I was recently forwarded an opinion piece on how to promote biofuels and it struck a cord with me. In June 2011, I published an article in Industrial Biotechnology called “Back to basics: Redefining the biotechnology message.” In it, I said the current messages weren’t working – especially when tied to climate change where public opinion is slipping.
The opinion piece, “How to properly promote biofuels,” was authored by Alkol Bioenergy and focused on a new TV advertising campaign running in Brazil. The campaign was developed for UNICA (Brazilian Sugarcane Industry Association) and featured images of ethanol being cool and sexy. The op-ed piece points out that this is very different from what is being done in Europe and the USA.
“Truth is that facts such as job creation, national security, global warming, etc., have never proved their value, as they all depend on a previous knowledge about socioeconomic issues people are unaware of or simply do not care, ignoring instead the real motivations for people using something new,” is written in the piece.
While I agree to some level, I do still feel that job creation and economic security are two reasons that work for some, more specifically those who are well-informed about the issues such as our readers. Where I think the messages still struggle is with the average person, who doesn’t really, truly understand why biofuels, or renewable energy or sustainability in particular, is important.
Let me give you an example of what is happening in China. Several years ago there were articles citing the sale of fake solar panels. But the solar panels were not sold and installed only to discover they never worked; they were never intended to work. They were designed to increase a buyer ‘s social standing in the community who couldn’t afford real solar panels. In China, those who had solar panels on their homes are better respected and maintain a higher social status than those who don’t.
So why aren’t Americans or Europeans, or others in any other country given more respect when they adopt renewable energy or sustainability initiatives? Because in many cases, these early adopters were/are seen as snobs, I am better than you, rather than as leaders of a movement. And this, I think is key. We need to make renewable energy cool and we need to make renewable energy for everyone. And this lies the point of the editorial, where I wholeheartedly agree, biofuels need to be seen as cool, as the UNICA ad portrays. As Gareth Kane wrote in “Green Jujitsu,” we need to make renewable energy and environmental consciousness sexy.