Wind turbines can often be a source of controversy in news headlines across the world, so much so that it’s actually easy to miss the fact that actually wind energy is becoming increasingly popular as a form of renewable energy generation. Indeed, in October it was revealed in a major UK newspaper that two-thirds of the British population would much rather have a wind turbine near their home than a shale gas well, with 67% opting in favour of the wind turbine. Furthermore, various surveys carried out by organisations such as YouGov, Ipsos/MORI, the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) and ICM Research have found levels of public support for wind energy varying between 69 percent and 77 percent with several indicating public support for more renewable energy over and above the current level.
In recent years companies developing wind farms have started to involve local communities directly in the development process through close negotiation and a stake in the financial rewards. However a new Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) has joined the sector with the aim of promoting the benefits of wind power directly to the consumer through product branding. WindMade has developed a strategy which is dedicated to increasing demand for products made by companies who have embraced wind power and who wish to demonstrate their commitment to renewable energy.
Renewable Energy Magazine thinks this is a great idea and so we approached Windmade Communications Director, Angelika Pullen, to learn more about it.
What actually is WindMade and how does it function?
WindMade is the first global consumer label for companies using renewable energy in their operations or production. The labelwas launched in 2011 as a unique partnership between NGOs, public bodies and corporations that include the UN Global Compact, WWF, Vestas Wind Systems, the Global Wind Energy Council (GWEC), the LEGO Group, Bloomberg and PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC).
The idea is to give companies an effective and intuitive tool to communicate their commitment to renewable energy, and to give their customers the ability to favour those companies that actively improve their environmental impact in this way.
The label is now gaining recognition, and we already have some good brands signed up to it: Bloomberg, Motorola, Deutsche Bank, Method, BD and many others - around 60 members in total at the moment.
The minimum requirement for a company to carry the WindMade label is for it to source 25% of its overall electricity demand from wind power, either through own generation/direct investment, through a long-term PPA, or through certificates. This is then independently verified and the company receives the label stating the exact percentage, for a usage period of 12 months. A label for individual products is currently being finalised, and we are also currently developing an overall renewable energy label to provide more flexibility in the choice of technology. This should be available within the next six months.
You’ve said that switching to renewables is becoming one of the key tools in corporate strategies, but realistically how many corporations are actually starting to switch over to renewables and how can renewable energy help corporate business?
Many companies now have carbon emissions reductions or renewable energy targets (or both), so this is clearly a trend. The 2012 edition of the Corporate Renewable Energy Index (see www.energytransparency.com), which Bloomberg published with Vestas, shows that out of those companies sourcing a majority of their power from renewable sources, most tend to be in the consumer-facing sectors, such as finance, services and consumer goods. Companies often use renewable energy to enhance the ‘greenness’ of their brand, not only vis-à-vis customers, but also shareholders and employees. Overall, the renewable energy share of the respondents’ total power consumption increased from 14% in 2009 to 16% in 2011, so there is clearly still a trend here, even in difficult economic times.
Companies invest in renewables for a whole host of reasons: On the economic side, they are keen to lock in long-term power costs, so wind power can provide them with a powerful hedge against fluctuating prices for electricity from fossil fuel generation. Environmentally, they want to reduce their carbon footprint. And, finally, marketing and branding directors have understood that their customers care and that improving their company’s environmental credentials can have a significant impact on brand perception. All these are compelling reasons to get serious in using green power.
So, WindMade seems to enshrine labelling or branding, do you think ordinary consumers will take any notice? Are they starting to do so already?
Many companies we work with are convinced that renewable energy use will give them a competitive edge, and research has shown that they are right. Consumers everywhere are very positive about renewable energy. Once again, the 2012 edition of the Global Consumer Wind Study (again www.energytransparency.com) comes to this conclusion, showing that 79% of respondents would prefer to have their electricity generated by renewables, compared to 5% for fossil fuels and 7% for nuclear. 74% of consumers even stated that they would have a more positive perception of brands that use wind power as their main energy source.
Interestingly, the study also shows that a strong focus on environmental marketing can dramatically shift consumers’ perceptions. Out of all industry sectors, it was the automotive industry that was widely perceived as most climate-friendly, notwithstanding the environmental issues related with driving cars. It looks like the car industry has done some good work, maybe not necessarily on saving emissions, but definitely on talking about how green they are!
These findings indicate that there is a real opportunity here for brands to enhance their reputation. By using renewable energy (and especially wind), and communicating this well to their customers, a company can make a real difference to the way its brand is perceived.
Clear communication with consumers, however, seems to be an issue, and this is where WindMade comes in. While many companies publish their share of renewable energy use in their annual sustainability reports, this information rarely reaches consumers, so more PR around this is necessary. A label can be a useful tool for this: As many as 75% of consumers consider labels a useful guidance for their purchasing decisions, and 57% said that the WindMade label would be relevant to them.
How would you answer the claim that dependence on wind energy will cause energy gaps in national grids? Surely a multi-technology generation strategy is better?
Of course nobody would advocate an electricity system run on 100% wind power! The mix is key, and the right combination of wind and solar power with less variable sources such as hydro, geothermal and biomass is a good foundation for a stable grid. Of course, other key factors here are state-of-the art grid management and balancing systems, as well as modern forecasting technologies.
In the UK community protests against windfarms are starting to increase and many of those protests are being won. How can the sector ease such concerns?
This is a real issue for the industry, not only in the UK. Across Europe, we have vast majorities of the population in favour of wind power and other renewable sources, but there are also often relatively small minorities of opponents that tend to be very vocal, which is exacerbated by extensive coverage in the media. Good planning and siting of wind farms which includes the local communities from a very early stage is essential to gain popular support, as are schemes that ensure that the local communities have a direct benefits from the projects.
We also believe that in terms of general public opinion and consumer awareness, WindMade can do a lot for improving the overall image of wind power. WindMade is an innovative approach to addressing this problem, by bringing wind power directly to the consumer in a tangible and proactive way. This will foster positive associations in a way that beats all traditional marketing and communications efforts.
When will we see the first products with a WindMade label on our supermarket shelves?
We are currently finalising the label for products to complement the label for companies which has been around for over a year, and will be launching this in the coming months. If everything goes well, we should see the first products with the WindMade label in supermarkets before the end of this year.