Eco Pulse 2014: The Curse of the Improving Economy

by | Jul 17, 2014

Last year, an improving economy seemed to be stimulating environmental engagement and green product purchase intent, and all signs pointed to an increase in market adoption and significant sales growth for green products.

But that promise has not been fulfilled. This year’s annual Eco Pulse study (our seventh) of U.S. consumer green affinity is full of contradictions.

We see a continued shift toward more pro-environment attitudes, along with increasing concerns and feelings of eco-guilt that should (logically) be leading to more sustainable purchasing. Yet we’re seeing stagnant purchasing patterns and declining sustainable behaviors.

Rather than spurring purchases and actions aligned with professed beliefs, we think that the improving economy has actually shifted attention away from conservation and frugality. The economic imperative for better behavior has lessened.

While the percentage of Americans searching for greener products is up five percentage points to 70%, search trends at the product category level tell a somewhat different story, falling back to (or below) 2012 levels. Most categories, including lighting, cleaning, paper goods and personal care, are all losing the purchase propensity momentum we saw last year.

We’re also seeing a marked decline in self-reported green purchases and sustainable activities, with respondents reporting 11 activities, on average, compared to 13 last year.

Overall, this year’s findings point to the need for better green product positioning. We need to better align with recognized lower-level needs, like health and security. There are a multitude of satisfiers for every need – some of which offer real, lasting solutions and some of which are temporary, false or even harmful. We need to position sustainable solutions more favorably against less sustainable alternatives.

Further, the more we can go beyond basic needs fulfillment and economics to connect with social and psychological desires, the more successful we will be. As Suzanne mentioned in her post last week, it’s time we started positioning green products as higher quality, aspirational – BETTER.

Eco Pulse 2014 will go on sale July 25. Check back at to download the executive summary and get your copy of the full report.

About the Author

Lee Ann Head

Lee Ann Head

Lee Ann is a former contributor to Shelton Insights.

About the Author

Lee Ann Head

Lee Ann Head

Lee Ann 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.