Connecting the Dots in 2019

by | Jan 10, 2019

I married into a French family, which means I spend my Christmas holidays every year in a little village outside of Rennes in Brittany on the west coast of France. We arrived this year in the middle of the Yellow Vest movement, intensive protests over a proposed gasoline tax – a tax meant to incentivize people to drive less to reduce carbon emissions and fight climate change.

As you’ve probably read and can read in the link above, this was a tone-deaf policy proposal. For all its public transportation, there are MANY villages and outskirt areas of the country that do not have access to public transportation. Not driving to get to work or to get groceries simply isn’t an option. And many French people are stretched pretty thin already – wage growth is stagnant, taxes are high and costs keep going up. This tax was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back and unearthed many feelings of being stuck and screwed and opened the floodgates to a proverbial, “I’m mad as hell and not going to take it anymore” stand.

I asked family members throughout my trip, “How’s life in France?” and I repeatedly heard, “Not great. People are angry.” And, maybe an indicator/maybe not, I noticed a LOT more graffiti in public places throughout Rennes. There’s always been a little on the sides of train cars, under bridges and on dumpsters. But it’s now on the sides of buildings as well. And there’s a lot of it. So, it struck me that some people aren’t just angry. They’re destructive. And we’ve certainly seen that in the Yellow Vest protests – nobody in my French family could ever think of another time when the Arc de Triomphe had been defaced in protest of a government policy.

This all got me thinking about what’s happening in America. I have read a fair amount about the rise of populism, and I’ve sought to understand how we arrived at a Trump presidency. The insight that has made the most sense to me is that many working class Americans – the Trump base – feel much like the Yellow Vesters in France. They feel like they’ve gotten screwed out of the American dream. They were told they could grow up and be anything they wanted, even president (cue John Cougar Mellencamp’s “Pink Houses”), and instead their jobs got shipped overseas or replaced with technology. They feel like they’ve been waiting in line for their turn, their shot, and instead immigrants are coming in and cutting in line to get their jobs.

So, what does this all have to do with sustainability? Two things:

  1. We know that climate change disproportionately impacts folks on the lower end of the socioeconomic spectrum. There are a lot of ways this plays out, but the simplest one to wrap your head around (which isn’t really simple) is that weather disruptions impact crop yields. Fewer crops means higher prices. If you’re already struggling to make ends meet, you can’t afford more expensive food. So, the Yellow Vests and the Trump base who already feel stretched thin, who already feel screwed, are going to get even more stretched and screwed as we enter the full swing of climate change.
  2. Fighting climate change has long been seen as something that’s in the wheelhouse of the liberal elite. Though folks we call “Working Class Realists” in our consumer segmentation want greener products and more efficient houses for health and safety reasons, they haven’t connected the dots to how government policies and corporate action on sustainability will directly impact their lives.

2019 is the year to change that.

My observation at sustainability and energy efficiency conferences in the last half of 2018 is that there’s an urgency coming from corporate America that I haven’t seen before. I’ve been working on sustainability for nearly 15 years now and the shift is palpable. And I’m relieved to see it. But, Corporate America, it’s not enough to curb your carbon emissions. You have to connect the dots from what you’re doing to why it matters to people’s daily lives. That’s how you build brand value and sell more products. But it’s also how we get everyone – especially those who have the most to lose in a 2 degree world – in agreement that these actions are critical.

As we enter what’s going to feel like the Longest Presidential Season Ever, I caution politicians on this as well. Right now, climate is buried amidst the noise on immigration and terrorism. Yet, climate change will impact every single one of us, and it will impact the folks worried about immigration in ways that are so much deeper, more painful and permanent than immigration. Your talking points need to tell that story. We must take sustainability out of the realm of the Liberal Elite and make it a concern and a platform for the Everyman. And we can’t run around slapping gas taxes on people as a way to curb climate change. We must be more nuanced … we must offer carrots to go along with the sticks. We must reimagine programs and rebates so a family of four living on $35-40,000/year can see how fighting climate change helps them TODAY as well as tomorrow.

In 2019, connect these dots:

Corporations: do the right thing and tell emotionally compelling stories about why you’re doing it. Lay out your vision for the world. Talk about the Big Problems you’re working to overcome and the future you’re aiming to create for everyone. Engage your buyers in your vision and help them see the direct connection between buying your products and creating a better today and tomorrow.

Politicians and policymakers: reimagine programs so the folks who are hurting the most right now get the most help. Fix their houses so they’re healthy and efficient, make it possible/affordable for them to buy fuel-efficient cars and access renewable energy. Empower them to take action and gain control over the forces that could keep them in poverty and communicate that narrative. Help them see how climate change is extremely relevant to their lives and is a bigger challenge for them than all of the other stuff we’re talking about – and help them overcome it.

And, for good measure, re-read my “wish list for 2018” post from this time last year. It’s still relevant and directly related to what I’m saying here. And if you need help connecting the dots and creating a relevant narrative (it’s not as easy as it sounds), call me and we’ll figure it out. The time to shift and communicate is now.

News of the Week
The silver lining in Apple’s very bad iPhone news – Wired

Apple’s bad news that iPhone sales are slowing down may have a potential silver lining – and it involves sustainability. As consumers hold on to their phones for much longer nowadays, their actions are having positive effects on the environment. “Manufacturing is environmentally intense,” states the article, adding that the production of “each Apple device generates on average 90 pounds of carbon emissions.” If this becomes a trend, it gestures to the need for more sustainable business models to accommodate consumer interest in longer-lifecycle products.

Norway’s electric cars zip to new record: almost a third of all sales – Reuters

Norway has an ambitious plan of ending the sale of “fossil-fueled vehicles” by 2025 – and they are delivering on their goals. In 2018, almost a third of all new vehicles sold in Norway were purely electric. The country encourages their purchase by waiving most taxes and offering perks such as free parking and charging stations. The top-selling car in Norway in 2018 was the Nissan Leaf, followed by other popular electric models from BMW, Volkswagen and Tesla. This is great progress, but there is still work to be done: officials acknowledge that lack of access to private parking for charging cars at home is still a major obstacle for many consumers.

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About the Author

Suzanne Shelton

Suzanne Shelton

Where Suzanne sees opportunity, you can bet results will follow. Drawing on her extensive knowledge of both the advertising world and the energy and environment arena, Suzanne provides unparalleled strategic insights to our clients and to audiences around North America. Suzanne is a guest columnist in multiple publications and websites, such as GreenBiz, and she speaks at around 20 conferences a year, including Sustainable Brands, Fortune Brainstorm E and Green Build.

1 Comment

  1. Thank you Suzanne for this personal account of the challenges of implementing climate change mitigation strategies.


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Suzanne Shelton

President and CEO

Suzanne is the voice and the vision of Shelton Group. Drawing on her extensive experience in energy and the environment – and 25+ years in the marketing and advertising industry – Suzanne provides high-level strategic insights for our clients and guidance for our research and creative departments. She regularly speaks at conferences around the country, including Sustainable Brands, Fortune Brainstorm E and the International Builders’ Show, and serves as a guest columnist for publications like Fast Company, Green Builder and

Susannah Enkema

VP Research & Insights

Susannah directs our research team and plays a key role in extracting the nuggets of information that pave the way for recommended marketing strategies and creative approaches. Susannah has nearly two decades of market research and strategy experience, including her role as president of SE Consulting, where she led the services for the likes of DIY Network and the makers of GORE-TEX®.

Matt Brass

VP Creative

Matt steers the creative department in concepting, designing and producing campaigns. He ensures sound strategy and deep insights inform everything his team develops, and works closely with the accounts department to ensure copy and designs will meet our clients’ goals. As a designer and filmmaker himself, he’s also a principal contributor to all of Shelton’s in-house photography and videography work.

Courtnay Hamachek

VP Operations

Courtnay oversees our day-to-day operations to keep us running smoothly and support our growth. She establishes project management systems and processes to help our teams anticipate bottlenecks, prevent process issues, and keep projects on time and on target. Courtnay has built extensive experience over 25 years in all aspects of marketing, from account services and project management to design and production.

Aaron Crecy

Digital Marketing Director

Aaron is responsible for planning, executing and measuring digital marketing strategies for Shelton Group and our clients, with an emphasis on inbound, content, SEO, social media, email and paid initiatives. He constantly researches and explores new tactics and strategies to improve digital campaign performance and results.

Aaron brings to the table more than 20 years of marketing leadership experience with premium consumer-facing brands. He came to Shelton Group by way of Malibu Boats, where, as Director of Global Marketing, he oversaw strategic marketing planning and execution for multiple product lines, with specific emphasis on social media and digital. Prior to that, he served as CMO for a leading daily fantasy sports operator, guiding it from startup to the industry’s third-ranked site.

Scot Case

Senior Consultant

A sustainability strategy consultant since 1993, Scot has served as non-profit leader, as a partner in an environmental marketing firm that he grew and sold, and as an executive in a multi-billion-dollar, international company. He has published dozens of articles and case studies, was co-author of the original “Sins of Greenwashing” study, testified before Congress, and been quoted on NPR, Good Morning America, CNN, The New York Times, Business Week, and the Wall Street Journal. Scot was also highlighted in an Emmy award-winning documentary on sustainable purchasing.

Casey Ward

VP Account Services

Casey manages our relationships, growth and development with a specific group of clients that includes Environmental Defense Fund, Cotton LEADS and CertainTeed Insulation. She provides leadership and support for the account team members who manage the day-to-day processes for these clients. She contributes to strategic direction for each client and guides our creative efforts to ensure everything we do builds toward meeting – or exceeding – the client’s goals. Her ability to simultaneously see the big picture and pay close attention to the details helps her champion her clients’ needs and identify new growth opportunities for them.