Stay the course. And then change it.

by Feb 15, 2017

I talk with a lot of people working in energy and the environment every week.

And for the most part, when I ask the pointed question, “How is your company responding in the wake of the Trump administration’s stated plans to back away from the Paris Accord and the Clean Power Plan, bring back coal jobs, eviscerate the EPA, etc.?” the responses I get are mostly reassuring:

“We are staying the course … our renewable energy plans play out over decades, and we see this as a four-year blip and think most utilities will, too. Why would they start building a bunch of new coal plants if in four years a new administration might tell them they can’t use them?”

“I’ve been at this 20 years and even in favorable administrations we’ve seen that business has really always led the charge on the environment, and we’ll continue to do so.”

“Our CEO just held a company-wide meeting specifically to let everyone know that in the wake of everything happening right now at the federal level, nothing has changed for us as a company – we will always honor our values. And those values are all about social and environmental responsibility.”

But I had one conversation recently that left me a little concerned. The gist of it was:

“Our C-suite is saying things like, ‘Well, all those people who voted for Trump don’t care about the environment and might even be against it, so we shouldn’t really be focused on sustainability right now, and we shouldn’t be talking publicly about it.’

Deep breath. Here are the facts from our 2016 Energy Pulse study:

  • As the graph below indicates, we’ve reached a place where only 13% of Americans solidly don’t believe in climate change; 64% agree it’s happening and caused by man, and 23% are on the fence. Also, 51% of us report feeling anxious about it … which is up significantly from just three years ago. Bottom line: a majority of Americans are interested in ensuring the environment is healthy.
  • 74% of us believe the U.S. government should be making significant investments in renewable energy.
  • When we shared a variety of political platforms related to energy and the environment, but didn’t identify the party affiliation – just the ideology – and asked folks which platform they most identified with, 80% of Democrats chose a left or centrist energy platform … and so did 65% of Independents and 48% of Republicans. Bottom line: a vote for Trump was NOT often a vote against the environment.

And here’s the winning platform:

I’m the product of Republican parents and spent my formative years at a Christian summer camp as a camper and a counselor. And I can tell you I was absolutely taught to “leave the campsite better that you found it” and to “waste not want not.” Yet it’s easy to look back on pictures of the polar ice caps, Lake Powell, etc., from 20 years ago and today and see that we haven’t lived up to those teachings – teachings that I believe are core American beliefs and certainly core conservative beliefs. Things are not as good with the environment today as they were 20 years ago, and that’s on us … and it’s on us to fix it.

Obviously, I’m a believer that climate change is occurring. I know enough about the terrifying forecasts for what happens to people, species and ecosystems at even just a 1-2 degree Celsius increase in temperatures that I’ve devoted my career and company to changing the course and creating a different outcome. As a businessperson, I do NOT see a business case for allowing the rise in temperatures to continue. Supply chain disruption, population displacement and wars fought over water rights are generally bad for business.

Thus, what I want everyone reading this to hear is:

  • It’s not only OK to talk about the environment, it’s one way you can build trust and faith in your company and your company’s brand. See here for other posts about that.
  • I believe you have permission to not only stay the course but to change the course. The real win for your company, and for all of us, would be for your organization to adopt an even bolder stance on the environment, essentially saying, “Clearly, government isn’t going to lead, so we will.”

You’ll alter everyone’s future for the better. Our citizens will breathe a collective sigh of relief.  And they’ll be ever loyal to you.

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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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