Earth Day, ENERGY STAR® and the Power of Concise Messaging

Can you believe that Earth Day is only a few years shy of its 50th anniversary?  My first true involvement with Earth Day began on its 20th anniversary in 1990.  That’s when I attended the 1st International Eco-City Conference in Berkeley, an event that attracted nearly 3,000 people from all over the world who were interested in making our cities more sustainable.  

My career at the time involved syndicating shopping centers in and around Los Angeles. I have to admit, at the conclusion of that four-day conference, I felt as if I were living a Joni Mitchell song, “paving paradise and putting up parking lots”!  That epiphany led to me to retire from commercial real estate and move to Philadelphia to attend Wharton.  Shortly thereafter, I started an energy-efficiency consulting firm with the intention of harnessing private-sector capitalism to address some very big public-sector challenges. 

That company’s first significant consulting engagement was helping the US EPA create and deploy its ENERGY STAR® Buildings Program for Commercial Real Estate.  Today, two and a half decades later, billions of square feet have joined both the owner-occupied and non-owner-occupied sides of ENERGY STAR for Buildings.  Having personally recruited more than two billion of those square feet into ENERGY STAR, I can share the following insights: 

  • Most decisions are made emotionally and then justified financially, and the prospect of having a nationally recognized award attached to their building has motivated thousands of property owners to pursue efficiency and renewable energy initiatives that they might not have done if lower utility bills had been the only reward.
  • Realizing that we live in a culture that gravitates toward “sound bites,” it’s not surprising that the ENERGY STAR logo has become so popular. That simple blue and white logo telegraphs messages of higher efficiency very efficiently (pun intended).  Simply seeing that logo on a building allows a potential purchaser or lessee to “check a box” with confidence, which helps expedite due diligence and shorten the sales cycle.
  • The prospect of acquiring (or retaining) that prestigious logo also helps sustainability-minded folks within an organization capture the attention of the folks whose buy-in they need to bring efficiency initiatives to life. That logo has become a form of shorthand for both environmental stewardship and the bragging rights that follow. 

One more thought on the topic of organizational shorthand… It has been my studied observation over the last three decades that concise messaging holds the key to getting efficiency projects approved.  It doesn’t necessarily have to be as concise as a single logo; however, it has to be pithy, to the point, and focused on WHY. 

That’s why Selling Energy teaches energy professionals – most of whom are “accidental salespeople” – how to use 15-second elevator pitches, three-sentence solicitations, one-page proposals and one-page financial analyses.  Though not quite as concise as a striking blue and white logo, those concise messages allow decision-makers to quickly connect the dots between enhanced efficiency and segment-specific positive outcomes. Ideally, those positive outcomes can be quantified and monetized, making them easy to measure with yardsticks those decision-makers are already using to gauge their own success. 

One doesn’t have to be an environmentalist to appreciate how simple yet powerful labels like Earth Day and ENERGY STAR can elicit emotion, which powers motivation, which drives forward motion.  

Remember:  keep the message brief, make an emotional connection, and keep it segment-specific.   


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