It’s time to talk turkey about the environment.

It’s time to talk turkey about the environment.

Once upon a time – back when we first started marketing energy efficiency and sustainability – we told our clients that if you wanted to get consumers to save energy, the last thing you should do is talk about the environment. It’s too polarizing, we said. Why take the risk of alienating a big part of your audience?

But our story is changing – along with the American mindset.

That’s why we’re excited to bring you our latest Energy Pulse™ free special report based on a brand-new poll of more than 2,000 Americans:

Playing the Planet Card: Is it finally time to talk about the environment to promote residential energy efficiency?

We think it is, and our report tells you exactly why.

What’s shifted? First of all, conserving energy at home is at an all-time low in America. We’ve been tracking consumer behaviors regarding energy for many years, and Energy Pulse 2016 (like 2015 before it) showed some of the lowest numbers we’ve ever recorded for completed activities like installing energy-efficient windows, installing extra insulation and changing habits at home to save energy.

And we think we know the reason: saving money is the most widely used message to try to influence energy-efficient behavior, but it isn’t a strong emotional driver. It offers a reasonable rationale, not a reason for inspiration – to say nothing of the fact that in order to save money, you have to make a consistent investment of time and money that may or may not pay you back. Savings is a dubious reason to participate in energy efficiency, and savings messaging simply isn’t effective.

But there’s something even bigger going on in the background. Even though America is sharply divided politically – and we just experienced one of the ugliest election seasons in modern memory – when you ask people to weigh in on their beliefs about energy and the environment alone, it’s a whole different ballgame. That’s what we did in this Energy Pulse survey, including holding a mock presidential election that allowed respondents to vote for different candidates based purely on environment/energy platforms.

As we’ve seen in our last several Pulse studies, belief in human-caused climate change is strongly mainstream (64% of Americans agree that climate change is real and caused by human activity), as is belief that personal conservation habits can make a real difference (67% agree with this proposition).

We think that if Americans are ever going to get serious about conserving energy, it will be because they’re responding to an emotional appeal they can’t ignore. Saving money isn’t the answer. But saving the planet just might work.

Download our free report and you’ll find out …

  • Why savings messaging has led us down the wrong path
  • What Americans really believe about environmental hot-button issues
  • How they would vote if energy and the environment were the only issues on the table
  • How the red-state-blue-state divide plays out – can you make a case for the environment no matter where your target audience lives?
  • Why the environment makes a better energy efficiency play than saving money
  • What neuroscience tells us about how people may react to climate change messaging
  • What tone and content to aim for in environmental messaging


This is a bit of a shift in thinking for us at Shelton Group, but we’re intrigued by the possibilities – read the report and get in touch to talk about what it might mean for your marketing efforts.


Suzanne Shelton

About Suzanne Shelton

Suzanne Shelton is President and CEO of Shelton Group, the nation's leading marketing agency focused exclusively on energy and the environment. Drawing on her extensive knowledge of the industry, Suzanne provides unparalleled strategic insights in her writing, research, and client work. Suzanne is a guest columnist in multiple publications and websites, such as, and she speaks at over 20 conferences a year, including ACEEE, AESP, Greenbiz Forum, and Sustainable Brands.

View all posts by Suzanne Shelton →


  1. Really looking forward to reading this report, Suzanne! Your timing is fabulous. Most marketing practitioners have been told for years that consumers are motivated by money issues more than the environment. (And as a copywriter, I’ve dutifully plied these waters for my energy-efficiency clients.) Of course, companies like Opower have been saying for some time now that consumers are more motivated by behavioral psychology and social proof. Your findings should be eye-opening.

  2. Susan,

    Thank you for the great report. I agree some of the comments you made, but would like to bring something to your attention. The premise that homebuyer demand alone can solve this problem is flawed. Regardless of buyer motivation, money or environment, you are missing an important component. You have forgotten the supply side. We are supply and demand economy. Even if consumers are demanding energy efficient homes, there are none to be had. I can convince a homebuyer to purchase an energy efficient home in 5 minutes of less (I’ve done this). Environment is one of five motivations. These five benefits vary in importance, depending on the buyer. But, if there are not energy efficient builders with lots in the neighborhoods homebuyers want, they will continue to buy what they think is pretty energy efficient. Trust me, large production builders are skilled at getting them thinking about granite counters, stainless appliances, open layouts and colors. Then, builders are telling consumers that they’re supplying them with energy-efficient or that they are a green builder of homes, when in fact they are not. The largest national builders all tell the consumer they are green.

    What makes us matter worse, you have a real estate industry that helps consumers buy and sell homes. These realtors have no education as to what it means to be energy efficient. Until the supply side issues are addressed in a pragmatic way, the supply problem of energy efficient homes will persist. Also, until production builders are provided a path to build energy efficient homes profitability, they will not do it. There is a way to fix this rather quickly, that is what I am working on (and have been for 3 years). I spent the past 16 years on the supply side. It drives me crazy, but in a different way than you. I think what you are doing is great, but please understand the other side of this problem. This is both a supply and demand issue.

  3. I’m curious about the power of the possessive. In other words, simply redefining it as “our environment” instead of “the environment”–which implies it is separate and distant to me. But if it’s our environment that we’re protecting, does that give me a greater personal role to protect my own interests and possession? Greater emotional response?

  4. As a writer and practitioner of the story arts, I find your conclusions affirming. Everything I know and have learned about motivating people to change and to act says you’re right when you say: “For information to push action, you have to couple that information with inspiration, motivation and positive emotion.” And the tool most able to do that is story.

    The next step is to see how your clients and others put your recommendations into action. And to see if your hypothesis is correct.

    Thanks so much for your work.

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