In the run up to Super Thursday’s elections, British politics lost an icon, although his death went relatively unnoticed.
Born in 1992, Mondeo Man was read his last rites in March, when manufacturer Ford announced that production of the Ford Mondeo would come to an end in early 2022.
Throughout the 90s, the Mondeo was well-loved as an aspirational car for the suburbs. The Mondeo was equally comfortable running to the supermarket at the weekend as it was driving up and down the country as a company car, potentially with Chris Evans presenting Radio 1 and playing the Spice Girls on the top-of-the-line in-car stereo system with CD player.
So much so that Mondeo Man became the catch-all descriptor for the voters who backed Blair’s Labour Party to a landslide victory in 1997: suburban voters with mortgages and a nice-looking car who wanted better public services like healthcare and education but didn’t want economic surprises.
Nothing lasts forever though, and last year just 2,400 Ford Mondeos were sold in the UK. Tellingly, Ford’s former Mondeo manufacturing plant in Valencia, Spain, will now be assembling a new range of battery and hybrid electric vehicles (EVs) instead.
So, if Mondeo Man is gone, who’s replacing him? It’s EV Evan and Evaline, who’ll be buying those new EVs.
At the same time Mondeo Man passed, polling by YouGov found that the current crop of aspirational adults – aged 25-49 – were generally very supportive of net-zero measures like phasing out petrol and diesel cars by 2030, but would be sensitive about the costs.
Meanwhile, the Department for Transport’s most recent public attitudes surveys found that while the public are well aware of EVs and increasingly keen on buying them, they’re worried about the fundamental infrastructure and trade-offs in ownership they’ll be relying on. By 2027, it’s going to be cheaper to buy an EV than it is a regular gas guzzler.
Voters will expect to be able to afford to buy an EV and, like the Mondeo of old, they’ll need to trust it to take the kids to an afterschool club and the occasional long-distance work trip. They’ll notice if the rollout of charging points is slow, or if their locations make no sense, or if the digital tech providing access to them is cumbersome.
It doesn’t stop there though – EVs are simply the crest of the wave.
Those voters will favour career opportunities with employers that have a plan to adapt and grow in a net-zero world. And they’ll notice if the value of their home suffers due to problems with funding and delivering improvements.
The result is that net zero and the way cleantech fits into your life will increasingly become an everyday political issue.
Reflecting this reality certainly did the Conservatives no harm in last week’s Super Thursday elections.
Arguably their best result of the night was the re-election of Tees Valley Mayor, Ben Houchen, with 73% of the vote. The key to his pitch was an ambitious narrative on levelling up his region with significant public spending pledges focused almost entirely on job-creating net-zero industries like hydrogen, low-carbon manufacturing and wind power. Cleantech became retail politics, and voters lapped it up.
The lesson that will be learned by CCHQ is that it pays to give aspirational voters hope that their region can capitalise on net zero’s changes.
A challenge for any opposition party will be bettering it.
Labour will need to try and persuade voters that they have more, not less, to offer the voters they have lost to the Conservatives ahead of the next general election. The SNP, Liberal Democrats and Greens have all clearly staked out their own distinctive electorates, and those groups will be expecting net-zero progress too.
The pressure on the Prime Minister – and the industries he’s backing – will be to start to tangibly convert the promise made to electorates like Teesside’s into real-world prosperity and, importantly, everyday living.
Like schools and hospitals in the 90s, voters will be unimpressed if the delivery of net-zero public infrastructure struggles to keep up with the pace of change they expect. The politics of net zero and the cleantech powering it has moved from the macro level to the kitchen table. It won’t be the only issue EV Evaline votes on, but it’ll be amongst them.
If she trades in her end-of-life Mondeo for an EV and struggles to find a charging point, or needs to juggle 13 different billing apps to use it, it will shape her perceptions of political competence.
So, rest in peace Mondeo Man, who dominated the 90s and 00s. The 2020s will belong to EV Evan and Evaline.
By Ben Gascoyne, Account Director in Madano’s Technology practice
If you’d like to speak to Ben or another member of the team about the implications of net zero for future transportation or British politics in general, please get in touch.
Shifting our way of life and economy away from a dependence on fossil fuels and towards a sustainable path that will enable us to achieve net zero by 2050 is currently the most important challenge we face. We’re all aware of that, but sometimes we need a communications masterclass to make us appreciate the true nature of the problem.
Luckily, Sir David Attenborough has provided a shining example with his latest one-off special, A Life on our Planet, which makes for uncomfortable viewing. Available to stream on Netflix, it has a distinct feel of the final encore to his lifetime of works – indeed, he calls this programme his “witness statement” to the world.
It’s a statement that notes the rapid, sickening exploitation and destruction of our planet during his life, and feels almost like an obituary for planet Earth. Attenborough highlights the speed at which the planet’s ecosystems have changed, and the catastrophic consequences of these changes: rising atmospheric carbon dioxide and a fall in the truly ‘wild’ nature left on earth.
Some of the programme’s statistics are stark. Forty per cent of the world’s sea ice has melted in the last 40 years as our systematic overuse of fossil fuels quickens the rate of global warming. Thankfully, the show does not end with an apocalyptic vision for earth’s future, but one of hope and opportunity.
Transitioning to net zero – an investment opportunity
A recent Financial Times article began with the same sentiment: “Saving the planet from catastrophic climate change is humanity’s biggest challenge. It may also represent the most spectacular investment opportunity of our lifetimes.”
The article states that the transition to a green economy has presented a number of opportunities for venture capital investors to become involved in climate tech. A report from PwC confirms this, noting that funding for climate tech companies has outstripped other sectors, including artificial intelligence, increasing from $418 million in 2013 to $16.1 billion in 2019. The opportunity for venture capital investors to make money while also saving the planet has an undeniable pull, but despite this dramatic increase in investment, the FT states that “climate tech still only accounts for about 6 per cent of VC’s investment portfolios today,” a figure that needs to increase sooner rather than later.
In an effort to accelerate sustainable investment, the world’s largest fund manager, BlackRock, announced last year that it would remove from its actively managed portfolios any company receiving more than a quarter of its revenue from thermal coal. Larry Fink, the firm’s CEO, stated in a letter to clients: “The commitments we are making today reflect our conviction that all investors – and particularly the millions of our clients who are saving for long-term goals like retirement – must seriously consider sustainability in their investments.”
A few months later, the FT reported that shareholder support for climate change resolutions at annual meetings had increased from 16 per cent in 2019 to 23 per cent. The companies who “suffered big shareholder revolts over climate change” in 2020 included US bank JPMorgan, Australian energy companies Woodside Petroleum and Santos, mining group Rio Tinto, shipping company JB Hunt Transport Services and energy group Ovintiv.
Transitioning to net zero – a communications challenge
So, what does this all mean for communications? Well, in the same way that the transition to a low-carbon economy represents the biggest investment opportunity of our lifetime, it is also, arguably, the greatest communications opportunity for a generation. As a post on Attenborough’s Instagram page explains: “Saving our planet is now a communications challenge.”
The UK Government has legislated to transition to net zero by 2050, and a number of other countries have echoed this decision with similar signals of intent. Added to that, major corporations across the globe, including oil and gas producer BP and US tech giant Microsoft, have also made net-zero pledges.
But these examples are still in the minority. What’s needed now is for every organisation to take meaningful action to reduce and eliminate its carbon footprint on the road to net zero, while ensuring its communications highlight that action to key stakeholders in a transparent and targeted way.
By Lewis Popplewell, Account Executive in Madano’s Energy practice.
This blog post is the first in a three-part series discussing the communications challenges and opportunities provided by the net-zero transition. Forthcoming posts will examine the importance of communications in the context of reputation management, as well as potential ways to engage with government, the media and other stakeholders to positively influence the transition.