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Utility Customers Agree the Climate Is Changing—Just Don’t Call It “Climate Change”

Utility Customers Agree the Climate Is Changing—Just Don’t Call It “Climate Change”

“What is the use of a house if you haven’t got a tolerable planet to put it on?”
Henry David Thoreau  

This month we are celebrating Earth Day with our annual designation of Environmental Champions for those utilities whose customers say their utility has exhibited dedication to the environment in our Utility Trusted Brand & Customer Engagement study. What struck me most about this year’s findings is that customers think environmental improvements are a better investment and are not opposed to a utility rate increases related to such endeavors, at least more so than for improvements in reliability or service.

Why Environmental Improvements Have Become More Important Than Reliability and Service

Geography and phrasing play a major role in how customers perceive the need for environmental improvements. As part of our energy industry research on environmental sentiment, we find that utility customers agree the climate is changing. In fact, opinions on climate change among the 16,000 national interviews we recently conducted show consumer sentiment at 70% agreement that climate change is a real issue. But there is a vast difference on sentiment across utility markets, ranging from 50% to 87% agreement. This means that some utilities have customers who somewhat agree with the scientific consensus while others have customers who strongly agree. Utility markets with the strongest sentiment (75% or more agreement) are:

Ameren Missouri
Austin Energy
Con Edison
Duquesne Light Company
El Paso Electric
LADWP
MLGW
National Grid
NIPSCO
NW Natural
Philadelphia Gas Works
Portland General Electric
PSE&G
SDG&E
Seattle City Light
SMUD
SoCalGas
Tucson Electric Power
Washington Gas
Xcel Energy – West

These utilities tend to have the greatest concentration of our “Environmentally Focused” customer segment and should pay particular attention to how their environmental actions and communication are perceived in the market. At the same time, there are definite regional differences and each utility will need to gauge how receptive its customers are to its environmental positioning.

Use the Right Language to Better Position Your Utility

Phrasing, or how utilities talk about their environmental efforts, is particularly important when communicating with your customers. While there is a growing sense that utilities need to be great at environmental stewardship as well as agreement that climate change is happening, only 5% of utility customers say the phrase “climate change” is effective at building support for utility environmental programs. The phrases that are most favorable to building support? “Clean energy” (23%) and “renewable energy” (20%).

How Much Responsibility Do Utilities Own?

The good news: our study data from our brand research say utilities don’t need to own the entirety of the environmental issue, but they do need to do their part. Utilities should focus their efforts and communication on core business improvements that lead to the environmental benefits that matter to their particular customer base. Contact me if you would like to discuss how your utility can improve your environmental reputation.

Find out which utilities have been designated 2018 Environmental Champions.

View the Utility Environmental Champions

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