Shelton Group turned 25 years old last year, and 12 years ago we made the decision to be exclusively focused in the energy and environment space. That’s all to say we’ve been around the block a few times, and we’ve heard some of the same reactions to our insights, predictions and counsel over the years. A common one is:
“Yeah, people SAY they’re actively using less of the type of product I make, but I’m not seeing it in my sales data.”
Then a few years later we often hear, “Our sales are off a bit.”
That’s because behavior change is hard, and the way it actually happens is:
- We have an idea of something we’re going to do/change.
- We start talking about that idea/telling people we’re doing it.
- Then we actually start doing it.
So before we actually take action, we tell people we’re doing the thing we will one day start doing. That sounds a bit like lying, but it’s simply how we often “talk ourselves into” new behaviors.
Given that we’ve now seen a steady increase (3-4 years) in the percentage of people who SAY they’re doing certain things, I believe 2017 is the year we’re going to see those words turn into actions. I also believe many companies are going to facilitate that transition in the process of making their own transition from words to actions. Here’s how I think 2017 will go down:
- Brands that aren’t seen as “good guys” will begin to feel the cold shoulder. In the last three years we’ve seen a steady increase in the importance consumers place on buying from companies with a strong environmental track record and a strong social record. And we’ve seen a dramatic three-year increase in the percentage of people who say they’ve either purchased or NOT purchased a product based on the environmental record of the manufacturer. Today, half of Americans and Canadians say they’ve done this … and 64% can name the brand. Following the say-then-do principle of behavior change, we think this is the year manufacturers will begin to actually feel those words.
- That cold shoulder will be exacerbated by what the “good guys” do. One of the best phrases I heard at a conference last year was, “There is no business case for a two-degree increase in global temperatures.” That’s right. And virtually every scientific model illustrates that we will indeed hit the 2-degree mark under almost every scenario except the most austere/stop-everything-right-now scenario, which we all know won’t happen. Wise CEOs can easily “get it” that the supply chain disruptions and human capital hardships that will play out under that two-degree increase are bad for business. Those same wise CEOs can also easily read the protectionist political winds, not just here but all around the world, and “get it” that government isn’t really going to lead on this issue, so business must. And we’re already seeing this happen. You would expect Unilever to have embraced the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (they have the SDG logo on their home page, equal in size to the Unilever logo), but I’ve been surprised by how many organizations are convening workshops and working groups and actively taking steps to incorporate the SDGs into their business strategies and operations. In a year with a lot to be depressed about, this was a real bright spot for me – watching business lay the groundwork to bring the goals of the SDGs into reality. The “good guy” companies that continue to make real progress here will become obvious to consumers, and they’ll create a stark contrast to those companies that aren’t doing this work. Consumers will notice and they’ll vote accordingly.
- Somebody will figure out how to connect the dots between energy and the environment in an easy, consumer-friendly solution, and that company will be a big winner. I wrote about this a lot towards the end of last year: Americans and Canadians are more anxious than ever about climate change, 90% think the average person should be taking steps to improve the environment, and nearly half want to be seen as someone who does so. Yet only 6% of us recognize that the biggest driver of our environmental footprint is the energy we use in our homes. Even people who are taking lots of other actions to do their part for the environment (recycling, taking their bags to the grocery store, buying organics, etc.) don’t recognize that they need to curtail their home energy consumption to truly reduce their environmental impact. The company that figures out how to connect these dots in a consumer-friendly solution will win big time. That person may well be Elon Musk. I’m very excited to see what the merger of Tesla and SolarCity brings, and whether or not an affordable, sexy, one-stop energy-and-environmental shop can be created. I’m also excited to see who will challenge that model and create real competition for Musk, which will create more attention to the energy-environment connection and drive more consumer interest. I know you’re out there …
- This is the year we’ll get serious about waste. In our 2016 Eco Pulse study, we essentially saw two mandates from Americans and Canadians: they expect companies, regardless of sector, to deal with the waste generated by their products, and they expect companies to use renewable energy. The issue of marine debris got a fair amount of coverage last year (the Ellen MacArthur Foundation/World Economic Forum report got a lot of press with its “more plastic in the ocean than fish by 2050” sound byte; CNN created a documentary on the issue). I believe 2017 will be the year that the issue of waste really becomes a mainstream conversation and all of us – companies and consumers alike – will no longer be able to avoid confronting the toll our drive for convenience has taken. Leaders and winners will figure out solutions that make it easy for consumers to simply absolve their guilt via their purchases vs. forcing consumers to make drastic, wholesale behavior change.
- Renewables will truly become mainstream … the question is what role will utilities play? We released a free study produced jointly with the Smart Electric Power Alliance last year, digging into market affinity and drivers (with consumer and business decision-makers) for rooftop and community solar, and lo and behold, folks still love solar, they want solar, they’re happy to learn there’s such a thing as community solar, and if we can get the price/models right, we’ll really sell the heck out of it. Shelton Group will be digging into the decision-making process with both consumers and business decision-makers to help utilities understand if they can and should get in this game and what that should look like. Our view is the more players the better. A competitive market is a healthy market. Consumers benefit in the end and purchasing goes up.
Here’s to a 2017 of doing!