We started Haddock Research in 2008. At that time climate change was a taboo subject. Most people were very uncomfortable about talking about it! Climate change provoked strong negative emotions and was a highly charged topic between people with different points of view.
Entering the 2020s, whilst the effects of climate change have become more evident, innovation has made the situation appear less hopeless. Whilst opinions continue to diverge, there are credible pathways for this challenge to be solved.
Photo by Peter Winters, ‘Climate Strike’, Montreal, September 2019
Back in 2008
Back in 2008, at Haddock Research we funded and ran the Environmental Choices study. The objective was to explore people’s attitudes towards climate change and understand how these attitudes might be impacting the choices people make in various aspects of their lives; and their reactions to some cleantech concepts. The survey employed a 35-minute online questionnaire, and conducted amongst nationally representative samples of ~1,000 adults per country in Canada, England and the US. The project was blinded, in the sense that respondents were not told about our particular interest in climate change. This was done both to minimize sample bias and minimize any kind of ‘Hawthorne effect’ on how respondents answered questions.
This 2008 Environmental Choices study provides evidence of how divided the public was about climate change, at that time. Those most concerned about climate change we termed Climate Citizens, who comprised around a third of adults (slightly more in Canada, and slightly less in the US). Climate Citizens thought that climate change was a serious threat and that we should change the way we do things now to tackle this problem. Those least concerned about climate change we termed Sceptics & Uninvolved, who comprised around a quarter of adults (slightly more in the US, and slightly less in Canada). Those in this Sceptics & Uninvolved segment did not think that climate change is a serious risk, and were either sceptical or disengaged on the subject of climate change.
The results showed that ‘concern about climate change’ was a strong motivator for interest in a new cleantech product. Respondents were shown a blinded product profile of the Ceres Power micro-CHP home energy boiler prototype, and the best predictor of someone being willing to adopt this new low-carbon boiler was whether they were a Climate Citizen. At that time, climate change was somewhat of a liberal concern, and certain sub-groups seem to be much more likely to be Sceptics & Uninvolved – such as Republicans in the US; and middle-aged, male motorcyclists in Canada. We found that few people took account of carbon labelling, there was a high correlation between frequency of flying and income level, and the then popular environmental advertising concept of ‘saving polar bears’ for promoting climate action (as used in a 2010 advertising campaign for the Nissan LEAF electric car) to be very polarizing. We recommended not using ‘polar bears’ unless the objective was solely to appeal to Climate Citizens, and even then advertisers would need to consider the possible stigma associated with using this brand image. Climate change was then a taboo subject provoking strong emotions! Climate Citizens were worried about climate change; in contrast Sceptics & Uninvolved were annoyed, bored and/or angry about it. There was a sense of hopelessness given the limited options available for what individuals could do about climate change. At that time, tackling climate change was about not doing things – not flying, not keeping your house warm and perhaps giving others a hard time for not doing their bit to reduce their personal carbon footprint. And with the notion of a fixed atmosphere carbon budget, these ‘kill-joy’ actions could only hope to slow down climate change, rather than solve the problem.
In 2010/2011, we reported some key findings from Environmental Choices in a monthly column of 14 articles for Sustainable Business magazine; and presented on the subject of Challenge your assumptions on how to market your low carbon product at their April 2010 SustainabilityLive! Conference, Birmingham, UK. A special thank-you to James Ambler (now of Moor Consulting) for delivering this presentation! We also contributed to a report put together by Lorraine Whitmarch et al from Cardiff University and RCUK about Public Attitudes, Understanding, and Engagement in relation to Low-Carbon Energy: A selective review of academic and non-academic literatures, published in January 2011. Anyone interested in understanding the history of UK public engagement with climate change should consider this as an essential reference.
In addition, we provided information for the climate campaigner, George Marshall (Climate Outreach), who was investigating the taboo aspects of climate change for his book Don’t Even Think About It: Why our brains are wired to ignore climate change (2014). George used our data about how Canadian ‘middle-aged male motorbike riders are not well disposed to believe in climate change’ (page 24), about how infrequently people speak about climate change (page 81), the problem with using polar bears as a campaign icon (page 137), and ‘that people who have children are no more concerned with climate change than anyone else’ (page 189).
Entering the 2020s, both the real-world effects of climate change, and the potential of innovations to solve the problem of climate change, are becoming more apparent. The notion of generating our electricity from wind and solar, and using that electricity in electric cars and for use with building a hydrogen economy, has gone from a hopeful idea to inevitability.
“Hydrogen and hydrogen-based fuels will need to fill the gaps where electricity cannot easily or economically replace fossil fuels and where limited sustainable bioenergy supplies cannot cope with demand. This includes using hydrogen-based fuels for ships and planes, as well as hydrogen in heavy industries like steel and chemicals.” IEA, Net Zero by 2050 (2021)
The focus then becomes about how quickly the switch to new cleantech technologies can be achieved.
Much like the time taken in the development of biotech drugs by the pharmaceutical industry, it is extremely challenging to develop innovative clean technologies quickly. The good news is that once the underlying science is well tested and understood, it can be adapted for specific applications rather more quickly – such as with COVID vaccines using biotech or using hydrogen with fuel cells. But it still takes time! As Dr. Mark Selby (Ceres Power) observed, in November 2020, with respect to this cleantech shift “People tend to overestimate what’s achievable in two years and underestimate what’s going to happen in 10 years”.
We should appreciate the hard work, dedication and sacrifice of those working in cleantech who have been inspired by the need to tackle climate change. Over the last 20 years, many cleantech companies have not been able to survive the long innovation development times. Indeed, Ceres Power was saved from closure in late 2012 by a rescue led by IP Group, which involved new financing, a new strategy and a new management team. Since then Ceres Power has been successful in bringing their SteelCell® technology to market. By early 2021, Ceres Power had a multi-billion pound market capitalization, and major partnerships with Bosch, Doosan, Weichai and Miura.
Speaking personally, I think it is pretty remarkable that Ceres Power survived, and that their vital technology is being put to use. I was able to attend the Ceres Power AGM of November 2013, and made a point of personally thanking Alan Aubrey (IP Group) and Philip Caldwell (Ceres Power) for saving the company! I was glad to see that IP Group’s exit from Ceres Power in 2020 achieved an award for being European Deal of the Year.
At the end of 2019, stock market investment sentiment moved strongly towards cleantech companies. Since then there has been considerably volatility with some cleantech companies performing much better than others. Tesla is the poster-child of cleantech success, with early investors making extraordinary returns on their investments. Cleantech success stories have brought the subject of climate change into business circles, making it less of a taboo. In short, there is now an ‘aspirational success’ story about climate change for entrepreneurs, investors and users.
If we think of COVID, governments can co-ordinate public health measures, but it is innovation with testing and vaccines that are required to successfully end the pandemic. In the same way, without cleantech innovation it is not really possible for governments to design policies that will reduce carbon emissions anywhere near sufficiently to resolve the climate crisis. New cleantech industries allow governments to more aggressively regulate fossil fuels industries when there are alternative employment opportunities in cleantech. Governments can also consider how supporting cleantech can lead to competitive advantage in these new industries within international markets.
And these cleantech innovations allow individuals more opportunity to engage with tackling climate change – as consumers, investors and workers.
Half a million people joined a climate strike when Greta Thunberg came to Montreal on Friday September 27, 2019. There were many young people on the march. I didn’t personally see any ‘polar bears’ on their banners, but rather images and slogans which demanded action on climate change as they worried about their futures. Such passion from young people should help to further break down the taboo of climate change, as it becomes a conversation within a family, rather than assigned to a view held by an ‘other’ group. Children are being told about climate change at school. Emerging cleantech innovations make it easier to have conversations about how climate change can realistically be solved. And adopting cleantech innovations are a chance to be considered cool by your kids!
Photo by Lucy Carrigan, London, April 2023
SENIOR PRICING CONSULTANT / FOUNDER
Peter provides pricing consultancy with a focus on supporting companies achieve profitable growth. He does this by uncovering customer value through qualitative and quantitative research methodologies. Much of his work is with projects supporting digital innovation.
Peter is the founder and lead contact for Haddock Research. He works with a network of trusted colleagues according to the needs of each specific project. And these needs are changing with the growth of new AI technologies and digital information sources.
Peter also has a passion for adopting new cleantech technologies in his personal life. Specifically he has installed a couple of geothermal heat pumps (aka ground source heat pumps), a water-heating solar system and will not stop talking about his electric car.
As an ESOMAR Member, Peter complies with the ICC/ESOMAR International Code.