Why do we keep making sustainability so hard?

by | Dec 1, 2016

Years ago, I used to rant in this blog about how Americans said they wanted to buy greener cleaning products, but they either weren’t going to walk from the regular cleaning products aisle all the way back over to the Green Ghetto, or they didn’t even know it existed.

Once green cleaning products got put in the regular cleaning aisle, we made it easier for folks to choose the better option, and more people have. When Walmart eliminated non-concentrated formula laundry detergents in Sam’s Club stores, they accomplished the same thing – they made the more sustainable choice the only choice, which made it easy to choose.

So why are we making electric cars so hard?

I just inked a two-year lease on a BMW i3 as part of my ongoing crusade to actually do the things we’re asking Americans to do to be more sustainable. Here’s what I’ve learned … and what I hope the automotive industry will change:

  • Something I didn’t know before I started a search for an electric car is that hybrids (gas and electric) largely only go about 20 miles on a charge and then kick into regular gas mode. Can’t we do better than that? I wound up with the BMWi3 because it was the best option I found in terms of distance on a charge (about 120 miles) with a little gas as a safety net (it holds about 2 gallons). Seems like we should have more options – and less expensive options – than the i3.
  • When I shopped for it, the BMW salesperson told me that BMW had a deal with the Charge Point network so I could register for free and charge all over the country at their charging stations for free for two years. “Yes! I’m doing a two-year lease, so that’s free charging for the life of the lease,” I thought to myself, and put that in the “pro” column for this car. Turns out it’s not true. Charge Point isn’t available in Knoxville, TN, and even though it is available in markets I intend to drive to – Nashville and Atlanta – I’m not allowed to register because I don’t live in a market where it’s available. Seriously?
  • Here’s the kicker: wouldn’t you think, if we were serious as a nation about getting people over to electric cars, that we’d build out one common, universal infrastructure? Did we not learn anything from the Beta/VHS wars of the ‘80s? Not much. The pretty Tesla charging stations you see dotting popular shopping center parking lots only work for Teslas (they literally don’t fit my car), and the fast chargers at Cracker Barrels don’t fit for my car either (so I’ve been told; I have yet to test that for myself). There are many medium-speed (called Level 2) charging stations around the country that fit my car … but it takes 3-4 hours to get the car charged up to 80%. Cracker Barrel is fun and all, but who wants to add another 3 hours into their travel time to get from Point A to Point B? Bottom line: can you imagine pulling up to a gas station and realizing the pump doesn’t fit your car? That’s the experience … cue the anxiety.
  • So why not just drive the car until it’s out of charge and stop to fill the gas tank every 70 miles? Because the car isn’t as powerful in gas-only mode. I took it over the Smoky Mountains from Knoxville to Asheville a couple of weeks ago without a full charge and was down to only gas about the time the mountain got pretty steep. With my pedal to the metal, I could only go 49 miles an hour.
  • Lastly, I’m plugging the car into an electric system that’s still heavily fueled by coal. So I haven’t actually improved my environmental footprint all that much. I’d like to buy enough solar to charge the car, and will dig into that after the new year. I have to say, though, I dread it. My mind makes up that it’s going to be a hard, complicated, expensive ordeal.

Now, it’s super fun to drive, and I get stopped by people and asked about it. So there’s definitely intrigue and interest … but I can’t in good faith recommend that anybody buy an electric car until we make the whole charging situation fast, universal and easy. Just like moving green cleaning products into the regular cleaning aisle.

About the Author

Suzanne Shelton

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.

About the Author

Suzanne Shelton

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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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 & Insight

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®.

Penny Kemp

VP Account Management & Strategy

Penny leads our client engagement process, overseeing activities from both a strategic and a tactical level to ensure our work generates desired results. She works closely with Suzanne, President & CEO, to develop strategic marketing plans and with Matt, VP Creative, to foster creative campaign ideas. Before joining Shelton Group, Penny had developed expertise in brand management and marketing while working with award-winning agencies and shepherding programs for the likes of Ritz-Carlton Hotels, Russell Athletic and James Hardie Building Products.

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.

Glen L. Vesser III

VP Finance and Administration

Glen manages Shelton Group’s finances and administration, ensuring our internal systems run smoothly so we can provide exceptional client service in a seamless and timely manner. Glen’s financial and administrative expertise has been shaped by decades of experience in a variety of industries, including public accounting, media distribution and health care.

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.