Effective Communication: Oxygen to Feed Our Economy?

March 22, 2012

Energy is the oxygen of our economy, and the view from CERAWeek, one of the world’s most important gatherings of corporate and government energy leaders, is that the energy sector needs to get very good at explaining that.

We heard from speaker after speaker that the energy sector’s ability to communicate effectively and with credibility will serve as the turbocharger that helps energy become the driver of a faster economic recovery and higher living standards around the world. Without it, we’re likely to see the sector and the global economy continue to be painfully constricted and struggle to regain momentum.

Here’s why (and you’ll recognize the relevance for every industry):

Proliferation of Policies and Regulations – In an environment of proliferating local, national and international rules, the industry must have an effective voice in shaping those rules. It must be a partner in streamlining or eliminating rules and compliance processes that are unwieldy, that don’t achieve the desired regulatory result, and that inhibit economic activity without adding meaningful value for any stakeholders.

Proliferation of Politics – The stakeholder landscape is increasingly complex, with diverse priorities and sometimes competing positions. They must be mapped and navigated with clear, precise and effective communication in order for the sector to be understood and aligned with economic needs and demands. In the U.S. and Canada, routing the Keystone XL pipeline, or educating the marketplace on the safe and responsible development of shale gas are two timely examples.  Whether the issue is e-commerce companies facing new government controls on the Internet or questions about the ethics of Apple’s supply chain, the vagaries of politics are like a baby boomer’s creaky back: the potential for pain is always just a moment away.

Proliferation of Information – We’re awash in an infinite web of channels and content, so much so that the concept of curation might be the business platform of the next half century. As we swim in this growing ocean of data points, it’s hard to know which ones are the facts on which to make informed decisions – about energy policy and choices, or anything else. In this environment, earned, owned and shared media channels and content become more important tools to reach, inform and educate. There’s a film series set to premiere soon, titled “The Rational Middle,” which promises to be a good example of how to effectively balance what has become a predominantly political debate around shale gas and fracking.

The primary riff of CERAWeek is that the energy sector is at a pivotal moment because innovation has provided access to huge reserves of shale gas that can drive economic growth with cleaner, more affordable fuel. That changes the global energy equation. But those comments were consistently punctuated with “getting it right,” which is code for being responsible in the pursuit of the economic benefits while also responsibly managing the impact of energy development/production on people, communities and our environment.

The industry leaders at CERAWeek showed agreement that, as shale gas development goes forward, their companies must be more open, trustworthy and proactive in listening to and helping stakeholders understand what’s happening, why, and what’s in it for them. It goes beyond awareness of how advanced energy solutions can drive economic recovery and lift millions into – and beyond – the middle class in every region of the world. Smart, authentic and innovative communication will help deliver the energy “oxygen” that unlocks this opportunity’s full potential, while allowing everyone to breathe easier because they understand the risks and what’s being done to manage them.