It’s time to change your thinking about “the base.”

by Oct 20, 2021

Shelton Stat of the Week

Shelton stat: 82% of people in America think the climate is changing. — Eco Pulse®, January 2021

I’m at the Sustainable Brands conference this week – my second conference in 19 months – and it’s great to be around old friends and make some new ones (even if it is a little hard to see who’s under the masks)! One thing that hasn’t changed amid all the Covid protocols is a line of thinking at the brand level that I’ve heard for years: If a brand tries to tell its sustainability story, it will alienate its core consumer base.

Even as companies get more comfortable proactively telling their corporate sustainability stories, the brands are reticent to amplify the story. During a workshop I facilitated early in the week, I heard this exact line of thinking from a sustainability person at a “house of consumer brands”: “Our brands worry that if we try to appeal to GenZ with a sustainability message on pack, we’ll rub our ‘value consumer’ the wrong way.” The week before last, another company put it to one of my team members like this: “If we start promoting all our ESG initiatives, our core buyers will think we’re Democrats!”

With all due respect, that is 2017 thinking.

Sustainability is not as polarizing along political lines as it once was, and no mainstream consumer brand should be talking about sustainability in a way that feels at all political or treehugger-y, anyway. Brands should be appealing to the concerns and expectations of the majority of Americans. Here are the facts from our latest survey in January:

  • Only 18% of people in America are full-on climate deniers. 82% of us, in fact, believe something’s going on with the climate.
  • That belief generates a fair amount of anxiety and fear for our kids. 76% of us are concerned about the impact climate change will have on our children’s quality of life. And, by the way, 69% of us are moderately to extremely concerned about greenhouse gas emissions.
  • And while 70% of people in America feel moderately to very strongly responsible for changing our daily choices to positively impact the environment, the reality is that 79% of us don’t feel we have much control over our ability to actually do that.
  • Who do we think actually could make a real impact on the environment? Companies. 62% of us say that a company’s environmental reputation has a moderate to very strong impact on our purchase intent, 45% of us have a more positive opinion of brands that use a limited amount or no plastics in their packaging, and only 16% of us think manufacturers aren’t responsible for the end-of-life disposal of their products.

Given all of this, brands should shift their paradigm and embrace the reality that people in this country are looking to companies and brands to do the right thing for people and the planet. We’re looking to brands and companies to make real, positive impacts and protect the future for our kids. Very few of us want brands to just “shut up and make music,” so to speak, (something I overhead someone say about Bono at a U2 concert).

That existential risk that some brand managers think there is to telling a sustainability story? In fact, it’s just the opposite. As more and more of us look to companies to solve our world’s problems, and as more and more of us look to express our virtues and values through our purchases (shoptivism), there’s actually risk in a brand NOT telling its sustainability story. After all, in this age of transparency, if you’re not telling a story, the assumption is that you don’t have one.

News of the Week

Risky Business: Sustainability is Central to Mitigating Risk
Yahoo! Finance

Investors are looking for ESG initiatives. Sustainable action is at the core of mitigating ESG risk. This Yahoo Finance article covers how investors are taking corporate sustainability performance into account when they are weighing investment risks.
Read more…

Air Canada Launches its New LEAVE LESS Travel Program, Leading the Way for Sustainable Business Travel; Deloitte Canada is First On Board

Business travel is a major greenhouse gas source for the corporate world, but it’s also the heart of airlines’ business. This Newswire article details Air Canada’s approach to reach their net zero GHG emissions goal by offering Sustainable Aviation Fuels and carbon offsets to their travelers.
Read more…

Good Company

Americans are putting their wallets where their values are. They buy brands (or those brands’ competitors) based not just on corporate behavior, but on how that behavior is perceived.

So how do you protect your bottom line and safeguard your reputation, all while making the world a better place? Well, good works. That’s the simple truth, and as you’ll learn in this report, Shelton Group has the research to back it up.

You’ll also learn how your brand can apply our insights to share your good stories in ways that captivate the public’s passion – so you can gain a market advantage.

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About the Author

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.

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