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Electric vehicles and the skeletons in the closet

On the surface, the arrival of affordable, far-ranging electric vehicles seems like the answer to society’s prayers.  Environmentally-conscience consumers are keen to find products that reduce their carbon footprint, and with over 380 billion miles1 clocked up on UK roads last year alone, the way we get around is a prime target. 

As electric cars become more mainstream, it’s likely the industry will come under increasing scrutiny. So, is this new transport solution as clean as we’re led to believe? And if not, then how should brands deal with information that potentially undermines their green credentials? 

 

Electric dreams 

A big selling point for electric cars is that unlike diesel and petrol vehicles, they produce no exhaust emissions. This doesn’t mean however, that they are completely carbon neutral. 

Although they may not give out emissions while being driven, electric cars still generate ‘upstream’ emissions – that is, emissions caused by the energy needed to charge them. 

Recharging an electric car is nice and simple: just plug it in and wait. But follow that electricity back to source, and you’ll often find yourself at a traditional fossil-fuelled power station. And even if you can find a renewable energy source to charge your EV, there’s also the manufacturing process to consider.  

Many resources go into building cars, including rare earth minerals. And thanks to the lighter, high-performing materials used in electric vehicles, building them actually generates more emissions than traditional car manufacturing. 

Batteries are also problematic. Electric cars have huge chemical batteries which are hard to recycle and have a relatively short shelf-life. Another black mark.  

Despite all this, electric cars are still an environmentally friendly option, and will probably see their overall emissions drop further as technology improves. But the hard truth is, very little we buy in this day and age doesn’t produce emissions at some point in its lifecycle.  

For brands whose USP is founded on sustainability, this can prove difficult. How can you resolve two conflicting narratives? 

 

The truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. 

No matter how good your intentions are, there’s always somebody ready to point out your flaws or cry ‘hypocrite’. So, when it comes to customer communications, owning your negatives ultimately puts you in a stronger position. 

Although full disclosure may feel like a bad idea, or logically fly in the face of your business objectives, consumers value transparency. 

There are three main things to remember.  

  • Your audience wants to know what they are buying. Where things are sourced, who made them, and how. 
  • People prefer brands they feel a connection with. With good transparency you can demonstrate your values and your human side. 
  • We live in the age of information – you can’t bury things. People will find out eventually, so it’s better to be upfront. 

To avoid having to constantly put out fires, it’s best to take a proactive approach. You can build honesty into your brand from the very start and come up with a clear strategy to handle any crisis that might arise. 

If you’d like help with your brand communications, you can get in touch with our team by emailing hello@columns.co.uk

1https://www.racfoundation.org/motoring-faqs/mobility#a26  

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