Flagging up the cause

With accusations of plagiarism and Greenwash hitting the Green energy sector, Emily Pacey looks at how companies large and small are using branding to promote their environmental credentials

Tomorrow is Green Britain Day, EDF Energy’s annual event to ’help people to do what they can to reduce their carbon footprint by changing their lives’, according to its website. But the campaign has not provided the good news PR boost EDF might have hoped for.

Fellow Green energy supplier Ecotricity is aggrieved. The wind-power specialist is in the final stages of constructing a copyright legal case against EDF for the use of a green Union Jack flag. This was created for Ecotricity in 2007 by Host, and EDF later adopted a strikingly similar motif to promote Green Britain Day, part of the energy giant’s sponsorship campaign for the London 2012 Olympics. EDF uses the flag extensively across its communications, marketing materials and advertising. ’It is even using the flags for its van livery, in a very similar way to us,’ says a spokesman for Ecotricity.

The upcoming court case between a David and Goliath of energy provision highlights the similarities between branding strategies for energy companies both large and small, ’dirty’ and ’clean’. The so-called big six energy suppliers – British Gas, Eon, Npower, EDF, Scottish Power and Scottish & Southern Energy – have created sustainability campaigns and offshoots whose branding often resembles those of the smaller guys, which include Ecotricity, Green Energy and Good Energy. The latter has just revealed a rebrand by Studio Makgill (News, DW 10 June).

’There is a very strong move for the big six to look like small Green products and to use the Green vernacular,’ says Studio Makgill creative director Hamish Makgill. ’But the culture of designing for Green energy initiatives, including using a green palette, images of nature and everything being printed on organic, thick-grained paper to make it look like it has been recycled and printed cheaply, has been so polluted by other companies that it no longer means anything.’

Nevertheless, Studio Makgill has used a stylised sun motif for its Good Energy logo, and fellow sustainable energy company Green Energy’s logo, most recently worked on by Designhaus, features a leaf. ’We used the leaf to show our Green credentials’, says Green Energy marketing manager Fiona Graham. ’We aren’t heavily involved with wind and so the usual Green devices like sun and wind turbines don’t apply to us. Instead, the leaf adds some visual interest and is a trigger for sustainability,’ she adds. There is no shame here about what Caroline Reed – client services manager at consultancy 400, which is working on an upcoming energy branding project for an as yet unnamed group – calls ’a sector flooded with a generic and predictable branding style’.

As BP stands helplessly by while its oil continues to gush shamefully into the Gulf of Mexico and online competitions to ’rebrand’ it flourish, the old matter of Greenwashing has reared its head once again. BP was one of the first major energy suppliers to embrace Green branding when Landor revamped its logo in 2000, and ever since it has been a target for derision and outrage.

After researching the industry, Sarah Westwood, planner at Good Brand & Company, which is creating Good Energy’s marketing campaigns, believes that ’there is absolutely no technological innovation in the mainstream energy sector’. She adds, ’If you compare the telecoms revolution of the past 20 years to that of the energy sector, there is no innovation.’

Like Makgill, Westwood is cynical about the way that big utility providers present themselves. While she dislikes the term Greenwashing, she finds it unavoidable when it comes to describing the energy industry at large. ’We have been through a period of the big six getting excited about Green energy and trying to engage the consumer as part of a corporate exercise that does boil down to Greenwashing,’ she says.

Makgill and Westwood are both passionate about the potential power of branding within the energy sector. Makgill says, ’It is fantastically important because brands broker change in peoples’ lives and are vital for creating demand for renewables, so this is a huge opportunity to think about how brands can create more equity for themselves.’

Westwood criticises a current trend among the big utility providers to ’take a patronising and reductivist tone, telling customers to turn their lights out and so on, which seems really piecemeal’. She is looking for altogether grander ambitions, which in terms of graphic design could come to life in 400’s branding of a Green energy company, due to launch next week. This brand is not looking to target the mainstream, but its branding is intended to communicate heritage rather than Greenness. As 400 director Paul Dennis says, during the consultancy’s research, ’what really stood out was the lack of consumer-focused brands compelling enough to appeal to early adopters’.

He continues, ’It appears that while many small suppliers focus heavily on their technological offering, most neglect to develop a brand that will inspire their target audience.’

Recent branding work for Green energy suppliers

Ecotricity – logo and green flag motif created by consultancy Host

Green Energy – Designhaus worked on its logo most recently

Good Energy – new branding recently unveiled, created by Studio Makgill, with marketing campaigns by Good Brand & Company, brand strategy by Northstar and a website by Beef

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