Converging over Coffee... Why cleantech impact is still a weak driver of business decisions

Updated: Apr 1

February 2022


Cleantech has been around for a while now, but the global momentum for decarbonization, climate resilience and sustainable development is now driving a slew of outstanding innovations and much more business friendly products into the market. Yet somehow, selling cleantech and its impact has not really become dramatically easier.


When we think about the cleantech solutions that have enjoyed strong customer uptake, we ask what might they know that could help everyone else? We share 3 key insights that these companies understand well and became good at getting right - Numbers, Costs and Growth.


Numbers


In the end, it’s all about the numbers. Financial ones. When working with cleantech and cleantech companies at the interface with customers, one common challenge is translating the positive impact of adopting cleantech into the business decision needed to buy into it. To be sure, we are talking about solutions that are more than just feel-good and actually provide financial value. Even so, the pitch is by no means obvious.


Most pitches lead with the positive impact of the technology. Our favorite things to talk about range from technical explanations to operational benefits to big picture, world-saving aspirational stuff. The idea of profitability tends to hide behind these messages of positive impact, and remain relatively vague. Not only does impact struggle to translate into business decisions, it also tends to be subjected to a lot of pressures… To validate, to justify and to satisfy a diversity of opinions & world views. Commitment is hence often short-lived.


Sometimes, positive impact should hide behind profitability a bit more. If we need a favorable business decision, perhaps we speak directly to what the business needs, which in most cases still boil down to profitability. When profitability drives adoption of cleantech, the positive impact may be inadvertent but ultimately inevitable.


Costs


When building infrastructure projects for water, cleantech & sustainable developments, optimizing costs is a big part of the job. But the budgets are usually deliberated extensively way ahead. They are evaluated, tested and validated through various layers of the decision making chain. The need to even spend the money is interrogated just as rigorously.


But when pitching a piece of technology in cleantech, somehow we assume it’s much more straightforward. Perhaps the cost for one piece of technology is usually a much smaller financial commitment. Perhaps most of the time the payback is decent and will satisfy the value-for-money questions. There is however one key difference. Most of the time, we are also talking to customers who are already doing things in a certain way and we are asking them to change it up.


So what to do? “As long as we can demonstrate that we create no negative impact, I think we are good.” “Actually, we just need more customer education. They clearly don’t understand why this solution is so perfect for them, or how to use it for their benefit.” “Oh they are sensitive to the economics, so let’s show them how much better off they will be in money terms.”


All true in some way. But if the obstacles were just these, maybe we would’ve seen many more runaway success stories from cleantech companies. When trying to get a prospective customer to change current practices, “costs” become an interesting obstacle.


Savings in costs are not the same as gains in profits. In money terms, they might be similar but not all numbers are made equal. Spending money to save money already being spent… is never that attractive. Can work, but tends to require other motivating drivers. Spending money to achieve gains in profits… that might even encourage higher spending if one believes the gains can come sooner. Cleantech frequently sits on the tougher side of this divide as it often helps to improve the status quo. The flip side of delivering gains in profits do exist, and that’s what we need innovation & creativity to unlock.


Growth


Business decisions tend to be underpinned by whether we are able to see value in product or solution we are evaluating. This gets discussed in many ways but the bottomline is still a perception of value. But value is vague. It tends to be a different thing to different people under different circumstances.


But if I were to find something useful to anchor what this value means and where to find it, I think it would be #Growth.

Growth is at the core of what we are all after, not just personally but also as a business. Growth transcends #Costs. Growth is the purpose of #Numbers, even though sometimes we forget that.


Growth itself also comes in many forms. Profits, market share, new revenue, investment potential, transformation, impact… Some of these are probably obvious and some are a bit more complicated to accomplish. But once we are able to understand the one that the business most cares about at the moment, better conversations come out of it and from that the business decisions to achieve the progress we seek.


Seek growth.


#FreeingEngineering


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