CEO view: Cheryl Latham, Brighter World Energy

Customers want supplier honesty. The only companies set to thrive will be the ones that conduct themselves with social conscience.

We’ve now witnessed first-hand the dangers of operating in a market that acquires customers purely on price. There have been countless articles and blogs pontificating about the demise of GB Energy, but the most poignant to my mind was penned by Good Energy chief executive Juliet Davenport. It’s full of all the thought leadership you would expect from the chief executive of a responsible, outward-looking energy company, but the last line talks of “how sad” it is that “we don’t seem to be able to learn how to run a competitive energy market without making it so complex” that an energy company fails leaving 160,000 customers out in the cold.

For Brighter World, as a new entrant, it’s more than sad; it’s unacceptable. And repeating the phrase “the market is broken” over and over again isn’t doing our customers any favours.

The industry has been playing the blame game over the past few weeks, trying to avoid responsibility for playing any role in the mess that we now find the sector in. Some blame overly complex regulation, others think poor hedging strategies are responsible for the downfall of GB Energy, and a few hit out at the price comparison sites that fuel the price war that ultimately saw it go bust.

Most likely, it’s a combination of all three, but the constant ‘he-said-she-said’ in-fighting is not helping the customer – it’s eroding what’s left of the trust they have in us. It’s time to make decisions truly as though the customer were in the room. They don’t want to see a bidding war for the 160,000 pieces of ‘low-hanging fruit’ that will help another company gain overnight market share. Customers want to see energy companies stand up and take responsibility for the role we play in this market – they want honesty, and they want to see us up our game.

In the 1990s, this industry inherited a huge surplus of trust from its formerly nationalised status. Over a period of time, that trust has deteriorated as complacency has set in.

I firmly believe that there’s a new generation of consumers who want something different – and the only companies (and markets, for that matter) set to thrive in the future will be the ones that conduct themselves with social conscience. Companies that demonstrate clear value to people and the planet; those that take their wider responsibility to society seriously and use their profit for good will do well and the rest will wither. It’s all very well having a lovely balance sheet that keeps your shareholders happy, but if you’re gaining that at the expense of your customers or the world around you then your card is marked and your time could soon be up.

The proof is staring us all in the face and you only need to look at the outside of our industry to see that social business models are thriving. Those are driven by a global purpose and their customers’ needs, not their shareholders’ dividends.

This is one of the reasons why I launched Brighter World Energy – the first buy-to-give supplier in the UK. We empower UK consumers to bring electricity to those without it simply by buying their energy from us.

The answer to relieving poverty is economic development; access to energy underpins economic growth and better, safer and healthier standards of living. That’s why we’re driven to empower our customers to put positively life-changing power in the hands of those who need it most, in rural Africa, just by switching on the lights at home.

Our customers are outward-looking global citizens, inspired to switch with a new open and transparent business model, working with a not-for-profit supplier.

Globally, 1.2 billion people don’t have access to energy. Archaic kerosene fuel is burnt for light, which fills homes with toxic fumes. It means babies are born in the almost-dark, without lights and life-saving equipment.

Here in the UK, 66 per cent of energy customers are overcharged to the tune of £1.3 billion each year, while the other part of the market is being sold energy for less than it costs us as energy companies to buy it. How can that be right?

We’ve been referred to as the energy sector’s version of the shoe company TOMS. A community here switches on a community in Africa. That’s our one for one. For every 2,000 customers that switch, we will install a solar-powered micro-grid in an African village.

I firmly believe that we are all responsible for creating the world we want to live in, and the world we want to work in. We created Brighter World because it was the kind of company we wanted to buy from, and it didn’t exist.

Consumers are powerful. They are starting to recognise the weight of that power, and they are starting to exercise it to tell those in big, overblown industries how to act. A social conscience is not confined by borders. We start in the UK, but the future is global.