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®.

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.