Sustainability and American Identity, Part 1

by | Aug 31, 2016

This year’s Eco Pulse study came back with a really surprising statistic: 45% of Americans say buying/using eco-friendly products is an important part of their personal image.

What’s amazing about this statistic is that Shelton Group has been asking the same question for four years, and in all previous years that statistic has held rock steady at 26%.

This year we saw a dramatic jump. This data point is more than just the harbinger of the shift from “early adopters” to the “early majority” – we believe it’s pointing to a shift in American identity.

This new data point had us thinking back to other moments in our cultural experience when there was a collective shift in what was acceptable and what wasn’t. Littering was a growing concern in America in the 1950s and 1960s, when throwing trash out of car windows was the norm. Lady Bird Johnson made highway beautification her cause as First Lady in 1963 and contributed to the shift in cultural acceptance. The Ad Council’s famous campaign with the iconic crying Native American man beside the littered highway reminding us, “People start pollution and people can stop it,” also contributed to the shift in cultural acceptance. By the time Shelton’s Green Living Pulse™ was fielded in 2012, not only was littering no longer acceptable, it had become a source of embarrassment for a majority of Americans. (In fact, Americans told us they’d be more embarrassed for someone to see them littering than for someone to know they cheated on their taxes.)

Another artifact of American culture that comes to mind when we think of these tectonic shifts in cultural acceptance is smoking. What was once Hollywood chic is now not even acceptable in most public places. Anti-smoking campaigns and legislation are working.

A recent study by the American Legacy Foundation, the sponsors of the truth® campaign, found that the 2009 campaign has significantly reduced smoking rates among high-school-aged teens. The truth® campaign attributes its success, in part, to approaching public service messaging like a brand would, and fighting the powerful branding of big tobacco with brand stories of its own. Here are a couple of good write-ups on this campaign … and there are definitely some clues in here for marketers of sustainability:

Bottom line: we know brands are a means of identity creation in consumer societies. And with the shift of sustainability into the realm of identity creation, there is a clear opportunity for authentically sustainable brands to help mainstream America live up to their best selves. In fact, proponents of “movement marketing” will tell you that joining the dialogue and aligning your brand with deeply held beliefs is the marketing of the future. And here are a couple of good pieces on that:

So, for all you brands out there that have an authentic sustainability story to tell, now is your time. More to come in a few weeks on this topic – and how to leverage this key moment in time with your marketing efforts.

About the Author

Susannah Enkema

Susannah Enkema

Susannah leads the research department in developing projects, and then in dissecting the findings and boiling them down to the most important insights that pave the way for smart marketing strategies and creative approaches. She works closely with the creative and account departments to offer ideas, support and information that help all departments meet client goals.

About the Author

Susannah Enkema

Susannah Enkema

Susannah leads the research department in developing projects, and then in dissecting the findings and boiling them down to the most important insights that pave the way for smart marketing strategies and creative approaches. She works closely with the creative and account departments to offer ideas, support and information that help all departments meet client goals.

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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 GreenBiz.com.

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.