With two-thirds of all ULEV registrations being led by the business sector, it is vital that a communication campaign led by an authority is engaging, non-biased and factual (warts and all!). Generally, we have found that engaging with businesses is an effective way to promote ultra-low emission vehicles, especially as there are significant benefits to be had in meeting Corporate Social Responsibility requirements and policies from the businesses perspective. In addition, promoting more sustainable and active travel modes is seen as helping to promote a healthier and more productive workforce. Outlined below are some key points to consider:
Based in Derby and funded by the Nottingham Go Ultra Low Programme, LEVEL (Low Emission Vehicle Enterprise and Learning) delivers skills training, knowledge transfer, business networking, master classes and conferences promoting the adoption of low emission vehicle technologies. Since 2017, 17 conferences and workshops have been held and have reached an audience of over 1,450 delegates from the business community.
In addition, LEVEL delivers events and workshops as part of the Workplace Travel Service: ULEV Experience, a programme dedicated to supporting businesses in Nottingham to understand, trial and implement low emission vehicle technology, funded by Nottingham City Council’s Go Ultra Low City project. With a target of 26 ULEV experience events across the region, the progamme so far has delivered 19 workshops and events that have been attended by over 500 delegates.
As a result of this extensive experience, Neil Horsley (Director at Cleantech Business Ltd and Project Director of LEVEL) has come up with his top 10 tips for creating successful business engagement events in a ULEV programme, see below.
As well as events, any business engagement activity carried out by a local authority needs a communication strategy – see more in the section entitled ‘Examples of materials and resources used in promotional activities‘.
There is a tendency to consider businesses as being a homogenous group and offer a generic ‘one-size-fits-all’ support package. We have found there is a need to run bespoke, targeted events with differing content and speakers to meet the interests of the different attendees. Examples could include events focussed around ULEV taxis and their drivers, working with fleet managers, last mile delivery companies or specific industries such as hotel and leisure operators.
This also implies being flexible in terms of using different event formats geared to the target audience. We found the below to be useful:
|Event Type||Typical Format|
|Clinics||A short 2-hour early morning workshops for circa 12-20 businesses. Great as they do not take away too much of a person’s work day.|
|Ride & Drive Events||Presentation content plus a chance to see and test drive the latest EVs. Hard to organise, but the best way to help people understand the benefits of an EV is to drive one!|
|Business Park Roadshows||Events aimed at businesses based on business park estates, usually including a presentation and vehicle display. These are a great way of getting information to a lot of people, you just need to find a host.|
|‘Question Time’ style events||An evening reception featuring a panel discussion between some local EV Champions who are now using EVs in their businesses. Great for case studies, and well attended.|
|Annual Conference||We also run an annual celebration of the work achieved by the programme highlighting case studies.|
Many Local Authorities are currently developing air quality plans which aim to discourage polluting vehicles from entering their Clean Air Zones through the levying of tariffs. When devising such plans there appears to be a focus on the ‘stick’ enforcement approach with little serious consideration of the ‘carrot’- practical measures to support businesses to shift from the use of diesel vehicles to ULEVs. LEVEL experience shows that the two go hand-in-hand and need to be planned and operated in tandem.
Whilst one-off events dedicated to low carbon and ultra-low emission vehicles are useful, being able to signpost businesses to wider support programmes, linked to partner offers, is vital if real progress is to be made in getting businesses to transition to the adoption of ULEVs.
In our experience there are a series of steps which businesses tend to follow on their journey towards adopting ULEVs. Many of the businesses we are currently working with are on different rungs of a ladder of engagement (see below). Support is often needed to help businesses to progress upwards to the next step.
‘Business ladder of engagement’
It is important to consider that the vast majority of people don’t own an electric vehicle, don’t know anybody who owns one and have never driven an EV. Many businesses have a limited understanding of the subject and come to events as sceptics armed with negative perceptions often based on inaccurate information and EV myths.
The first stage of any engagement programme needs to address some of these EV myths and present the positive aspects of owning and driving an EV.
Businesses want to hear from other credible businesses, rather than public sector managers, who can talk honestly about their experiences of using ULEVs in a commercial context. Wherever possible, business case study presentation should feature in all promotional events.
Many town and cities have an array of business support organisations, sector groups and forums who can provide access to a substantial number of businesses. However sometimes such organisations closely guard such access and are reluctant to circulate marketing materials to their members.
Time needs to be invested in meeting, winning over and incentivising such organisations to gain their buy-in – for example through developing a jointly-branded event which may generate additional profile and business contacts for the intermediate organisation.
If resources are limited and ‘quick wins’ are a priority, in the first instance targeting public sector organisations will have the greatest impact. Local Authorities, NHS Fleets, Ambulance Services, Housing Associations, Fire Authorities etc. are more likely to be ULEV ‘early adopters’ given their social ethos and corporate social responsibility policies on climate change and air quality issues.
Initially the greatest area of concern was the limited mileage of EVs. Range anxiety is starting to be less of an issue now that vehicles are coming to the market which can do nearly 300 miles on one charge. This has given way to ‘charging’ and ‘experience’ anxiety with concerns about the lack of available, and working, chargepoints across the UK. This is debateable point with many chargepoint operators arguing that current supply broadly manages demand given that only circa 1% of vehicles on the road are EVs. However, this perception is definitely a constraint amongst businesses considering switching to EVs.
Make sure you dedicate time in all of your programme to focus on charging, and giving businesses confidence in their local network, and make them aware of the grant schemes available.
One of the issues the ULEV Experience project has encountered is a nervousness and apprehension amongst some drivers regarding driving an EV; a fear of the unknown based on never having driven an EV combined with negative perceptions based on EV myths. A further issue can be that drivers who are unfamiliar with EVs initially tend not to drive them in the most energy efficient way. This can result in the vehicle’s mileage range quickly decreasing and generating range anxiety amongst the novice driver.
To tackle this issue, we are developing a soon-to-be-launched online ‘Beginners Guide to Driving an EV’ course, which will offer an overview of electric vehicle driving techniques. The key aim of the course will be to give drivers the confidence to get in an EV and ‘give it a go’. In practical terms this means emphasising the positives on how EVs are easy and fun to drive and operate much like an automatic.
Online materials are a great way of keeping your audience engaged, and drawing attendees back to your website and social media.
Before embarking on any project you need to make sure that you have a rounded knowledge of ultra-low emission vehicles, and feel confident in being able to answer difficult questions from businesses. After all, knowledge builds confidence, which builds enthusiasm! We also fully appreciate that the requirement by Central Government for Local Authorities to produce air quality plans has often led to staff being re-deployed within Councils to work on this topic away from the normal expertise of their day job.
In the current financial climate Local Authorities often do not have the resources to be able to pay for relevant training courses for their staff members. Similarly, in the business sector many companies are starting to consider how they can transition their vehicle fleets to incorporate ULEVs but do not have access to appropriate training or induction courses.
Opportunities need to be found to share knowledge via small scale action workshops aimed at Local Authority managers responsible for developing Air Quality and ULEV business engagement programmes. There are also a wealth of opportunities out there for support in this, including e-learning courses on the LEVEL website and fully-funded workshops through the Energy Saving Trust Local Government Support Programme.
Events are just one aspect of the marketing system – see all elements of the system at ‘Examples of materials and resources used in promotional activities‘.