Humanising Renewable Energy

Trends / Sustainability
Klaus Vedfelt
Sandra Michalska
Jun 8, 2021
Renewable energy is taking off in Europe. From industry, to finance to consumer goods, brands are taking up the mantle of nature's forces turned into electricity. The search data from Getty Images and iStock reveals a significant rise of terms such as "sustainable energy", "hydrogen", and "hydroelectric", and the increasing visual appetite for renewables is without a doubt a response to circularity emerging as a cultural value, as well as Europe's ambition to become the world's first climate‑neutral continent by 2050. The good news is that according to our ongoing Visual GPS study, half of Europeans view renewable energy as one of the best ways of making a positive impact on the planet.

However, with the global pandemic putting consumers' trust to test, Europeans are calling brands’ impacts into question, looking for concrete, visual proof of long‑term commitment. In response, companies need to move beyond maintaining the status quo and proactively contribute to the energy transition. Many choose solar panels and wind turbines as visual symbols of their acts; however, in a time when consumers are aware of greenwashing and are demanding authenticity, it is essential to hit the right tone when visualising renewables.
With increased adoption, the visual representation around renewables has changed. In the last five years, our European customers have begun to shift away from cropped, conceptual visuals of hands holding a patch of soil with green plants, and towards more realistic imagery of wind turbines and solar panels—often shining a spotlight on the scale of the energy transition, but missing people from the frame. However, our image testing revealed that consumers prefer representations of renewables that put humans at the centre. As a consequence, there is an opportunity for brands to rethink their visual strategy with a more human‑centred approach.

Similarly, a quick internet search of solar panels or wind turbines produces standard graphic and aerial images that fail to reflect renewables’ impact on local communities (in some cases the scale and drama of the technology is not appreciated locally). Much of this type of imagery follows similar scenarios; however, we know that renewable energy broadly includes several kinds of sustainable innovations, often locally relevant. With 8 in 10 Europeans expecting brands to make a positive impact on local communities, it is important to consider locally relatable scenarios to engage the audience.
Visualising the positive impacts of renewables means representing the power in wind, in water, in the heat of the sun, in the depths of our planet—but also, importantly, in the people driving the change.
Visualising the positive impacts of renewables means representing the power in wind, in water, in the heat of the sun, in the depths of our planet—but also, importantly, in the people driving the change. We put together some actionable tips to help you find the best renewable energy imagery:

  • Focus on human‑centred stories 
    Show authentic individuals and groups to humanise renewable energy for your audience. We know from our Visual GPS image testing that consumers gravitate more towards human‑centred visuals that represent renewable energy.

  • Connect your story at the local level
    Europeans feel attached to their regions and expect brands to contribute to their growth. Show the positive impact of your actions at a recognisable, local scale to gain consumers' trust.  

  • Be authentic 
    Even without people in the frame, there are still plenty of visual choices to consider. Visual GPS reveals that consumers respond better to realism than aspirational or conceptual visuals. Futuristic concepts, heavy retouching or unrealistic settings are less likely to resonate with consumers.

  • Never forget about diversity and inclusion
    Your customers want to see themselves represented in your visual communication. The top visual preference that drives Europeans' purchasing decisions is, "seeing people like me and my life". Always remember to show individuals of all intersecting identity factors.
Visualizing Sustainable Innovation