Education: It’s up to us.

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A recent study reveals that the majority of Americans cannot name one type of renewable energy, and nearly forty percent can’t identify a fossil fuel. When it comes to cleantech, people are confused:

What is it, exactly?

Why does it matter?

Won’t all cleantech investments crash and burn like Solyndra did?

This is startling to those of us who live and breathe cleantech. The question is: How do we educate the public about energy generally and cleantech specifically?

A number of public policy organizations and nonprofits, including Public Agenda and the Rocky Mountain Institute, are making strides in public education and community involvement. Even individual companies in the cleantech space have begun to invest in public information campaigns. Silver Spring Networks, for example, has taken the initiative to introduce energy education into school curriculums with its Smart Energy Future program. And while that’s a great start, it’s clearly just that: a start. We think our best bet to get the public up to speed is through a network that already exists and is growing: cleantech industry associations.

Advanced Energy Economy, or AEE, is a business organization representing the entire advanced energy industry. AEE’s mission is “to influence public policy, foster advanced energy innovation and business growth, and provide a unified voice for a strong U.S. industry that serves as the economic engine driving the global transition to a smarter energy future.” So far, they have chapters in 12 states, and are developing chapters in 10 more. It’s worth noting that they don’t describe themselves as “cleantech” or “green” or even “renewable.” Instead, they employ an arguably less politicized term.

Bringing it down to the state level, there are dozens of cleantech associations that we can all support in order to help bolster more widespread public knowledge of what we do on a daily basis, and why it’s worth caring about. The Colorado Cleantech Industry Association, a member of AEE, works tirelessly to establish Colorado as a clean energy leader, providing advocacy, public policy leadership, development and education. And that’s just one example.

So, the question is: How do we parlay the great policy information and support provided by these associations into greater public awareness of the benefits of cleantech? Here are some ideas:

  • Talk to your kids, and if you can, speak at their schools. Their peers will tell their parents about it, and teachers might learn something too.
  • Form your own community-based energy education Meetup group, and talk about more than solar roof panels.
  • Reach out to religious organizations, and offer to talk about what cleantech means to the future of the planet.
  • Take a public stance: write letters to the editor, comment on popular blogs, and spread the word on social media.
  • Join your local cleantech industry association and support their efforts to grow a strong cleantech economy.

Do you have more thoughts about how we can better educate the public about cleantech? Leave us a comment below.

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