Shahar Silbershatz, CEO, Caliber

At first glance, the conclusion of our recent report on the reputation of the U.S. energy sector is clear: America’s energy companies are more trusted and liked by stakeholders than they were two years ago.

But here’s the thing. Perceptions of the sector vary – and should give pause for thought to any US energy company with a “one-size-fits-all” approach to its communications.

As seen before, most Americans perceive electricity companies more favorably than oil & gas companies – with NextEra and Halliburton bookending the reputation ranking being a perfect example. This is true for both men and women and every generation from Zoomers to Boomers. But the opposite is true for Americans who earn less than $40,000 per year – most likely because they’ve felt the squeeze of rising energy bills more.

For electricity companies, this points to a need to appeal to all Americans and address the cost-of-living concerns of people struggling to pay higher household bills, rather than just communicate their eco-credentials to better-off energy consumers.

Oil & gas companies, whose reputations plummeted earlier in the year after announcing record profits, face a different challenge. Their goal should be to demonstrate their relevance to customers and the public – and, in particular, to communicate much more effectively their particular role in the clean energy transition.

Why? Because Americans perceive oil & gas companies worse on ESG in particular – meaning stakeholders think they are doing less for both people and the planet.

Electricity companies are also rated more favorably on attributes such as Integrity, which reflects the extent to which people think they behave responsibly, and Relevance, which reflects the extent to which people can relate to what they stand for. In other words, oil & gas companies have their work cut out in articulating and demonstrating their purpose.

Most importantly, our report reveals the biggest challenge for the energy sector as a whole: straddling a difficult balance between renewable and affordable energy. While most Americans (73%) support the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy, half of them worry about rising energy costs as a result.

Moreover, the support for this transition, and for the Biden administration’s Energy Infrastructure Reinvestment program, is much higher among younger people and among Democrats, revealing generational and political divides.

Energy companies must help facilitate the clean energy transition by participating more in the public debate and making the conversation relevant to customers and to other segments and stakeholders, who possess varying opinions and concerns about the topic. They can also help educate people about the pros and cons of the Biden administration’s plan – in an apolitical manner – and facilitate better public understanding and acceptance of it.

Likewise, we believe US energy companies across the sector could communicate better with customers about where their energy comes from. According to our report, 60% of Americans are not sure about the exact source of energy that powers their home.

As ever, clear communication is key – only this time, the stakes couldn’t be much higher.


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