Falling In Love With Clean-Tech Marketing, Warts And All

In his New York Times opinion piece, “Liking Is for Cowards. Go for What Hurts,” Jonathan Franzen describes his return to loving the environment as a consequence of loving a part of the environment: birds. “… now those threatened forests and wetlands and oceans weren’t just pretty scenes for me to enjoy. They were the home of animals I loved.” Indeed, we need a personal connection to truly love something, and when we love, we become less interested in what’s in it for us. Funny how that works.

For many marketers, clean technology presents an opportunity to get closer to loving their work and reach beyond the self. The concept of clean technology links easily to the things we love –solar energy holds the promise of making our homes more efficient and better for the world while helping our country and creating jobs in our communities. A wind farm on nearby hilltops easily stimulates thoughts of our children breathing more easily. The idea of energy independence leads to fewer of our military friends or relatives dying to protect America’s energy-rich trading partners. In clean-tech, nearly every one of us has a “bird” in the fight.

Of course, clean-tech has its warts. Efficiencies often appear laughable next to oil and gas. A mid-grade oil heater in your basement might boast 85% efficiency, while solar panels which cost 15 times the price will offer less energy and, if you’re lucky, might peak at 17% efficiency. Why market that? In part, because we recognize that, despite the challenges, we’re able to make that love connection, to put our hearts into the marketing and messaging. And that belief has started to pay off with rising oil prices and improvements in clean-tech capabilities.

Spend a few hours at a clean-tech conference and you will feel the energy (pun intended) not around selling more stuff but around changing the world for the better. Sure, there are more “suits” in the room than there were even five years ago, but even those in suits glow with a sense of optimism that reaches way beyond profits.

I recently met Sigurd Spearing of Terraclime Geothermal, a company specializing in residential and commercial geothermal systems for heating, cooling and hot water. This tanned, bearded and muscular 35 year old had joined Terraclime three years ago. He’s the kind of guy who’s happiest hiking the deep woods, and he took the job because he could pay the bills while answering a higher calling – helping preserve the landscapes he loves while alleviating the world’s addiction to fossil fuels.

Recently, the company faced some tougher times. Pressure to meet sales goals increased. I asked Sigurd if the pressure to sell and “jobness” of his work were making him rethink his decision to join the company.

He didn’t hesitate. “No. There are problems and pressures. But every time we install a geothermal system, I think of the reduction in fossil fuel, the cleaner air, the woods… What else would I do where I can directly contribute this way? I love this.”

Sigurd understands clean tech’s warts, and knows he might not meet his numbers. Maybe clean energy incentives will disappear, fossil fuel costs drop, or customers decide the cost-benefit analysis no longer makes sense. But he loves what he’s doing.

Clean-tech clients admittedly often come with many warts, doubts about viability or market adoption, and plenty to disbelieve. Yet each concept, each client, each product provides a new chance to love, to “go for what hurts,” warts and all.

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