Bruce Oreck, the U.S. Ambassador to Finland, is not your average diplomat. He has an impressive list of accomplishments including holding the position of Chair of the League of Green Embassies and also winning the Colorado State Men’s Masters Body Building Championship several years in a row.
The talk Oreck delivered Tuesday morning at the World Renewable Energy Forum plenary session was not about any of these things though. He didn’t talk about climate change or the bright future of renewable energy. Instead, he spoke about the semantics crisis in the energy world.
Oreck called for a new vocabulary to describe a new relationship with energy for the 21st century. Semantics, the words we use to talk about this new relationship, matter in a significant way. Oreck’s talk drew heavily on big thinkers from Einstein to Lincoln in science and politics who, during their time, ushered society into new eras.
“As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew. We must disenthrall our selves and then we shall save our country” – Lincoln
Oreck emphatically demanded that we, as a collective, stop using the word ‘green’ to describe the energy revolution. He attacked the concept of ‘saving energy’ and urged the audience to re-frame what they do as ‘earning energy.’ He argued that by appealing to people’s desire for positive gain, you will engage their interest. Energy efficiency should be pitched as a business of energy exploration, not energy savings.
The crux of Oreck’s talk to the audience at this year’s WREF was to rethink how our industry engages with systems that we hope to change. He argued “Human behavior is subject to the same laws of inertia as the physical world. People will continue doing what they are doing, unless an unbalanced force acts upon the system.” The creation of this unbalanced force, to be effective, must connect with people’s hopes, fears, and desires for the future. It must come through a voice that people respect, with an angle that resonates with their lives.
Orek’s talk was indeed a departure from the normal. It issued a call for professionals in the energy world to engage the public around energy not through an engineer’s dry equations, but in ways they can understand and that matter to them. We must seek new ways to communicate our value proposition and work to capture the attention of the human spirit and the consumer’s wallet.
How do we do this?
Students of the humanities, expert wordsmiths, and story-tellers unite! Together we need to create a new vocabulary and narrative to unite this country and the globe around a new relationship with energy and solar for the 21st century.