Energy sector series part two: The transition to Net Zero – the reputational risks and opportunities




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As energy sector comms professionals, you’ll be all too aware of the increasing pressure from consumers to make meaningful progress towards Net Zero. And with the reputational threats posed by a winter of extraordinarily high fuel bills, there’s more urgency than ever to transition away from fossil fuels and cut carbon emissions. For you to successfully navigate this transition over the coming years and maintain your brand’s corporate reputation, there are several factors that must be considered. Let’s dig in and understand them. 


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Lack of clarity for delivering Net Zero 

Although the UK Government has signed up to international commitments on Net Zero and enshrined them in law, the energy sector has been left without clear direction or mechanisms to deliver against the goals they’ve set out to achieve by 2030 and 2050. So much so that in July this year, the high court ordered the UK government to outline exactly how its net zero policies will achieve emissions targets by April 2023, after a legal challenge from environmental groups. 

This means that currently, the likelihood that the UK will under deliver against these targets is high.  

This presents a reputation management challenge for comms teams: despite the lack of Government direction for implementation, stakeholders must be given confidence that energy companies will keep their promises and show that they have programmes in place to deliver on their commitments.  

From where we stand, this exposes a large comms gap between consumer expectations and what energy companies don’t yet know and aren’t willing to talk about publicly. Is this a problem or an opportunity? We believe it’s the latter. Energy companies that are willing to fill this gap with consistent and honest messaging will build far more trust and understanding with their stakeholder groups over time than those that don’t. 

Adam Clarke, Managing Director – The Energy Consortium 

“Although the UK is amongst the world’s leaders in decarbonising its energy sector, it’s no secret that a roadmap for achieving true Net Zero does not exist. The next decade will be a defining point in our history and the energy companies that will come out on top are those that communicate transparently about what they do and don’t know, and how they can support customers in achieving net zero as their knowledge grows over time. Having said that, companies will need to be careful that the actions they take and communicate with their stakeholders are robust and impactful, because the reputational consequences of making promises built on sand will be highly detrimental.”   

The expectations of a climate-aware generation 

The Generation Z (Gen Z) population is acutely aware (and well educated) on the consequences of climate change and the importance of achieving Net Zero. As the savvy consumers of tomorrow, they’ll make informed buying decisions that will be heavily influenced by environmental impact and credentials – not just cost. So, nurturing relationships with this stakeholder group will become a priority for your brand if it wants to maintain its market share. 

Gen Z consumers are informed about greenwashing and are digital natives.  Energy companies that underestimate their priorities will undoubtably suffer reputational damage in the future. In contrast, organisations that can tune into what this generation cares about, by examining what they’re talking about online and understanding what makes them tick, will be able to create robust comms strategies to satisfy the expectations of young consumers. And in a time where organisations are desperately fighting over young talent, having a clear route to decarbonization and social justice will help them to attract a growing Gen Z workforce. 


Could the war in Ukraine derail the transition to Net Zero? 

When Russia invaded Ukraine, the UK and the rest of the world were already falling short of achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2050. However, there’s little doubt that the aftermath of the war has the ability to significantly hinder progress.  

This is ironic, given that the answer to energy dependence on Russia and wildly inflating prices is decarbonization. Despite the fact that there’s been a substantial investment into renewable energy funds since the war began, the programmes to deliver them may well be challenged due to the logistical stresses the war has created. So, this raises the question: will the repercussions of the war mean a detour from the previous transition path or will it force and entirely new direction? This uncertainty will have huge implications for your comms teams, who are seemingly having to take each day as it comes and adapt accordingly.

How can you prepare for a disorderly Net Zero transition? 

 To get the answers you need, download the full whitepaper:  Energy in Focus: Delivering Effective Communications and Robust Reputation Management in an Era of Generational Change 


We’ll be back soon with part two where we’ll be discussing the impact of the energy price spiral and how you can respond now and in the future to satisfy your stakeholders.