Branding for Good News Issue 22 - Expert's View

22 Dec 2009|Added Value

By Duncan MacLeod,  Vice President Hydrogen and GTL, Future Fuels and Co2, Shell International, UK

Reaping the brand benefits of long term investment.

The Future Fuels research programme, conducted by Added Value, was our first real opportunity to see the issues surrounding alternative fuels from a consumer perspective.  So what did we learn?

Consumer expectations and frustrations around future fuels are stronger than we thought. And they are relying on energy companies to find affordable solutions quickly to ensure energy independence.

They also want clarity. The world of multiple fuels is confusing and we should be clear and simple every time we talk. The hard truth is that the energy supply – from all sources – will struggle to keep up with demand.  So we will need rapid growth in renewables and nuclear, alongside continued dependence on fossil fuels such as oil, gas and coal. We also believe that a mixture of new, non-oil transport fuel options will clearly be required.  That means electricity, hydrogen and bio-fuels, rather than one or another. We will need all options if we are to constrain the predicted growth in emissions from the transport sector.

We must be honest about the challenges and timelines. Today’s bio-ethanols and bio-diesels are certainly not the same:  some have a very good CO2 footprint, compared to conventional fuel, others…not so good. Progress is being made in R&D on the “next generation” bio-fuels made from straw or plant residue, and we are of course working on longer term projects like hydrogen. We estimate that the numbers of hydrogen-powered vehicles will start to accelerate from about 2020. That’s a long way off. And yet it’s tomorrow. We need to begin putting infrastructure in place now. But it will take time. It is our job to explain this better to our current and potential consumers. We have developed visitor’s centres at some of our stations, but the ethnographic research has shown that they are being underutilised. They are only at selected stations and only have staff part-time; people want information 24/7!

This research has shown that our work in future fuels is positively impacting our reputation.  This is invaluable if we are to convince internal stakeholders and shareholders of the shorter term value behind the heavy investments needed to develop these new technologies.

We know consumers want this. And we know that when they see the efforts we are making to move forward, they appreciate us more. We must build on that foundation to grow greater trust and ultimately a better and more sustainable business in the future.

Find out more at

prev next