The electric utility industry is facing a “perfect storm” of disruptive forces, but electric cooperatives are well-positioned to capitalize on a number of opportunities, CFC CEO Sheldon C. Petersen told attendees at CFC’s 51st Annual Membership Meeting in New Orleans March 2.

“For co-ops, moving forward means not only navigating an ever-expanding number of disruptive forces, but also continuing to meet the same historic obligations we always have,” Petersen explained.

ESG Is on the Horizon

It also means paying attention to how investors, corporate leaders and consumers are responding to these forces, he noted. BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager, announced recently that sustainability will be the company’s “new standard for investing,” which is symptomatic of a larger trend in the investor community—a focus on sustainability and ESG, or environmental, social and governance practices. “It impacts everything they care about—growth, market share, financial performance and risk management,” Petersen said.

Focus on More Than Profits? Check!

He noted the recent trend of corporate leaders making the case that companies should be about more than profit maximization. “What’s going on here? Have corporate leaders decided to imitate cooperatives? Forgive me for sounding a little cynical, but there might just be another motivating factor here other than altruism.”

Efforts like Coca-Cola’s marketing campaign touting its new plastic bottle made from 25 percent recycled marine plastic is really an attempt to “build brand loyalty and market share in an operating environment that’s become increasingly difficult.”

Consumer Engagement Gains Momentum

Consumers, meanwhile, are driving much of what we’re seeing as they use social media to exert pressure on companies. “This is not a one-way street,” he said. “Consumers now expect companies to engage with them in real time across different social media platforms.”

Petersen encouraged attendees to view these trends as opportunities. The shift toward sustainability is an opportunity “to tout our program’s longstanding commitment to communities and the fact co-ops are pioneers in the area of energy efficiency and market leaders in renewables.”

Co-ops Have Been Doing It Right for Decades

The focus on corporate leaders moving beyond profit is an opportunity to remind everyone that electric cooperatives have been successful nonprofit enterprises for nearly 90 years. “In a world where companies are feeling pressure to demonstrate they are focused more on communities than the bottom line, co-ops are ideally positioned.”

When it comes to consumers wanting two-way personalized interactions with their preferred businesses, Petersen again praised the co-op legacy. “Understanding our members and responding to their evolving needs has always been a core strength. We need to keep raising the bar.”

We Need to Stick Together for Success

Most importantly for the future, co-ops need to maintain their bond as a program, Petersen concluded. “Our unity is rooted in a deep and unfailing commitment to empowering the lives of our electric cooperative member-owners. As long as we keep that commitment, there’s nothing we can’t accomplish together.”