Like what you're learning?

Get in touch!

Let’s talk about how to leverage your sustainability story.

Sign up for Shelton Insights

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Think. Feel. Do.

How to win consumer loyalty through sustainability


of Americans think that the average person should be taking concrete steps to reduce his or her environmental impact


80% of us judge others for environmental infractions ...
Littering (49%) and not recycling (23%)


... and we judge ourselves – 69% of us would be embarrassed to be caught throwing trash out the car window
Let’s compare: 70% would be embarrassed to get a DUI, 62% would be embarrassed to be caught cheating on their taxes


of Americans feel some sense of personal responsibility to change daily purchase habits and practices to positively impact the environment


76% of us believe “people have a right to clean air and water”

70% of us believe “we have a moral duty to leave the earth in as good or better shape than we found it”

65% of Americans believe climate change is real and is primarily caused by human behavior

82% of Millennials are worried about how climate change will impact their children’s quality of life

We know it in our heads. We believe it in our hearts.
That adds up to a big-time culture shift. And that means we’re taking action, right?

61% of Americans say they most often choose personal comfort or convenience over the environment

EPA reports that our national recycling rate is only 35%1


Millennials, a huge cohort that will shape our culture in major ways, engage in personal sustainable behaviors significantly less than previous generations

27% of Millennials recycle newspapers, cardboard, aluminum cans, etc.
compared to older generations

30% of Millennials bring their own bags when shopping
compared to older generations

29% of Millennials adjust thermostat settings to save energy
compared to older generations

Why the disconnect?

The culture shift in environmental attitudes and beliefs is a good thing, but it doesn’t mean action. It doesn’t provide solutions. As awareness of environmental problems increases, some people feel unequipped – those problems seem just too big and scary. Consumers wonder how they can do anything that makes a difference.

Connecting hands to heart and head requires more than culture

It requires external forces


Government Regulations 

Corporate Leadership 

Gas prices and vehicle choice:

  • A 2011 study by the Kellogg Institute found that an increase in gas prices is tied to an increase in the average mpg of vehicles being purchased; the economics change the purchasing behavior.2 This effect was highly visible when gas prices hit record highs in 2012.3 People seriously reconsidered the cars they were driving; hybrid and EV sales were looking good. But as the economic driver dissolved, so did the financial allure of vehicles that run on little or no fuel. SUV sales rose again; sales of EVs and fuel-efficient hybrids fell off.4

Water conservation:

  • In the U.S., we don’t pay the true cost for water. During the most recent drought in California, fines for wasting water were an important ingredient for successful conservation efforts.


  • Lady Bird Johnson’s Highway Beautification Act of 1965 and subsequent anti-littering legislation in almost every state launched a dramatic turn-around in Americans’ behavior and paved the way for influential anti-littering ad campaigns.


  • Cities like San Francisco that have implemented mandatory recycling laws and financial incentives for recycling have much higher landfill diversion rates (along the lines of 80%).5

Water conservation:

  • In California, government mandates drove water conservation. The state is currently in the process of rewriting the temporary regulations as permanent ones.

Companies are stepping up:

  • 63% of Fortune 100 companies have set one or more clean energy targets6
  • 82% of S&P 500 companies published sustainability reports in 20167
  • 78% of business owners say sustainability is important to their organization as operating, capital improvement, construction and purchasing decisions are made8

Consumers are watching:

  • 59% of Millennials look to companies to solve social and environmental problems they feel they can’t address (or would rather not have to)
  • 64% of Americans say a company’s environmental reputation impacts their purchase decisions
  • 60% of Americans say CSR activities positively impact their purchase intent

Here’s an example: the shift in smoking

We've seen a huge drop in U.S. smoking rates over time. Changing cultural norms have certainly played a part in this, but they haven’t done the work by themselves. External forces – government regulation, economic “sticks” and corporate leadership – have been necessary.

Expand for case study


U.S. adults who smoke

Pulse Report

And still dropping

Pulse Report

As early as 1999, virtually all Americans


thought smoking cigarettes
was harmful12

Pulse Report

In 2015


of current smokers wanted to quit13

“Sin taxes” have pushed the average price of cigarettes in the U.S. up to $5.51/pack, with prices as high as $14/pack in some places.14

Laws against smoking in public places have been enacted in almost every state.

A civil suit against cigarette manufacturers in the 1990s resulted in a $206 billion settlement, much of which has been funneled into a very effective national anti-smoking advertising campaign.

Once upon a time, the heroes of Hollywood smoked. Now who smokes? The villains. This switch influences and is influenced by cultural norms.

And more to our point: CVS has defined itself as a purpose-driven health company. A study published in 2017 in the American Journal of Public Health finds correlations between CVS’ landmark decision to pull cigarettes off its shelves and state-level drops in cigarette sales. CVS is now expanding its product and service offerings to help people quit smoking.15


When it comes to sustainability, connecting hands to heads and hearts requires external factors. In the current U.S. political climate, government is playing less of a starring role here than it may have in the past. That’s a huge opportunity for you, because more and more often, companies and brands are seen as the power players in sustainability.

This is a game changer. Companies, you can help connect hands to heads and hearts – not by trying to convince consumers to change their personal behaviors to be more sustainable – but by changing their buying behaviors. Here’s how - both ways are equally important.

Be their role model

When you take care of your environmental reputation, you can be the model for connecting heads, hearts and hands. How?

  • Integrate sustainability into your business
  • Set meaningful sustainability goals – and include at least one that your brand can be known for
  • Work toward those goals with passion
  • Communicate what you’re doing to all stakeholders

Give them the tools they need

Think about all those empty hands out there, connected to hearts and heads that WANT to do better ... that know they SHOULD do better.

You can give them what they need to make a difference – and make it easy for them. Help your customers and consumers be their best selves.

  • Develop new sustainable products
    • Give them products that allow them to easily replace unsustainable habits.
  • Increase your value proposition and engage your buyers in it
    • Give each dollar they spend with you additional value – for instance, directly tying it into your CSR initiatives. (Think TOMS Shoes.)
  • Use your scale
    • Trimming your carbon emissions by 2025 is great – but it’s not enough. Use your size and reach to tackle the big problems outside your walls that individual consumers can’t.

This is how you get Americans thinking about you – loving you – and buying from you because of your sustainability commitments.