We hear and read terms like renewables, sustainable energy, green energy quite a lot these days. We could add carbon neutral, eco-friendly energy and ecological into the mix of buzz words surrounding different sources of electricity.
Defining the term
These terms have defined by public agencies such as the EPA as can be seen in the infographic above or have been defined by scholars and academics. The term green can mean one thing for an energy source and a different thing for a consumer product. The term green can also mean one thing according to the EPA and another thing according to academia and something completely different in the eyes and ears of the end consumer – the definition might be interchangeable in the mind of the person using the term or witnessing someone else using it.
The definition of Renewable energy is quite simple – the source does not deplete natural resources it uses, they can renew themselves within a human lifetime. It seems a reasonable definition that fits the term well.
The definition of green energy is more debatable
One definition of green is simply an energy source that replaces an energy source that pollutes more. Under that umbrella, coal is considerably greener than it was 200 years ago but it would take a big effort in convincing someone that coal should be categorised as being green. Natural gas has replaced coal considerably in the US in the last decade with the effect of the US lowering greenhouse emissions more than most other countries. Natural gas might not be up to the EPA standards of being a Green source of energy but would fit the standard of polluting less than the coal it replaced.
Nuclear in the eye of the beholder
An interesting source of power is nuclear. Many people point out that to date, nuclear has caused less environmental and human harm than any other source of power. The incidents that have happened have been heavily publicised and that the generation of power in itself does not cause any environmental harm – it is just a question of what is done with the waste produced by the generation. But no energy retailer in their right mind would brand their nuclear source of energy as green, especially with environmental activists heavily protesting the transport of the waste around Europe. EDF in the UK branded their low carbon nuclear energy as being Blue energy.
For the energy consumer in an Eastern-European country that got coal-powered energy plants with Soviet-Era technology (instead of Soviet nuclear plant like their neighbouring country), Nuclear energy is green. The layers of coal-dirt from the Soviet era bear witness to how clean the generation of Nuclear Energy is. But trying to tell that to an environmentally conscious Greenpeace member in Germany would result in a branding backslash.
Green is the new brown
The green-electricity claim is tricky. What we have learned from both speakers and guests and nominees for the CHARGE Awards in the last two years is that in order to be able to call themselves Green – brands need to be able to Talk the Talk as well as Walk the Walk. Credible green energy brands need to be green to the core for the consumer to trust them. It has become more valuable than ever to have a strong brand that consumers trust to convey a green-brand message. Green Sources of energy have become something that almost everyone is offering. Building a green energy brand requires more than the source of energy itself. The whole chain of energy marketing needs to deliver a coherent green and sustainable brand communication.