• Ben Finzel

The Common Sense Colloquy Year Two in Review – Our Favorite Comments from our Participants

This post concludes the three-part series celebrating the second year of the Common Sense Colloquy Q&A series. This post includes my favorite comment from each of the twelve smart people who participated in Year Two of this series. As with last year’s responses, I was again struck by how insightful and relevant the participants’ comments were for energy and environment communications today.


In naming this series the “Common Sense Colloquy,” my intention was not just to link it to RENEWPR’s branding and purpose, but to make the point that common sense in communications is vital to effectively engaging others. The wisdom, insight and perspective of our Year Two participants certainly bears that out. But don’t take my word for it, take a look at my favorite pieces of advice from each of them:


  • Katharine Hayhoe, Texas Tech University: “There are more than seven and a half billion of us on this planet, and we have built our cities and our countries and our socio-economic systems on the assumption that climate is stable, and that the future will resemble the conditions we’ve experienced in the past. Today, that assumption is no longer true. That’s why, to care about a changing climate, we don’t have to be someone who considers themselves an environmentalist or a company that wants its image to be “green” – although it certainly helps. We just have to be an organization that wants to continue to thrive and succeed, long-term; and a human who wants this planet, the only one we currently have, to continue to be a safe home for us all.”


  • Roger Ballentine, Green Strategies: “All people and policymakers worth talking to either think that climate change is real or think that it might be. Then the question is what to do about it and why. “Why” is about managing risk (which we do in every other aspect of our economy, our families, and our national well-being) and preserving the world for our kids. “What” is about investment in and transition to an equal or greater prosperity across the economy by building a clean energy economy.”


  • Jennifer Holmgren, LanzaTech: “When I started thinking about energy, I cared about energy security and energy democracy. That’s how I got into this business: how do we solve the problem that 1.3 billion people in the world don’t have access to electricity? They didn’t have things like refrigeration, pumping water and could not read a book at night. To me it was about energy and democratizing it. It was only in the past 15 years that I’ve started to think about carbon as a greenhouse gas (GHG) issue and a particulate issue. You go to places and you can’t breathe the air. I grew up in LA and you couldn’t breathe the air. I’m sympathetic, but I also know if you can solve it in LA, you can solve it anywhere. Don’t tell me you can’t do it. My evolution is about climate: realizing that energy security and energy democracy wasn’t enough – you have to have clean energy security and democracy. The people I wanted to help would be the most affected. The intensity of talking about climate has increase over the past ten years and turned into something truly significant and exciting.”


  • Jigar Shah, Generate Capital: “I started in the industry in 1995. At that point the value of capital and the debate on innovation/deployment was still completely unknown. Today, there has been definitive proof that deployment leads to higher quality and better innovation, which leads to substantial cost reductions. The key to that deployment is government intervention and access to project finance. Today, this learning is being applied across not just solar/wind, but many other sectors including electric vehicles, anaerobic digesters, and precision farming. This has led to a radically new way to communicate about climate technologies – these represent the largest wealth creation opportunities of our lifetime.”


  • Abby Hopper, Solar Energy Industries Association: “When I started at SEIA, I identified diversity and inclusion as one of my top priorities. For too long, this industry and the energy sector broadly has not been reflective of the diversity of our nation. Women and people of color are underrepresented, especially at the leadership level. Acting on this inequity should be an urgent priority for all companies and organizations in the energy space. It’s simple math: companies that have more diverse senior leadership teams perform better and are more profitable than their peers. We want our companies in the industry to be successful and this is one way they can gain a competitive advantage. Our recent Diversity Study found that the solar industry has a long way to go but we have chosen to acknowledge that truth and are taking steps to address this. Alongside this study, we hosted a roundtableand released a best practices guide to give companies a starting point for working on these issues. We also launched a Diversity Challenge to get other energy industry companies involved as equity and inclusivity aren’t issues unique to the solar industry. We’re trying to get energy companies to set concrete action plans to address this issue. It is not enough to pay lip service to our lack of diversity. We have to actually take action. SEIA will have next steps to the challenge in the coming months.”


  • Greg Wetstone, American Council on Renewable Energy: “I suppose we all benefit from the sum total of our experience. It’s helpful to be able to relate to the perspectives of the range of players active in the policy and business realms. One lesson I’d emphasize concerns the importance of coalition building in strengthening our advocacy. A key aspect of the collaborative, pan-renewable advocacy we undertake at ACORE is that we are able to start with a broad coalition of renewable sector players, working across renewable technologies with developers, manufacturers, investors, utilities, and corporate renewable consumers. We work hard to forge more sweeping alliances to maximize our impact on joint priorities. In 2017 for example, we worked closely with the American Petroleum Institute in opposition to Department of Energy proposals to intervene in competitive electricity markets to prop up aging coal and nuclear power plants that are no longer economically viable. Today, we’re working with a diverse coalition in support of an investment tax credit (ITC) for energy storage, a cross-cutting policy with significant near-term climate benefits and broad appeal across the political spectrum.”


  • Roxanne Brown, United Steelworkers: “Essentially every policy – good or bad - that moves through Congress or the Administration impacts workers, their families or their communities in some way. I’ve learned that speaking plainly about what workers face on the job and in their communities, and allowing workers themselves to tell their own stories can have a profound impact on policymakers and can sometimes lead to transformational policy.”


  • Collin O’Mara, National Wildlife Federation: “When we save wildlife, we save ourselves. Wildlife conservation isn’t simply about altruism, there’s a huge amount of self-interest. When wildlife species have healthy habitat — clean water, clean air, healthy forests — the adjacent communities also have better public health outcomes: lower rates of respiratory illness, heart disease, and even cancer. Our health outcomes improve dramatically by spending just 30-60 minutes a day in nature. Communities with healthy natural resources — forests, wetlands, grasslands — are much more resilient to extreme weather events. Abundant wildlife populations and healthy natural resources provide the foundation of our nation’s $887-billion outdoor economy. Healthy pollinator populations are essential to our entire food system and our trillion-dollar agriculture economy. Re-establishing the human connection with wildlife and natural resources is more important and more difficult than ever, because we’re living in a period when we’re trading time in the natural world for time in a virtual world. Reconnecting current and future generations with nature is essential. Doing so helps create lifelong champions for wildlife, public health, and our natural resources. We make it easy for kids and families to make these connections through events like Great American Campout, and even virtually through our award-winning Ranger Rick magazines. From coast to coast, we provide opportunities for people to engage with local initiatives such as Baltimore Wildlife Week and Urban Wildlife Week in Los Angeles.”


  • Miranda Ballentine, Renewable Energy Buyers Alliance: “Simplify. Listen to folks. Use plain language. Speak so your grandmother could understand…or the over-worked parent in the checkout line at Walmart…or the spouse of a deployed military member.  You must be able to explain to these types of folks why clean energy matters to them—to their pocket book, to their family’s security, and to our nation’s success.”


  • Ernest Moniz, Energy Futures Initiative: “Although it’s important to communicate energy issues in a way that is easy to understand for the broadest possible audience, in the case of the energy transition and the need to become a net-zero economy by 2050, it’s important to communicate that there is no one-size-fits-all solution to the climate crisis. Some are betting on one silver bullet solution: “wind and solar batteries by 2030 and we’re done.’’ That does not help us move any serious program to resolve the problem. Regional considerations are also important in multiple dimensions. When you look at different parts of our country, energy conditions are very, very different. Even as we speak about a transformation to lower carbon, that transformation will happen in different ways in different parts of the country. This applies to the electricity system, the service providers, and the very different regulatory structures we have in different parts of the country, which will call for quite different solutions. Following on the EFI report on deep decarbonization efforts in California, it’s clear that what works for California might not work in Minnesota or New England. This picture alone tells you that there are enormous regional differences and we need to forge solutions that are tailored to regional assets and to regional innovation capabilities.”


  • Marilyn Brown, Georgia Tech: “There are so many audiences and each needs messages tailored to their interests. One common language is a colorful graph. Often what sounds convoluted in words can be made clear in lines and bars. Images are a great equalizer. Even if a student or policy maker can't understand a metric, they can clearly distinguish winning and losing solutions with a good graph. I've seen all the metrics, and the ones that people can connect to best are related to their own livelihoods. Number of rooftops, or dollars of healthcare spending are quite relatable.”


  • Ethan Zindler, BloombergNEF: “I know from my days as a business reporter at the Cape Cod Times and doing a little freelancing for the Wall Street Journal’s Personal Journal section that journalists almost every day are asked to take crash courses in new topics. So, you can’t expect them to know the lingo of your world and you can’t expect them to care enough to learn it. Break things down. State things clearly. Don’t worry about sounding patronizing. Reporters generally aren’t shy about telling you to shut up if they already know something. They’re busy folks.”


I hope this insight will be as useful to you as it is to me: I plan to refer to it often in the next year and beyond. I’m so thankful to Katharine, Roger, Jennifer, Jigar, Abby, Greg, Roxanne, Collin, Miranda, Ernest, Marilyn and Ethan for making Year Two of the Common Sense Colloquy a fascinating, informative and helpful experience.


That concludes Year Two of the Common Sense Colloquy. Year Three will get underway in March with the start of another twelve months of insight, information and intelligence. I hope you’ll follow along and share thoughts, comments and reactions here on the blog and/or on our social channels when we share these posts: Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.



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