Is the Energy Industry Facing a Crisis of Trust?

Energy is a multi-trillion dollar sector and energy products form some of the most basic inputs into our modern industrial society. What’s more, the energy industry sits at the intersection of government policy and complex markets. It’s understandable then that everyone, from consumers to policy makers, has their eyes on the energy industry.

Energy industry leaders might be concerned then by the findings of the recent edition of the annual “Trust Barometer” published by global public relations firm Edelman. Their survey found that stakeholder trust in the U.S. energy industry sits at about 59 percent, only slightly better than the 53 percent trust rating afforded to governments. Given the dysfunction of Washington D.C. these days, that’s tough company to keep.

Within the energy industry, trust levels differ by nearly a factor of two, with the oil industry experiencing the lowest levels of stakeholder trust at just 35 percent, and the renewable energy industry garnering a 65 percent trust rating.

As Amy Hemingway, Senior Vice President and global energy lead for Edelman, explains, trust matters for all firms in the energy industry because “trust is the core ingredient in any transaction, commercial or political.”

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Rebuilding that trust was the topic of the day when industry leaders, communications experts, and political officials all gathered at a May 15 event in Washington D.C. hosted by Edelman andTheEnergyCollective.com. The event was a new twist for TheEnergyCollective.com, the first live, in-person event we’ve hosted, and it was a big success. You can watch the full event on the next page.

As Amy explained, “Edelman and The Energy Collective arranged this event because we are hearing from stakeholders that, now more than ever, energy leaders in the U.S. need to build, and in some case rebuild, trust in the energy industry.” According to Edelman, this year’s Trust Barometer is reflective of “a crisis of leadership.”

The May 15 event focused on the implications of that “crisis” for what Robin Carey, CEO of Social Media Today, the parent company of TheEnergyCollective.com, described as “the single most important issue we as human beings are facing at this time: how we manage our resources and how we protect the world we live in.”

With a host of controversial issues facing the energy sector from fate of renewable energy subsidies to the impacts of fracking and shale gas development to the debate over the Keystone XL Pipeline, the poor trust ratings experienced by many sectors in the energy industry may make it difficult for industry leaders and government officials alike to build effective energy strategies.

As featured blogger and Energy Collective advisory board member Geoffrey Styles reported from the event:

“It surely complicates the challenging tasks we face, with regard to resource management and environmental stewardship, that much of the public doesn’t trust government or energy to solve our important problems. Both institutions suffer from serious trust gaps, while NGOs, who as one panelist observed have significantly fewer constraints on their statements and actions, enjoy more trust than either one (or both together?) Especially for the energy industry, getting things done increasingly requires more than good plans and solid returns. Its “license to lead”, as another panelist described it, must be earned by engaging in activities that usually aren’t second nature for experienced engineers and finance experts.”

Full video:

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Originally written for TheEnergyCollective.com. TheEnergyCollective.com features the world’s best thinkers on energy & climate change. The site features news and commentary on topics including energy efficiency, climate change, energy storage, nuclear energy, renewable energy, smart grid, energy innovation, and cleantech. For more, visit TheEnergyCollective.com and follow us on Twitter @EnergyCollectiv

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