Written by: Jake Navarro on Thursday, May 16, 2013 | Leave a Comment
The S&P Global Clean Energy Index, a diversified benchmark of 30 clean energy companies from around the world, underperformed the S&P 500 every calendar year of the last five. Over that time (2008-2012) it lost 88 percent of its total value, according to Bloomberg. This year, however, clean energy stocks have strongly outperformed U.S. equities overall (which have themselves surged to record highs in 2013). So what’s the deal? Is clean energy truly back?
Though there is no doubt many cleantech companies could not survive another economic downturn the likes of the one we’ve seen the last five years, that also means that none of the companies in the game today are pretenders. The sector is probably stronger now than it ever has been, and not just because investor cash is finally flowing in: Entrepreneurs have finally figured out how to make money in clean energy.
That’s true for S&P Global Clean Energy Index constituents like First Solar, a utility-scale photovoltaics provider, and it’s also true of earlier stage companies that are set to make a splash in clean energy. The recession’s secret silver lining is that it forced companies to innovate their technologies and their business models simultaneously.
Here in New England, we have no shortage of innovative clean energy upstarts whose businesses look promising. Altaeros, for instance, makes a wind turbine unlike any you’ve seen before – it hovers hundreds or even thousands of feet in the air, where winds are stronger and no one can complain about a windmill ruining the view. Don’t believe me? Check out this video of the turbine in action:
Portland, Maine-based Ocean Renewable Power Company is also putting turbines in unusual places, in this case, deep in the ocean, where the company harnesses the massive energy of tidal currents. Big Belly Solar (hailing from Newton, Massachusetts) has actually combined two clean technologies – recycling and solar energy – to revolutionize public trash collection. Its waste and recycling stations (which, by the way, can send email and text message alerts when they’re full) can now be seen from Times Square to Viborg, Denmark.
There’s never any telling where a market as new and swiftly changing as clean energy might be headed, but it’s safe to say that things are looking up. And that’s good news: After all, what other industry is good for investors, global economies and the environment at the same time?
Jake Navarro is an account supervisor for Greenough. Send him an email at email@example.com
Written by: Jess on Wednesday, May 15, 2013 | Leave a Comment
As a member of the Millennial Generation, I have seen quite a few new technologies emerge. It seems that in just a matter of years, we have gone from desktops and cordless phones, to flip-phones and laptops, to smart phones and tablets and most recently, to Google Glass, the first technology ever to allow humans to live in a virtualized reality.
As our technologies have gotten smaller, our dependence on them has gotten larger. I rely on my iPhone for much more than just phone calls and texts; it’s my alarm clock, my iPod, my weatherman, my GPS, my camera and my newspaper on the train in the morning. But if I am so attached to my iPhone, why does the idea of Google Glass scare me?
Actually, the real question here is can we survive in a society where people walk around with tiny screens attached to their heads? I’m not so sure.
Yes, there are the positives of Google Glass. There’s the story of the high school teacher taking students on a virtual field trip through Switzerland, and of the woman who can take war vets on tours of memorials they would otherwise never get the chance to see. And of course, CIOs are already scheming up ways that Google Glass will help make their employees more productive.
But then there are the negatives. First and foremost: privacy. How will you know if the stranger walking down the street wearing Google Glass just discretely snapped your picture? What are the consequences of having technology intrude into every step of your everyday life? One bar in Seattle has already banned patrons wearing Google Glass from its establishment, citing privacy concerns as the main reason.
And, there are all of the unknowns. Google Glass will change how we communicate and interact with each other. Is the dude in line behind you for coffee wearing Google Glass talking to you or his glasses? Will having screens attached to our faces destroy personal relationships by allowing people to retreat back into their technology, even when surrounded by friends? Will Google Glass distract and remove us from what is actually going on even more than our smartphones already do? Not to mention, will staring at a screen that close to our eyes for hours every day cause a new eye disease or premature blindness? And finally, will the ability to perceive and experience things differently, and maybe even better, through technology, ultimately lead us to be disappointed in our off-screen lives?
The only way to answer these questions is to experience Google Glass first hand, or at least through this video. Do you think you have the answers to my questions? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.
Gaby is an account executive at Greenough. Follow her on Twitter: @Gabyberk
Written by: Jess on Friday, May 10, 2013 | Leave a Comment
The Boston Marathon bombing occurred a few weeks ago; however, memories are still fresh in the minds of many, including us here at Greenough. Our offices are located only a few blocks away from the finish line, and we had several employees in the area at the time who witnessed the attacks or were touched directly by the horror and chaos that followed. One of them was 26-year-old Rachel Vaccari, an account supervisor who left her job in television news to join our agency just days before the tragedy happened. This is a first-hand account of her experience that day.
April 15th. Marathon Monday. Patriots’ Day. A day off. An opportunity to enjoy a beautiful, 60-degree day with my younger brother. A day that terrorists attacked. A day that innocent people died. A day that families lost loved ones. A day that people lost limbs but not the strength to survive. A day that brought the city, the nation, and the world together to heal.
We spent the majority of the day in front of Lord & Taylor on Boylston Street — Marathon Sports to our right, Forum to our left. We were packed on the sidewalk so tightly that at one point I thought “Geez, I hope we don’t have to get anywhere fast.” If this had been right after 9/11 I would have thought twice about being stuck in such a large group of people, but it was eleven years later and I felt safe. The thought never even crossed my mind.
Around 2:30pm we decided to vacate our 2nd row spot along the barriers that we had fought hard to reach. We debated pushing our way towards the finish line but the crowd was overwhelming and seemingly impassable. So, we decided to walk in the other direction, heading to Towne a little over a block away from Forum. The bar area was busy. Floor-to-ceiling windows along the front of the building made it a desirable spot to have a drink and cheer for the runners. People were dancing and singing along to “Manic Monday” by The Bangles. I distinctly remember everyone joining in unison to yell happily, “It’s just another manic Monday…”
Then the ground shook. The music continued but the singing stopped. Outside of the same window where we had been cheering for runners who were only .2 miles from the finish line, we watched those same runners along with thousands of terrified spectators sprint past us in the opposite direction, trying to frantically outrun a billowing cloud of grey smoke. Some pushed into the bar to get off the street, many crying, others hugging their friends. The bar quickly became packed from the overflow of people seeking shelter. My brother and I asked each other a couple of times, “What is going on?” but we weren’t panicking, not yet. A guy next to me wandered outside and casually came back to report it was a manhole explosion. It seemed like an obvious answer and phone service was down so it was impossible to confirm otherwise. The thought still hadn’t crossed my mind that it could be a bomb.
Then a Boston Police officer stuck his head through the open, street-side window and screamed into the packed bar: “EVERYONE OUT! NOW! EVERYONE GET OUT OF THE BUILDING NOW!” Panic set in. I looked at my brother again and said, “Jeff, WHAT is going on?” By now my voice had risen with fear and it was clear to me, him, and everyone else crammed in with us that it must have been a bomb that went off, an attack of some sort, and that Towne could be the next target. I wrapped my arm through my brother’s and we pushed our way towards the exit. We got stuck trying to get through the doorway and I had flashes of what it must have been like for people fleeing The Station nightclub. As soon as we broke free, we ran, and we didn’t stop running, holding onto each other the entire time. Officers and emergency personnel sprinted past us towards the bombing site. A caravan of ambulances raced from Longwood. Soldiers who had run in the marathon rushed by to assist victims, holding the American flag high. When we got to the Museum of Fine Arts on Huntington Avenue, over a mile away from the bombing site, we finally stopped running. We were safe but shaking; our sense of security forever changed. We allowed ourselves to breathe for the first time since hearing the officer’s frantic instructions to run like our lives depended on it. We hugged, we cried. We had survived a terrorist attack. We had survived the Boston Marathon bombings.
Rachel Vaccari is an account supervisor, media relations at Greenough. Follow her on Twitter @Rachel_Vaccari
Written by: Jake Navarro on Friday, May 3, 2013 | Leave a Comment
Ten years ago, ethanol was one of the hottest commodities on the market. Americans (especially those in Congress) had fallen in love with the idea that we could make a renewable, plant-based fuel to replace oil. You mean I can power my car with corn and sugarcane? That sounds like a great way to stay away from foreign oil and be (sort of) green.
Today, that picture is quite a bit different. Ethanol is no longer broadly viewed as a pro-American or particularly green fuel. In fact, Congress introduced legislation last month that would counteract 2005’s Renewable Fuel Standard, a policy that required incremental increases in the standard percentage of biofuels blended with gasoline (today it’s about 10 percent).
Why did ethanol fall out of favor? A big part of the change is probably due to the massive natural gas boom, which has gone a long way toward making the U.S. energy independent. But ethanol has had its own problems. The overwhelming majority of ethanol in the U.S. is made from corn, but corn has plenty of other uses. And though anyone who has driven through Iowa would have trouble believing it, there actually isn’t enough corn to sustainably produce ethanol.
Corn ethanol is created from the plant’s sugars and starches (in other words, the good stuff) which means that those same corn kernels can also be used for corn oil, corn syrup, livestock feed and many other functions. These other customers create demand for the corn which ultimately makes ethanol too costly to produce on a large scale. The same is true for ethanol derived from sugarcane or other valuable crops.
But sugars and starches aren’t the only parts of a plant that can be used to create ethanol. It is also possible to use cellulose, an inedible component of almost every plant. Since the cellulose is found in the undesirable portion of a plant (i.e. corn stalks and husks rather than kernels), it makes for a widely available, cheap feedstock. That’s why many are calling cellulose the future of ethanol, and perhaps the future of biofuels in general.
There is a catch, however. Any bootlegger can turn corn kernels into alcohol, but creating ethanol from cellulose is much more difficult. Only a few companies, such as Massachusetts-based Mascoma, have figured it out. Using proprietary technology, Mascoma introduces bacteria to materials such as wood and agricultural waste to create cellulosic ethanol. The final product is identical to corn ethanol, but the method and feedstocks are much more sustainable and scalable.
How big will cellulosic ethanol’s impact on the renewable fuels industry be? The answer depends in part on Congress’s decision about the Renewable Fuel Standard, but a sea change has already begun.
Jake Navarro is a senior consultant for Greenough. Send him an email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Written by: Jess on Wednesday, May 1, 2013 | Leave a Comment
In Jonathan Gottschall’s recent book, The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human, the author argues that humans are set apart from other animals by their ability to tell stories. This capacity to communicate verbally and craft narratives defines us by making it possible to transfer complex information to one another, cohere as a society around a central theme and to persuade and influence each other. In fact, Gottschall argues that narrative has such a strong power over the human mind that “fiction seems to be more effective at changing beliefs than writing that is specifically designed to persuade through argument and evidence.”
While this fact seems shocking when stated so plainly, it’s actually quite clear when you look at history. Almost all major movements, whether political, economic or commercial, have offered people clearly defined narratives that, just like a good book, they can get absorbed in. And the idea isn’t new. Take Manifest Destiny as an example: unlike many major political movements, it was never clearly spelled out in policy, and existed almost purely as a national narrative – a story driving major real-world results, rather than the other way around. Storytelling applies for businesses as well, for whom a strong story builds brand affinity in a way that nothing else can. Carefully crafting and distributing that story is essential to building a successful brand.
The problem for today’s storytellers, however, is how to craft engaging stories in a media/social media landscape that’s exponentially more populated than ever before. Every year, brands and businesses have to compete with more stories (and, often, entirely new forms of media) for customers’ attention. So how do we keep people interested in the stories we want to tell?
The answer, I believe, is to invite more viewer action. Creating space in your brand’s narrative for a viewer to act, to question or to feel involved engages them and keeps them focused. Think of it this way: your brand’s story should be less newspaper and more video game (or choose-your-own-adventure novel, if you prefer) – if it isn’t designed to elicit frequent viewer input, it’s not having as full an effect as it could. One way to achieve this is to either omit, or not explicitly mention, all the benefits of your product – while a clear explanation of your product’s value proposition is great in a sales environment, building interest in a brand’s story works much better if you leave out some information and let the reader do some digging themselves.
Though this can seem counterintuitive, we have to remember that the best stories often strategically omit information in order to engage the agency and curiosity of the reader. For example, “The following pages will interest you, as they detail the difficulties caused by Anna Karenina’s relationship with Count Vronsky” is a significantly less compelling introduction than “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” All too often, brands take the former approach, focusing solely on fitting in as much information as possible before the reader puts down the magazine or changes the channel; great stories work because they invite the reader in and make them want to turn the page themselves.
Another way to encourage viewer action is to subtly incorporate references to cultural memes that only a certain part of your viewership will understand, and leave the viewers to connect the dots themselves. Everyone has had the feeling of sharing a secret at some point, and creating that for your viewers is a great strategy. I recently had that experience with the latest Volkswagen ad, “Mask.” In it, a man goes into a convenience store wearing a ski mask and, while clearly making the store clerk very nervous, proceeds to buy all his items in an orderly manner. He and his friends then drive off, while the audience enjoys the joke.
What’s remarkable about it is the music playing in the background: it’s famous online as the “Trololo” song. While the full story of the song (which is actually quite interesting) can be found in this article, suffice it to say that it’s the anthem of internet “trolls”: people who perform pranks online for the sole purpose of confusing or frustrating people. I had heard the song many times before, and recognized the clip that was subtly inserted into the TV spot. Because the reference to the Trololo song was not too overt, I felt more connected to Volkswagen when I was able to catch the reference. Most importantly for Volkswagen, I felt like I was in on their joke – and that’s a very valuable feeling for the ad’s target demographic to have.
These storytelling techniques are effective because the human mind is predisposed to search for narrative when presented with information. As a species, we cannot resist the uniquely human need to weave a web of meaning when one is not explicitly presented to us. Giving viewers the space to do so not only makes them more engaged, it also increases brand affinity by making viewers feel like they have helped define what the brand signifies to them. Believe it or not, sometimes there’s nothing worse than giving your viewers a clear, straightforward idea of your product.
Zach Pearson is an Account Executive at Greenough. Follow him on Twitter: @zach_p_pearson
Written by: Jess on Monday, April 29, 2013 | Leave a Comment
At any age, a working man or woman wants to save money, which is why so many of us grind out 9-5 jobs, right? Unfortunately, many workers cannot effectively manage or save their money, which explains why Suze Orman rose to prominence, providing simple financial advice to millions.
The simplicity of Suze’s advice makes her successful, since her guidance is expressed in layman’s terms. Suze’s financial directives are clear, and the “to-do’s” are obvious, which allows individuals to make decisive choices about their own personal finances. What’s more, Suze built a powerful brand on something basic: financial advice. It’s the type of advice every American needs. Why isn’t every financial adviser like Suze? Why not invest in strategic, brand-building PR?
It’s unfortunate that so many financial advisers sit on the sidelines, while their competitors lure customers who might otherwise be their customers – if only these “sidelined advisers” chose to connect with the right reporters. So many reporters are dedicated to reporting on personal finance. In fact, they’re so hungry for ideas and sources, editors at the Wall Street Journal Wealth Manager blog can’t find enough qualified advisers to write a 500-700 word blog for their site.
It begs the question: if you are a financial adviser or banker, why sit on the sidelines of financial planning, while others are so easily building their brand with advice that everyone needs. Suze Orman did it. What’s holding you back?
Aaron Kellogg is an Account Supervisor at Greenough. Follow him on Twitter: @KelloggAaron
Written by: Jess on Friday, April 26, 2013 | Leave a Comment
In the battle between traditional and digital media, the facts don’t lie. Newsweek moved to an all digital format. The Boston Phoenix shut down permanently. And percentage of people reading a daily newspaper fell 18% from 2002 to 2012. It would appear digital is winning the war. Yet, more often than not, clients ask me “is this article for the print edition?” and then seem disappointed when I mention that it will only be online.
But digital has many advantages:
- Targeted Audience – RSS feeds from a select group of media outlets can yield more high-quality, focused content than traditional print newspapers – putting your company news in front of the eyeballs that matter to you most.
- Faster Delivery – traditional media only arrives on your doorstep once a day or once a month, depending on the publication. Digital outlets have the ability to update stories in real time and only take seconds to deliver the news via email alerts.
- Younger Demographics – to date there are more than 113.9 million mobile internet users and many news outlets (including Boston.com) that optimize their mobile news content to reach highly desired millennials.
Now, this is not to say that companies should focus solely on digital media. Traditional print and broadcast outlets still have enormous value. During the recent Boston Marathon attack, people turned to their local broadcast affiliates for live reports. Marginal news viewers came out of the woodwork and flocked to Boston’s legacy station, WCVB Channel 5. Even though all stations were running constant live coverage within 10 minutes of the tragedy, WCVB captured an 11.3 rating (35 share) – more than double its competitors.
The battle between traditional and digital media may never be over, and the solution is clear. A well-rounded public relations strategy, including print magazines/newspapers, broadcast outlets and digital media is always best. Focus on trusted outlets rather than the method of distribution. After all, the numbers don’t lie – a “post” on the New York Times Bits blog can reach as many – if not more – of your target audience as a print story in the paper’s Sunday tech section.
Christine Williamson is a senior consultant at Greenough. Follow her on Twitter @ChristineDBW
Written by: Jess on Wednesday, April 24, 2013 | Leave a Comment
Written by: Jess on Wednesday, April 17, 2013 | Leave a Comment
Earlier this month I read about the new video-teller ATMs Bank of America is rolling out over the next few months, starting in Boston and Atlanta. The ATMs offer live video chatting with a teller located in one of the bank’s national call centers, and will be able to accommodate a number of transactions that regular ATMs are not capable of (dispensing change, splitting a check between two accounts, etc.). BofA’s press release on their new machines announces “Bank of America Adds Human Touch to New ATMs,” but I tend to side more with New York Times Bucks blogger Ann Carrns who says it’s a touch “starship Enterprise.”
It’s not a novel concept that having a human touch and building personal relationships is valuable in banking. In the Boston Business Journal’s coverage of their “Most Admired Financial Institutions,” Boston Private Bank & Trust CEO Mark Thompson explains that developing “enduring, long-term relationships” is the key to his bank’s success. Allowing a company to manage your cash and advise your financial decisions implicitly demands a great deal of trust, and it’s far easier to trust a person who knows you and understands your background and priorities, rather than an anonymous mega-corporation.
In fact, while mega-banks are hurting in today’s economic landscape, local banks (both those technically designated as ‘community banks’ and ‘regional banks’) are on an upswing. A BBJ article published last fall reports that during the year between June 30, 2011 and June 30, 2012, Bank of America closed 13 of its 277 Massachusetts locations, while “branch closures were a rarity among the state’s local and regional players; many made no changes, while others even added a branch or two.” The article points out that most of the large bank chains in the state reported market-share decreases in the year, while a number of the local banks expanded significantly.
It’s clear why the “buy local” craze would make its way to banking. Besides building a trusting relationship with your neighborhood banker, local banks invest back into the community. When you visit the websites of Middlesex Savings Bank or the rapidly growing Berkshire Bank, ‘Community’ sections are featured prominently on the homepages, detailing the banks’ local philanthropic work and community financial support. Eastern Bank has an entire microsite – CommunityRoom.net – where customers can easily and securely donate to local nonprofits and find out about volunteer opportunities. Nothing similar appears on the front pages of national banks’ sites. And though they may participate in charity initiatives, the investment back into their customers’ neighborhood isn’t the same.
So though video chatting a live teller might make an ATM transaction more convenient, I think BofA’s new “human touch” may be missing the mark.
Lucy Muscarella is a Consultant at Greenough. Follow her on Twitter: @lucymuscarella
Written by: Jake Navarro on Monday, April 1, 2013 | Leave a Comment
The Northeast has become a hotbed for environmentally-conscious companies that also have strong business models. Call them what you will – clean tech, sustainable, green – just don’t call them treehuggers or do-gooders. These are businesses that make real money; they just happen to offer a product or service that will help lead the way to the future of U.S. energy independence and environmental sustainability.
This Friday, April 5, many of New England’s most prominent energy leaders will gather at Babson College for the school’s annual Energy + Environmental Conference. Greenough has sponsored this event for years, and we’ve heard insightful thinking by everyone from Rhumb Line Energy Founder and former Massachusetts Secretary of Energy and Environment Ian Bowles to representatives from ExxonMobil. This year’s slate of speakers and panelists looks as impressive as always.
For instance, Claire Broido Johnson, co-founder of SunEdison, will deliver one of four keynote addresses. SunEdison is, of course, North America’s largest solar energy services provider, a company that has developed more than 883 MW of solar energy capacity. Considering that the U.S. only has about 7,700 MW of total capacity, it’s fair to say that SunEdison has had a huge impact. Claire also heads up Boston-based Next Step Living, a residential energy efficiency provider.
We’re also excited to hear from David Schatz of WiTriCity, who will be sitting in on a panel about energy transition in the auto industry. WiTriCity is a pioneer in the new field of wireless electricity. Using magnetic fields, the company’s technology enables wireless charging of any electronic device, from a light bulb to a laptop, so it will be fascinating to hear David speak.
Another local company to watch is Cambridge-based Zipcar. The company has already revolutionized car rentals once through its unique approach, now it’s revolutionizing the industry again with the introduction of plug-in vehicles and other green cars. Director of Business Development Gretchen Effgen will join the same panel as WiTriCity’s David Schatz to discuss the future of the auto industry.
Those are a few of our favorites, but we look forward to hearing from many other energy leaders from around the region and across the country at Babson this Friday. See you there!
Jake Navarro is a senior consultant for Greenough. Send him an email at email@example.com