgeable about how energy works and how their behavior impacts use and cost.
  3. Eco-Friendly Customers who are willing to spend more to purchase eco-friendly products.
  4. Cost-Driven Customers who have the means to spend but choose products and services that make the most financial sense to them.

Armed with insights into what matters to these different personas, we split attendees into four groups to brainstorm how to best communicate a company’s efforts to lower its carbon footprint to each of these four customer personas. While the “ask” was monumental—figure out how to communicate to these personas in a period of 20 minutes—the groups came up with some insightful approaches.

For instance, the Income-Driven persona group thought about how a company can use data to tailor the messages it sends to these customers. As an example, smart meter data could help identify an old and inefficient air conditioner (AC) unit, and the company could communicate programs that allow the consumer to replace their AC with a high-efficiency unit, at no cost to the customer, thereby allowing the customer to save money on their monthly energy bill. This group was adamant that any communication with this Income-Driven customer group should be sensitive to the fact these customers want to save money and typically do not have the resources to make a big purchase that would allow them to cut costs.

The Eco-Friendly persona group discussed how a company could use specific word choices to better connect with its customers. For instance, “green” would likely resonate with Eco-Friendly consumers but may be a turnoff for other customer groups. One participant, a communication leader for a utility in the southern US, shared his company’s approach to environmental, social and governance (ESG) reporting: while his company believes in ESG and issues an ESG report, the term “ESG” has become so politicized that the company elects to call its report a “Community Responsibility Report,” a term that better resonates with its customers.

Dr. Fridrik Larsen, founder of the CHARGE conference who received his PhD in energy branding, noted at the end of the workshop how challenging it is to figure out how best to communicate environmental sustainability efforts to customers. While we agree it can be challenging, it doesn’t have to be impossible. With the right customer insights, understanding and strategic approach, energy companies can engage with their customers in empathetic conversations about sustainability efforts and programs that build brand trust and customer engagement.

If you’re interested in talking to our Energy team of sustainability, communication and brand experts about how you can best connect with your customers to explain what your company is doing, please send us a note using the below form—we’d love to hear from you!

Want to learn more? Let’s connect.

K.C. Boyce
K.C. Boyce
Vice President, Automotive & Mobility and Energy

K.C. Boyce is a vice president in Escalent’s Automotive & Mobility and Energy practices. He works with energy providers and automakers to craft compelling products and programs that accelerate the energy transition. Throughout his career, K.C. has worked across industries and sectors to develop innovative solutions to complex problems and translate subject matter expertise into actionable insight. He is the co-host of the weekly Energy Matters radio show and a nationally known speaker on topics such as electric vehicles and solar. Before joining Escalent, K.C. was senior vice president at Chartwell, where he led industry and consumer research, conference production and marketing. He also served as the Smart Energy Consumer Collaborative’s assistant director, leading its consumer research program. K.C. holds an MBA from Georgia State’s Robinson College of Business and a bachelor’s degree in political science from Colorado College.

Nikkie Stern, Senior Insights Manager, Escalent
Nikki Stern
Senior Insights Manager, Automotive & Mobility

Nikki Stern is a senior insights manager on the Automotive & Mobility team with Escalent. She is dedicated to EVForward® projects, which provide clients with valuable consumer research to better understand the next generation of EV buyers. Nikki supports the research from beginning to end, starting with the development of a research idea and following the project through survey development, fielding, data analysis, and reporting. Before joining Escalent, Nikki worked with a marketing agency as an analyst where she gained over seven years of experience working on multiple pieces of the business, including market research, consumer research, and cross-channel digital media analytics. She has a bachelor’s degree from Kalamazoo College in Sociology/Anthropology and a graduate certificate from Harvard Extension School in Corporate Sustainability & Innovation. Outside of work, Nikki is an avid yoga practitioner and teaches classes as well.

Kea Wheeler
Kea Wheeler
Senior Director, Qualitative

Kea has 17 years of experience in marketing research with Qualitative research being the focus for the last 12 years. While she is one of Escalent’s core moderators, she also enjoys weaving the insights captured from research into compelling and visual deliverables. Kea has experience conducting research across various categories which allows her to have a broader view of consumers that she leverages to enhance any project. In the Financial Service space, she has experience with research types including messaging/claims, advisor/investor relations, new product assessment, physical and digital property assessments, service selection and financial service website UX. Kea was also part of the Escalent project team that won a 2023 ARF Great Minds Future Forward award for its work on an investor match tool for a Financial Service firm.