Women delivered a strong and very frank message to the business community at the Feb. 6, 2014, EPA hearing on carbon pollution standards tied to electric utility generation. Their message was that protecting the health of their loved ones is an absolute. And they see coal-fired power plants as a health threat to themselves and their families. Reinforcing their testimony was the more than 3 million messages the EPA received on the issue of carbon pollution standards.
Listen or face the business consequences
I recommend every businessperson seeking to win or keep women as customers reflect upon the following tweets shared by Moms Clean Air Force from this EPA hearing:
- “Clean air keeps our children in schools, and people on the job…increasing productivity.”
- “Clean air is vital to healthy women and healthy babies.”
- “A fossil fuel based economy is a bad business decision.”
- “We’re not buying the argument that strong, bold carbon regulations are going to hinder the economy”
This next tweet is one that should keep business leaders up at night if they source electricity from coal-fired power plants that represent the leading source of mercury pollution: “Who bears the costs of pregnant women w/ mercury in their bodies?” On a human level, what business or business leader wants to have this type of impact upon a mom and her baby? On a business level, what could the damage be to sales and profits if women hold this viewpoint toward a business based upon its purchase of electricity sourced from coal-fired power plants?
Corporate America has lost the trust of moms
“The American people can’t trust polluters to police themselves.” This tweet is the gauntlet being thrown down by women toward American businesses. Ford Motor Company’s market research published in 2013 found consumers now trust only one out of every four brands. A .250 batting average is underperforming even in baseball. It is an absolute profit-threat confronting corporations at their cash registers.
Coal-fired power plants and pink slime
Pink slime is a business case study that highlights the ramifications when a business violates customer trust. At one time pink slime was accepted as a low-cost, lean, finely textured beef. But then this product lost the consumer’s trust, most especially with moms. The impact on companies that had products containing pink slime was an absolute shutdown of sales.
The testimony submitted by moms at the EPA hearing on carbon standards for coal-fired power plants raises the question of whether these plants could become the next pink slime threat to business revenues? If your business is located in the Midwest or South, where up to 50 percent or more of electricity generation is sourced from coal, then the idea that customers will not buy from your business because it uses coal-based electricity probably seems absurd. The only caution is: So did the idea that moms would turn against low-cost, lean, finely textured beef.
Retailers get it!
Retail is the business segment that may be the closest to the customer. Is it a coincident that retailers are the leading installers of rooftop solar systems and the shift away from fossil-fueled electricity generation? Are you aware that Walmart, the nation’s largest retailer, is aggressively working to fulfill its commitment to source 100 percent of its electricity from renewable energy?
Yes, retailer adoption of rooftop solar does reflect the dramatic drop in cost that has made solar power a good investment compared to buying grid-supplied electricity sourced from fossil fuels. But the other driving factor is that retailers are astutely attuned to their female customers. Their experiences, shaped by products like hazardous Chinese-manufactured toys and pink slime, have made them acutely aware of the business ramifications tied to failing to protect the loved ones of women. This consumer perspective, plus a demonstrated commitment to move away from coal-fired power plants, is something every business should not lose sight of.
Women have the answer on who pays for pollution
Women control 80 percent of household budgets. Daily, they struggle between balancing their budgets and buying goods and services that are protective of their loved ones. From this prospective, the following sentence submitted at the EPA hearings will be obvious to most women: “The price of carbon pollution must be paid by the polluter…not the people.” Share that sentence with your company’s CFO the next time they object to an investment in energy efficiency or renewable energy because they view the financial payback to be too long or the return on equity to be too low. Ask them to reevaluate their spreadsheet by assuming that someday there will be a carbon pollution tax because of a campaign driven by women to tax polluters rather than people. In fact, today a broad range of companies, such as Google and ExxonMobile, now include a carbon tax estimate in their financial calculations on investment alternatives and budget choices.
Grow sales by meeting the expectations of ‘Concerned Caregivers’
Aligning values with values is a proven best practice for increasing sales with Concerned Caregivers (moms and dads focused on the wellness of their loved ones). The price sticker is the foundation of this strategy because 90 percent of customers have not seen actual wage increases over the last 15 years. In today’s economy, a product must have a price that the consumer views as competitive.
Aligning value with values creates a path to being price-competitive, selling products with sustainable profit margins. Aligning with customer values is now cost-effective, as sustainable solutions gain economies of scale that are driving down their implementation costs. Or, as Jeff Rice of Walmart captures it, “Sustainability absolutely supports everyday low prices.”
And most fundamentally, sustainability will also grow sales with moms by winning their trust. What was presented by moms at the Feb. 6, EPA hearings on carbon standards for power plants was a growing awareness that companies using electricity sourced from coal-fired power plants are not to be trusted. Considering that women represent $8 trillion in annual U.S. buying power, this shift in their trust criteria holds the potential of being a “pink slime” challenge that should not be discounted by any business or business leader.
This article is dedicated to Jen Boynton, Editor of Triple Pundit, who is expecting her first child next month.
Bill Roth is an economist and the Founder of Earth 2017. He coaches business owners and leaders on proven best practices in pricing, marketing and operations that make money and create a positive difference. His book, The Secret Green Sauce, profiles business case studies of pioneering best practices that are proven to win customers and grow product revenues. Follow him on Twitter: @earth2017