Language is powerful – what energy sector are you in?

energy sector

Have you ever said phrases such as?:

“have a safe flight”

“please don’t hesitate to ask”

In an earlier post, “the map is not the territory”, I wrote about the power of language and linked to an in-depth presentation on some of the ideas.

Suffice to say that the first phrase may implant the idea of the flight not being safe (instead, perhaps say “have a good trip”), the second is implicitly asking someone not to ask anything of you.

Today I note a simple change in language around types of energy in that industry and the potentially powerful impact of that simple change.

This month the London Stock Exchange reclassified listed companies that operate predominantly in the “Oil and Gas” energy sector to the new category of “Non-Renewable Energy”. At the same time, they also moved businesses focussed on the Coal sector (previously under “basic materials/mining” to the same “Non-Renewable Energy” sector.

I further note from an article on this from The Guardian entitled: “Gas and oil firms reclassified under non-renewables on LSE” that: “Green energy producers, most of which were grouped under alternative energy, have been reclassified under renewable energy.”

The changes were designed to provide “greater visibility to other forms of energy such as renewables”.

Such a simple change, yet look at the impact this could have, noting first from the article:

However, the trade body Oil & Gas UK expressed concern over the re-labelling, saying many oil and gas companies were broadening their strategies.

“Any change to classification has to recognise that many oil and gas companies have a diversity of energy interests and are active right across the energy spectrum,” said Mike Tholen, the group’s upstream policy director.

“We would hope that any change which seeks to help the advance to a low carbon future does not have unintended consequences which might, in fact, slow down the pace of change, having the opposite effect of what it’s set out to do.”


It comes after Norway gave the go-ahead for its $1tn sovereign wealth fund, the largest in the world, to undertake the largest fossil fuel divestment to date by ditching more than $13bn of investments in coal and oil producers. It uses the FTSE Russell classification system as the basis for its divestment decisions.

The classification of a company is based on its main source of revenue. Oil and gas companies would have to invest substantial sums in greener revenue streams to escape the “non-renewable” category.

Such a simple change in language and so classification, but it could easily create multi-billion dollar shifts in business investment in the energy sector far more quickly than would otherwise happen as companies strive to be included in the renewable sector to align with investors.

Language can indeed be powerful.

Oh and I close with the final paragraph of that article, noting that the term “climate emergency” has also been adopted of late by the Scottish Government and, with people I know working within and around that body, this has already energised even further focus on awareness of climate changes, renewables vs non-renewables etc.

We will always respond more to words like crisis and emergency as they feel more severe and urgent than words like change.

Oh, and I note here that I am commenting on the power of language only, I feel that the issues around the content of this particular topic (energy sources and sectors) is far more nuanced than these blunt classifications.

The Guardian recently updated its style guide to ensure the language it uses about the environment more accurately reflects the scale of change. Instead of “climate change”, the preferred terms are “climate emergency” or “climate crisis”.

Also published on Medium.

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