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Playing the Planet Card: Will Talking About the Environment Finally Promote Energy Efficiency? 

Image Credit: Ark Labs

Once upon a time – back when we first started marketing energy efficiency and sustainability – we told our clients that if you wanted to get consumers to save energy, the last thing you should do is talk about the environment. It’s too polarizing, we said. Why take the risk of alienating a big part of your audience?

But our story is changing – along with the American mindset.

That’s why we’re excited to bring you this year’s Energy Pulse™ free special report based on a brand-new poll of more than 2,000 Americans.

What’s shifted? First of all, conserving energy at home is at an all-time low in America. We’ve been tracking consumer behaviors regarding energy for many years, and Energy Pulse 2016 (like 2015 before it) showed some of the lowest numbers we’ve ever recorded for completed activities such as installing energy-efficient windows and extra insulation, and changing habits at home to save energy.

And we think we know the reason: Saving money is the most widely used message to try to influence energy-efficient behavior, but it isn’t a strong emotional driver. It offers a reasonable rationale, not a reason for inspiration – to say nothing of the fact that in order to save money, you have to make a consistent investment of time and money that may or may not pay you back. Savings is a dubious reason to participate in energy efficiency, and savings messaging simply isn’t effective.

But there’s something even bigger going on in the background. Even though America is sharply divided politically – as evidenced by one of the ugliest and most polarizing election seasons in modern memory – when you ask people to weigh in on their beliefs about energy and the environment alone, it’s a whole different ballgame. That’s what we did in this year’s survey, including holding a mock presidential election that allowed respondents to vote for different candidates based purely on their environmental/energy platforms.

As we’ve seen in our last several Pulse studies, belief in human-caused climate change is strongly mainstream (64 percent of Americans agree that climate change is real and caused by human activity), as is belief that personal conservation habits can make a real difference (67 percent agree with this proposition).

We think that if Americans are ever going to get serious about conserving energy, it will be because they’re responding to an emotional appeal that they can’t ignore. Saving money isn’t the answer, but our latest research suggests saving the planet finally just might work.

Our report explains:

  • Why savings messaging has led us down the wrong path
  • What Americans really believe about environmental hot-button issues
  • How they would vote if energy and the environment were the only issues on the table
  • How the red state/blue state divide plays out – can you make a case for the environment no matter where your target audience lives?
  • Why the environment makes a better energy-efficiency play than saving money
  • What neuroscience tells us about how people may react to climate change messaging
  • What tone and content to aim for in environmental messaging

This is a bit of a shift in thinking for us at Shelton Group, but we’re intrigued by the possibilities – read the report and get in touch to talk about what it might mean for your marketing efforts.


Suzanne Shelton is CEO of Shelton Group, the nation’s leading marketing communications firm entirely focused in the sustainability and energy efficiency sectors. The company polls Americans on an ongoing basis to understand their drivers and obstacles to adopting more sustainable… [Read more about Suzanne Shelton]