Are we giving up too much in the name of sustainability?

Are we giving up too much in the name of sustainability?

First, let me state for the record that I think technological advancement is a wonderful thing. I love the conveniences new technologies bring and, like pretty much everyone these days, I’m dependent on them. (I wouldn’t last a week in the “Little House on the Prairie,” mainly because of the whole no-indoor-plumbing thing AND the lack of Netflix.) Technology has allowed for amazing positive changes in business, general communication and our personal lives.

It’s also opened the door to numerous possibilities when it comes to sustainability – like saving fuel and time by doing less business travel or making manufacturing leaner and more sustainable. But have we gotten to a point where technological convenience is taking away more than it’s giving? Maybe so.

Here’s one example: We all love the amazing shop-any-time convenience of online shopping sites like And you could argue that we’re saving a lot of individual road miles and emissions by reducing trips to brick and mortar stores, which, in turn, means fewer brick and mortar stores (which use a lot of energy to keep the temperature comfy and the lights bright and cheery 24/7). You could also argue that buying books electronically, for instance, means less printing, which means a reduced need for paper, which means fewer trees cut down.

So yes, we’ve gained a way to be more sustainable here for sure. But remember, sustainability is about more than just the environment. It’s also about human well-being – and a large part of our well-being is wrapped up in experience.

Let’s focus in on bookstores, an increasingly endangered species precisely because of Amazon and the invention of zillions of electronic readers. There’s an intrinsic value that exists in brick and mortar bookstores. We’ve all felt it, the experience of walking through the front door, even at a megastore like Barnes & Noble. It’s a feeling of possibility – to search for your title and maybe discover something new. It’s a moment of exploration that you share with other humans entangled in the same wonderful journey. There’s a healthy value to touching that paperback and taking in the cover art before reading the synopsis on the back.

This type of interaction isn’t as measurable as something like a manufacturing process or carbon emissions – but does that make it less valuable? If part of sustainability is about using resources wisely, isn’t it wise to use resources to promote a healthy human condition?

We all know sustainability needs balance. Too many stores and we hurt our environment; too few and we hurt our humanity. We should embrace technological advancement as a wonderful thing for sustainability – we just need to keep an eye on our personal human advancement at the same time.

About the Author

Larry Washington

Larry Washington is a former contributor to Shelton Insights.

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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®.

Laila Waggoner

VP Client Engagement

Laila leads our client engagement process, overseeing activities from both a strategic and a tactical level to ensure our work generates desired results – and clients’ satisfaction. She brings 25+ years of marketing leadership experience to her client relationships, with particular expertise in the homebuilding and remodeling industries as well as member-driven organizations, such as the Vinyl Siding Institute and Plastics Pipe Institute. Before joining Shelton Group, she led strategic marketing teams for Owens Corning’s insulation business.

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.

Mike Beamer

VP Business Development

Mike joined our team to help provide strategic vision and foster our agency’s growth by overseeing new business leads and managing agency marketing and website content. He arrived in Knoxville steeped in energy efficiency and renewables – he previously led client service for an agency division in Boston dedicated to marketing communications strategy and branding for B2B and B2C clients in that space.