There are five major trends affecting the cleantech sector in 2017, a mix of general economic and more distinct market trends which point to openings for clean technology innovators to craft a strong presence. What ties all the trends together for people in cleantech is the storytelling opportunities that make future-looking innovations, the companies and their promise more meaningful to everyone. The hard reality is, cleantech has had a hard time getting attention outside its bubble in Canada, though it answers the needs of a carbon-conscious economy and future-proof jobs. Those of us in it need to burst the narrative beyond sector and niche interest awareness to make cleantech solutions relevant to the pressing concerns that are getting headlines.
Trend 1: Trump. Business reporters are writing that while the effects are yet unknown, Trump’s presidency signifies protectionism and closed borders, reducing exports for Canada’s trade partner. More than ever, making cleantech relevant in Canada matters if we are to use American protectionism to show how our cleantech companies can strengthen Canadian energy self-sufficiency locally and nationally.
This year, it is more important than ever for cleantech companies and the ecosystem supporting them to make themselves relevant to the business and socio-political rhetoric that’s grabbing headlines and peoples’ attention. How successfully we position cleantech solutions in meeting rooms, on websites, in social media and at events will set the potential for these companies and the sector to succeed.
Trend 2: Consumer demand for local products. In 2016, Heinz closed their tomato-processing plant in Leamington, Ontario and replaced the ketchup line with product from the US. Southern Ontario grocery stores were unprepared for the consumer reaction when French’s subsequent line of locally-made ketchup flew off the shelves.
The trend for local producers isn’t limited to household products, it’s also relevant to the growth of technology enabling micro-grids, local vs centrally-distributed energy and at-source wastewater management. Healthy local communities are increasingly valued for regional success and the cleantech community can be part of it this trend when companies make themselves meaningful to what people care about.
Trend 3: US engine behind renewables and tech innovation. Many reporters argue that the sector is strong enough and has enough Republican backing that nothing can slow it down. While it’s impossible to predict, renewables and cleantech need to show that the growth of the sector creates local jobs with local companies and that cleantech companies are beacons for healthier, more self-sufficient communities that support provincial and national economic goals.
Trend 4: Populist sentiment. In the US, the UK and Europe the wave of populism is mining nostalgia for times when things were simpler, life was better. It’s starting to happen here in Canada with the Conservative leadership race. By making cleantech more accessible, putting the technology advances in everyday language that makes it relevant within local communities, people are more likely to embrace and demand clean, locally-produced energy and water solutions.
Trend 5: The power of grassroots. While the goals of elected and bureaucratic leaders for jobs, innovation, energy and wastewater management are generally aligned with those of the people and businesses of the nation, complexity has created barriers to adoption for cleantech solutions. And generally, for the small and midsized businesses that are the core of the country, the benefits of energy or water sustainability that cleantech companies can deliver tends to be perceived as a nice-to-have that doesn’t deserve the attention of more demanding product, operations, sales or distribution concerns.
Enhancing community awareness for renewables and cleantech solutions can build grassroots interest in clean, sustainable products and services, creating a stronger demand mechanism among small and midsize business owners than regulatory pressures from above.
The power of the narrative
What ties all these trends together is the role of the narrative in the success or failure of cleantech companies, and the sector itself. There is a bigger market for cleantech in the US, the UK and Europe than in Canada. Cleantech matters to insiders – but it won’t make the difference in this country that it can until it’s relevant to wider, more diverse groups of people.
More companies are seeing that making complicated science and technology meaningful to those outside the bubbles of technology, energy, investment and policy – showing the promise, the effect that their solutions offer – is key to unlocking opportunity and audience engagement. Clear, inclusive messaging is key to making clean technology everyday thinking.
Storytelling that relates directly to communities, jobs, families, health and a degree of self-sufficiency can help people understand and become interested in otherwise complicated clean technologies so they’re part of their lives. By shifting from science and technology to talking about clean or green energy, air and water in the inclusive language of everyday people in families and communities, the sector can change mindsets and build demand for these forward-looking companies.
Brenda van Ginkel
Every great brand that's making a difference to people or the planet deserves to stand out and be noticed. I write about creative direction and brand strategy for entrepreneurs and those supporting them, packaging concepts with messaging for growth and audience engagement in a crowded, noisy digital space.