What can song lyrics teach us about how to solve climate change?

A long, long time ago (in 1979) the terribly-named Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark released a song called Electricity. The track calls for improved energy efficiency and the adoption of renewable energy – all cleverly disguised within the lyrics of a pop song (listen to the song on YouTube if you don’t believe me). I bought the record.

36 years after the song was released we are only just scratching the surface of what is possible in preventing wasted electricity and deploying renewables. Both will be hugely important in our transition to a sustainable, low carbon economy.

This isn’t a slightly flippant way to say that the practical solution to all world’s problems are in song lyrics, but it does serve as an example of how difficult it can be to get even the most sensible ideas to filter through to the collective consciousness.

I mention this because there is often a serious underestimation of the amount of investment needed for marketing low carbon solutions such as energy efficiency. Despite the fact there is often a rock solid business case and a number of long-term benefits, it is surprisingly difficult to get people to dance to your tune.

I have witnessed a number of campaigns to encourage businesses and households to save energy: from the energy crisis of the late 70s to the need to address climate change today, and have been involved in a fair few of them in very different countries around the world. 

These campaigns are frequently accompanied by free advice and support, or linked to financial incentives such as low cost loans or other subsidies for achieving energy savings. These are often imagined to be sufficient in themselves to generate demand. But experience has taught me that in most circumstances a lot needs to be done to build a pipeline of interest through marketing.

This is important because the climate talks currently taking place in Paris are built upon a foundation of intended contributions at a national-level. And improving energy efficiency is a significant element in practically every submission made so far, because for most countries it is one of the cheapest and most cost-effective methods for reducing national emissions.

For these new schemes to succeed it is critical to make sure that the investment in marketing matches the ambition for carbon savings. This is especially true when public money is going into providing financial incentives or low cost loans, as high levels of marketing are often necessary to engage anyone other than large businesses and a small but savvy subset of other groups.

Here are four important lessons to remember when trying to design or implement an energy efficiency schemes that delivers real savings, wherever you are in the world.

  • Marketing works. There is a reason why every successful brand invests so heavily in marketing – it helps to raise awareness and drive interest. Incentivised energy efficiency measures should be invested in like other product on special offer.  The messaging and channels might change in different geographies and markets, but the basics are the same. Make sure people hear about schemes and understand the benefits. 
  • Stand out from the crowd. No one is waiting to hear from you. It’s a noisy, competitive world in terms of messages. People are busy with their daily business and there are a lot of organisations clamouring to get their attention. The energy efficiency message isn’t as simple as it sounds, so it has to be relevant and impactful to even have a chance of being heard. It helps, especially for small businesses, if it is framed as being relevant to doing daily business better and benefitting the bottom line.
  • Be trustworthy. One of the biggest barriers to the adoption of energy efficiency is credibility. There is a confidence gap that needs to be bridged between explaining the theoretical benefits of energy efficiency and someone believing that they can achieve them.  In some cases and countries government can play this role, in others experienced partner organisations may be needed. A reputation for reliability and case studies from peers to demonstrate actual savings can be very valuable.
  • Doing the right thing. The environmental angle of energy efficiency is appealing – people want to be more sustainable, especially when it saves them money. Plus they are more likely to trust a scheme where they can understand the motives behind incentives or subsidies, given concerns about climate change or environmental damage. It rarely works by itself, but highlighting a wider purpose can actually make energy efficiency a more compelling and understandable offer.


Large-scale energy efficiency schemes will be an important part of delivering any agreement that is struck in Paris. And marketing is an important tool to deliver large-scale energy efficiency schemes. To bring it back to the musical theme, this can put it at the top of the playlist, where it needs to be.


Peter Hambly is Director of Marketing and Communications at the Carbon Trust.

This article is published as part of the Carbon Trust's COP21 Blog Series: The Road to Paris is Paved with Good Intentions.