The vital role of adequate communications by water companies and organizations has become even more apparent amidst the coronavirus pandemic. Will Henley, Head of Communications of IHA, assesses the challenges of communicating about hydropower, and the usefulness of digital communications.
Question: How do you think communication in the water sector has evolved in recent years?
Answer: Over the past decade there has been a transformation in the way we think and communicate about water, the water-energy nexus and interdependencies with the environment, society and commerce. A major turning point was the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals in 2015 including Goal 6 to achieve ‘universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water’ and Goal 7 to provide ‘affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all’. It is hard to overstate the importance of these goals. International organisations, companies and public utilities now recognise that water is not a commodity to be traded or exploited, it is a giver of life which must be cherished and safeguarded. We have moved from a philosophy of ‘explore and exploit’ to ‘sustain and be sustained by’. The language of corporate communications has adapted as a result with the most forward-thinking organisations joining the dots between their activities and the achievement of the SDGs.
International organisations, companies and public utilities now recognise that water is not a commodity to be traded or exploited
Q: Why do you think it is important to communicate about water?
A: As an elemental force, water is deeply symbolic and provides great emotional resonance, especially for those with a personal connection to a river, lake or sea. I grew up near Teddington lock in London where the River Thames becomes tidal. Every encounter with water is spiritually uplifting. I still live close to the river and I am a keen kayaker so, like many others, I find water to be awe inspiring. You only have to look at the iconic photograph of the Earth taken by the Apollo 8 crew, of our blue planet rising above the Moon, to appreciate the preciousness of water. This makes water communication so important and personal.
Q: What are the most challenging aspects of communicating about hydropower?
A: The International Hydropower Association (IHA) has helped to address many misconceptions about hydropower over the past 25 years. Nonetheless, the multiple benefits of hydropower are often still forgotten or undervalued. This technology is not only the largest producer of renewable energy, it also provides benefits in safely managing freshwater. Hydropower infrastructure can alleviate the impacts of flooding and drought, while providing clean water for homes, industry and agriculture. The flexibility and storage services hydropower provides are also under-appreciated, even though they are needed to support increasing penetrations of fast-growing variable renewables. With the onset of climate change, we have very little time to decarbonise our economy, so it’s vital that hydropower is seen as part of the solution by decision-makers everywhere.
This technology is not only the largest producer of renewable energy, it also provides benefits in safely managing freshwater
Q: Could you highlight one of your organization’s communication success stories?
As a membership association, IHA recognises the importance of building a vibrant community, a strong sense of belonging and an affinity with our mission. Understanding this, a year ago we launched a new online community, Hydropower Pro, allowing members to connect with each other and share insights. The Covid-19 pandemic is a reminder of the importance of digital communications and engagement, especially to organisations with members in all corners of the globe. Thanks to our online community, IHA has moved beyond simply transmitting information digitally. We now have a space for more democratic, two-way conversations between us and our members. This has been vitally important in forming IHA’s response to the coronavirus. It means the community can share learnings about how the sector is managing impacts and delivering clean water and energy in challenging circumstances.
Q: Who or what organization inspires you when it comes to ways of communicating?
A: The London-based explorer and geographer, Dan Raven-Ellison, is one of the most extraordinary communicators I know. His gift is getting people to reimagine the world around them. He is the driving force behind London becoming the world’s first National Park City, a status which celebrates the capital’s unique living landscape. Dan also produced the film, ‘the UK in 100 seconds’ in collaboration with Friends of the Earth, which shows us what the country looks like from the air, with each second representing one percent of its various types of landmass: from towns to forests and agricultural pastures. It is a work of art that tackles the incorrect assumptions that can distort critical decisions affecting our lives. Ultimately, that’s what effective communications is all about.