CCgroup finds national media ‘anti-renewables’ & neglecting industry voice

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Charlotte Webster - I am CCgroup's CleanTech division lead. In my spare time I can be found with bikes, film, paint and music.
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As we’ve been discussing for some time, the renewable energy industry is vital to sustainable growth and the shape of its future will certainly be determined, in part, by the media

Quite apart from it being inevitable that we would say that, it also happens to be true. On a commercial level, what the media says can directly affect confidence in an industry, from investors and policy makers, through to manufacturers, buyers and sellers. So, with this in mind, we decided to stress test our theory that the media is currently skewed against the renewables industry and conducted a study to dig into just how the renewable energy industry is portrayed in the national media. The last study of its kind was conducted as far back as 2009, by PIRC, so we felt the time had come to take a fresh look at the evidence.

Our CleanTech team here in London rolled up their sleeves and analysed the overall sentiment of articles mentioning renewables published in the UK’s five most widely circulated national newspapers throughout July 2012. In total, we studied 138 articles across The Sun, Daily Mail, Daily Mirror, The Daily Telegraph and The Times.

The team’s research, released today, indicates that the UK’s renewable energy industry is quite simply facing a communications crisis. The new study, Whitepaper – How the UK national media treats renewables – November 2012, found that national media sentiment towards the renewable energy industry is broadly negative, neglects the voice of the sector and is out of sync with wider public opinion. As reflected in recent negative coverage of the UK’s new Energy Bill, preoccupied with false consumer cost figures, the study found that only 21 per cent of national newspaper articles are positive about the renewable energy industry.

The findings point to an urgent need for the renewable energy industry, a vital sector for sustainable economic growth in the UK, to step up its communication efforts to avoid further erosion in public, political and investor confidence. Not great news, but perhaps unsurprising. Only in September did we hear direct from journalists, including Business Green’s James Murray, that the industry must raise its game in communications; or face a huge uphill struggle for widespread buy-in.

So, right when the renewables industry should be seeing rapid growth, it has the media holding one arm behind its back. This economy boosting, innovative, business savvy industry is simply not having its story heard. Perhaps most alarmingly, despite the green economy accounting for over a third of UK growth last year, renewable energy businesses are struggling to get their voice heard, with spokespeople from the industry quoted in just ten per cent of articles.

These findings emerge only a month after a YouGov poll showed an overwhelming level of public support for more solar and wind energy. The study is likely to raise concerns for the industry, who’s future will, in part, be determined by the media; a key influencer on public sentiment, political decision making and investor confidence.

The real impacts on business

More than 50 per cent of articles were found to portray the industry negatively. On a macro level, this negative reporting threatens public and wider stakeholder support, fuelling policy and investment uncertainty, impacting local planning consent and future industry development. Crucially, media negativity has a very real impact on the day to day business success of renewable energy companies and their associated innovation, exports and employment; as on a micro level, this uncertainty slows the market and impacts the business bottom line across technology supply chains, diminishing both margins and new business opportunities.

Is it the media’s fault? No, it’s renewable energy business.

As much as business would like to blame the media, it’s not entirely the media’s fault. Yes, some papers are predisposed to fall certain sides of the tracks editorially – but they need a hand here. The media needs good, reliable content from the renewables industry – and that takes work! There is an empty platform here that renewable energy businesses need to fill, with urgency, and those that do will be the ones to see the rewards not just for industry as a whole but themselves too.

In conclusion, we’d advise organisations in the renewables space regain control and make themselves available to media by investing in communications, particularly with the trade press. Tuning into talking and telling stories of innovation and growth will help strengthen the industry and increase the visibility of positive stories and facts in the media as a whole. What’s clear is that investment really is needed to turn this picture around.

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