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Innovative Communications Plan Advances Clean Energy in Massachusetts

Working across sectors, the Institute for Energy and Sustainability uses a diverse communication toolbox to share knowledge and connect partners.

An innovative communications strategy is critical to the success of the Institute for Energy and Sustainability (IES), according to Christopher Noonan, the Institute’s Senior Program Advisor. He shares IES’s diversified approach to communications, highlighting the success of a recent radio program.

The Institute for Energy and Sustainability (IES) is advancing regional clean energy and sustainability through a diverse and innovative communications plan.

The Institute was founded in partnership with Clark University, Worcester Polytechnic Institute, The Massachusetts Clean Energy Center and Congressman Jim McGovern’s Office. It aims to (1) connect clean energy businesses with both academic resources and customers and (2) facilitate knowledge transfer between clean energy businesses, universities, customers and communities.

“The companies we work with want to engage with the community,” says Christopher Noonan, Senior Program Advisor at IES. “And our university partners want access to companies for research.” To engage its many stakeholder groups, the Institute employs diverse communications tools.

A Large Communication Toolbox

IES uses these approaches, among others:

  • Large corporate conferences: The Smart Grid Venture Showcase, for example, brought together early stage smart grid companies to pitch ideas to potential investors and business specialists.

  • Small, targeted workshops: IES often partners with the Association of Cleantech Incubators of New England to host business development workshops on topics like pitch presentations.

  • Social media, opinion articles and case studies: IES uses public communications to celebrate its successes, and the successes of its stakeholders.

  • Academic articles: For example, IES leveraged a recent meeting with the Belarus trade delegation to conduct a study comparing energy security and policy in Belarus and Massachusetts. A white paper is pending publication.

  • Radio programing: Of all IES’s communication strategies, “Energy this Week”, a one-hour talk radio program connecting business and academics to the public, has been particularly successful.

Energy this Week

From September to December 2012, IES broadcasted 13 episodes of Energy this Week. The show aimed to provide credible clean energy information to the public and showcase clean energy companies in central New England to potential customers. Each show featured a new sustainable energy topic and a speaker from either industry or academia. Topics included geothermal energy, upcycling (using old items for new purposes), concentrated solar energy, energy efficiency and connections between energy and social issues. The show was co-hosted by IES staff and sponsored by a local company, Energy Monster. To provide ongoing value, all shows are now available as podcasts.

Benefits to Business and Society

Radio’s accessibility let IES target a broad audience, in order to increase public literacy on important energy issues. For example, after listening to an episode on upcycling, a local highschool teacher created an upcycling program at his school.

The radio program also connected businesses to new customers. For example, the CEO of Freight Farms, a company that converts used shipping containers to hydroponic greenhouses, reported increased calls, web traffic and email inquiries after appearing on the show.

Communications Advice for Sustainability Centres

Christopher Noonan has these recommendations for other centres:

  1. Be assertive. Spreading new ideas requires putting yourself out there and being willing to accept rejection. “Your communications should be polite, but never shy,” says Christopher.

  2. Differentiate yourself: A lot of content competes for limited reader attention. Offer unique data and framing to set your message apart. Christopher has learned that “you create value for the audience when you cause them to reflect and reevaluate their assumptions.”

  3. Don’t publish too often: Space out your communications to avoid becoming background noise. In a world increasingly dominated by social media, the trend is to push out information too often. “Give your audience time to pause, reflect, then return to rediscover you,” says Christopher.

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  • Chelsea Hicks-Webster
    Writer and Editor
    Network for Business Sustainability
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    Hi, I’m Chelsea. I have a Masters degree in Sustainability, where I studied ecosystem health. I'm also a Certified Life Coach. I used to be the Operations Manager for NBS, but now I just focus on my favourite part of that job – the writing! I also run a social enterprise, called Creating Me, dedicated to strengthening maternal and family well-being. I know first-hand how difficult it can be to balance career goals, impact, and one’s own well-being. When I’m not working on my own impact goals, I offer executive coaching and writing support to help researchers and change-makers grow their impact and well-being. (creatingme.ca/sustainability).

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