Columnists: Hans Nilsson, Fourfact

Published on: 5 Jul 2016

Dessine-moi un mouton!

eceee prides itself from being an organisation that provides evidence and facts on energy efficiency. It is a true virtue to be able to handle an issue that often is overlooked by many actors on the market since it is badly needed. We must develop the skills and the confidence of investors and politicians that resources can and must be handled with greater care. But still – is this enough?

What if they don’t listen or don’t understand? Bill Maher, an American satiric talk show host, said recently in riposting republicans who support Trump and the National Rifle Association, NRA: “It hurts their feelings when we insult their values with our facts”.

We have also recently seen the same kind of reactions in the Brexit campaign. Facts were useless since “values”, sometimes quite shady, carried more weight for those who were supposed to listen.

“What’s the EU ever done for us?” an inhabitant of a Welsh town that has been showered with EU money to develop the local society is reported to have said to The Guardian.                                            “Well, I know … they built all this,” he says, and motions his head at the impressive facilities that are all around us.

Facts were obviously not enough. His values, whichever they were, seems to have been, in Mahers words, “insulted”.

So what should we do? Of course we should continue in the business of facts, but maybe we should also qualify our facts by making them more palatable and easy to digest. We need to make the facts take shapes that are more visual and fit into a narrative that people feel comfortable with.

The new report/brochure “Efficiency First: A New Paradigm for the European Energy System” could serve as an example. It is a good text that all of us “efficiency-freaks” easily understand and in the text there is an attempt to provide Q and A for the less informed reader, but still…!?

Can we expect people from outside our circles to accept efficiency as a fuel? We know from the IEA World Energy Investment Outlook (WEIO) 2014 that investors have difficulties to handle (understand) reduced costs since they are trained to make calculations on increased revenues!

We talk about multiple benefits in categories such as energy security, reduced risk and increased productivity, but can we provide tangible examples from real life in a language that resonate with the receiver’s values?

We talk about “win-win” but people are much more prone to listen when we rephrase the “win” as an “avoided loss” since losing is worse than an equal win is good. “You are losing 100€ by not changing to LED” is a stronger message then “You are winning 100€ by changing to LED”. People are loss-averse by nature as has been shown by the behavioural economists.

We have a good message in particular since it is based on hard-core facts, but we need to work on the language – make the message resonate with the values of the receivers.

“Dessine-moi un mouton” (Draw me a sheep) says the little prince in the book by Antoine de Saint Exupéry. “If somebody wants a sheep, that is a proof that he exists.” (Quand on veut un mouton, c'est la preuve qu'on existe). Our audience exists – we must communicate with them!

The views expressed in this column are those of the columnist and do not necessarily reflect the views of eceee or any of its members.

Other columns by Hans Nilsson