Businesses don’t have to think big to change the world

Last week, Fortune released its fourth annual ranking of the companies that are changing the world.

There are some inspiring stories in there. From Reliance Jio – who top the list – and its low-cost smartphone that has more than doubled the number of internet subscribers in India, through to the UK’s own Barclays who are doing their (very significant) bit to equip young people with vital workplace opportunities, in addition to other good work the organisation does.

In compiling the list, Fortune’s mantra was to look for organisations that are doing well by doing good. By and large, except for the small companies the magazine highlights (note: the qualification for ‘small’ is to have less than $1 billion in revenue!), these are giant businesses investing giant sums to create giant change.

But does it have to be that way? Arguably, just as much change can be achieved by many companies doing a little, as it can by a few companies doing a lot.

Take electric cars. It’s a subject that’s close to my heart having worked on the industry/government-funded Go Ultra Low campaign for three years and one in which there’s scope for a lot of positive change.

The general consensus is that more electric cars equals cleaner air and better quality of life. Except for among the most ardent sceptics, electric cars are good news.

Total UK electric car ownership is soaring with more than 166,000 on the road but, for context, the market share of all cars sold in July 2018 was just 2.8%, lower than the 2.9% achieved in December 2017. So why the slow growth?

Among many drivers, electric cars suffer from the unusual problem of rational obstacles outweighing the emotional draw (the opposite problem faced by the likes of ŠKODA, Kia and Hyundai). People like the idea of driving electric, but not necessarily the reality.

The issues tend to fall into two categories: range anxiety (the fear that your battery will conk out after a minimal number of miles and leave you stranded), and frustration with the public charging network.

My view is that the former will subside over time as the distance capabilities of widely-available EVs improve (hurry up Tesla!), but charging on-the-go is a new behaviour for drivers to get used to. Even the fastest chargers at motorway services take around half an hour to get you to 80% full. That’s a lot longer than it takes to fill up with petrol.

But here’s the thing. About 90% of electric car charging takes place at home, usually overnight. If you talk to electric car owners, it’s the easiest thing in the world – they plug in before they go to bed and wake up to a fully-charged car. It’s cheap, too, with the owner often paying less than 2p-a-mile for the distance they drive thereafter. To put it plainly, charging at home is way less hassle than charging on-the-go – what we need is a solution where drivers aren’t left standing around while they wait for the charging percentage to tick up.

And *that* is where businesses can affect behavioural change. Specifically, any business that has a car park – whether that’s a supermarket, a hotel, a cinema, a theme park, a pub or a restaurant – giving drivers the opportunity to do something while they leave their cars.

Plugging in at these locations is what’s known in the EV trade as ‘destination charging’, and you can certainly see the appeal. No need to wait around while the battery charge levels tick up, and the opportunity to do so often offered free of charge.

Supermarkets are the most obvious destination frequented by drivers on a regular basis and – from Asda and Lidl to Sainsbury’s and Waitrose – most are already on the case. However, analysis from online charge point directory Zap Map shows that, among the country’s most prevalent major multiples, Sainsbury’s offer EV charging at less than 4% of their outlets and Tesco just 0.4%.

Naturally, there are set-up and installation costs involved, but those numbers seem awfully low to me. Even if Tesco added one charge point to a third of its reported 3,739 locations, not only would that expand the entire public charging network by around 8%, but they would surely make their stores more appealing to a growing band of motorists while also highlighting a corporate commitment to positively contribute to communities. It’s win-win-win.

To get back to the original point of this blog, though, I’m not saying Tesco need to take that leap on their own. A little investment from a lot of companies (anyone with a customer car park) would see thousands of charge points pop up overnight.

In that scenario, current EV owners get the convenient charging they crave, and prospective owners are exposed to increased visibility of electric cars and electric car equipment. And that latter point is a key part of the social norming process required to boost the EV market share.

Written by Sam Holl, Corporate & Business Practice Director

No Comments

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.