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Published on May 24th, 2015 | by Zachary Shahan


The Human Side of Cleantech

May 24th, 2015 by  

Bárbara RubimAs many of you know (including the dozens or more of you who were in attendance), I was in Vancouver last week for the first-ever Renewable Cities forum, which for now I’ll briefly summarize as “the best conference I’ve ever attended.” I think my favorite presentation there (that I gave, that is) was my last one, which was part of a workshop called “Communicating renewable energy: Positioning, persuading, and popularizing.” However, before I even got to my presentation, a very insightful and useful point came during the participant introduction section. Bárbara Rubim of Greenpeace Brazil highlighted the importance of human connection, and how important that is for effective communication (based on Chatham House Rule, I’m not supposed to attribute quotes from the workshop to any particular person, but Bárbara later gave me permission to reference her here).

Indeed, the human connection — it’s importance can’t really be overestimated. I have focused heavily on that topic in previous presentations on blogging and new media, but it somehow wasn’t explicit in my presentation on communicating renewable energy, even if it was implicit throughout (you can view the slides here).

The importance of making the human connection is why I focus on a very informal, friend-to-friend style of communication here on CleanTechnica (plus, that’s just what’s most natural for me), and I thank Joe Romm for some great articles he wrote years ago that helped to justify and encourage that approach.

Tesla is another example to highlight. Of course, Tesla has countless fans (and I’m talking real fanatics) in part because it produces amazing products, but I’ve also thought many times that a big part of its success is how effective Elon Musk is at being the face of Tesla. He’s so darn lovable, and it seems that he speaks to everyone as if they are a colleague, not in some formal and overly polished “CEO to the public” way. It’s extremely refreshing, and what that has done for Tesla’s consumer experience, consumer awareness, and brand loyalty is immeasurable, but I think quite profound. Elon and Tesla also highlight the human side of their products quite well, associating them with real-world fun, excitement, fascination, and usefulness. (Naturally, that’s easier to do when you’ve created the quickest sedan in history, and perhaps also the most disruptive, high-tech car in history, but nonetheless….)

But most cleantech companies don’t get this, or at least don’t implement it well. A few pictures of humans on your website (if you even have those) or customer testimonials are often superficially implemented and quite inadequate on the whole. The human side of the product needs to be embedded thoroughly and genuinely throughout company communications… and also throughout the company’s actual business operations.

Cleantech communicators often miss the beat as well, and I’ll honestly include myself here. For all the ways that I try to incorporate the human side of cleantech in our work, I think we fall way short of what could be done.

Aside from any takeaways you might use in your own professional or civic work, there are a couple of takeaways for me that I hope to implement, so I’m sharing them here to put them on the record. One is that I intend to bring more of a focus to the “human side of cleantech” into CleanTechnica articles, videos, and engagement. Another thing is that I intend to work in person (aka the physical or “real” world) more to communicate cleantech trends, benefits, obstacles, and solutions. I’m not going to guarantee anything yet, but one idea is to co-create a traveling workshop on these topics. Aside from that, I think I’m more open than ever to present, moderate panels, and lead workshops at cleantech events of various sorts… so drop me a note if you are organizing something and want to invite me for some fun. 😀 


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About the Author

Zach is tryin' to help society help itself (and other species). He spends most of his time here on CleanTechnica as its director and chief editor. He's also the president of Important Media and the director/founder of EV Obsession and Solar Love. Zach is recognized globally as an electric vehicle, solar energy, and energy storage expert. He has presented about cleantech at conferences in India, the UAE, Ukraine, Poland, Germany, the Netherlands, the USA, and Canada. Zach has long-term investments in TSLA, FSLR, SPWR, SEDG, & ABB — after years of covering solar and EVs, he simply has a lot of faith in these particular companies and feels like they are good cleantech companies to invest in. But he offers no professional investment advice and would rather not be responsible for you losing money, so don't jump to conclusions.

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