Selling Sustainability: Here's what not to do

Selling Sustainability: Here's what not to do

Yeti made quite a splash with their new sustainability ad blitz, but their marketing team should have checked with their environmental impact team before blanketing Venice boardwalk with environmental impact claims. Yeti's reusable products compare favorably to disposables on most environmental metrics, but that’s an irrelevant comparison for Yeti to make.

Without splitting hairs about each LCA calculation, the whole theory here rests on a customer choosing between a $5 Styrofoam cooler and a $275 Yeti Tundra, or a free plastic bag from CVS and a $130 Yeti Tote. I suppose there’s someone out there who’s arrived at this particular juncture, but this isn’t where most Yeti customers are coming from.

More likely, according to my highly scientific research of thinking about this for two seconds and asking my neighbor about his Yeti, people already have an old Coleman cooler and a closet full of insulated tote bags, but then they see a shiny blue Yeti Tundra and think woah that thing is sweet, I want one. Fair enough, neighbor Bryan! I want one too! But Bryan’s not saving any turtles when he buys a new 22lb plastic Yeti to replace his perfectly functional Coleman. Bryan’s definitely not avoiding any carbon emissions when he buys his ninth insulated water bottle in limited-edition sea foam green to match his new swimsuit.

The threshold for making a positive environmental impact by manufacturing, shipping, and selling a new consumer product is *incredibly* high. At Nutshell, we try our best to do so by diverting organic material from smoldering burn pits, sequestering this carbon inside our coolers instead, and then building an entire supply chain from scratch to do this at scale. There are some other cool examples out there. In fact, Yeti’s own efforts towards circular product design, a refurbished product marketplace, and super efficient factory operations are promising in their own right, and I would be happy to see their impacts celebrated!

But just sending another 100,000 pretty plastic coolers out into the world? It’s good for business, but it’s not remotely good for the planet. Claiming otherwise gives naive customers a false sense of accomplishment, it lets Yeti off the hook for actually innovating raw materials (where 56% of their carbon footprint comes from), and/or it muddies the messaging for the rest of us and contributes to the reflexive eye-roll response that most sustainability marketing evokes these days.

If Bryan’s great-great-great-grandkids are really still lugging his Yeti around in 200 years instead of using the hydrogen fuel cell cooling chamber built into their e-copter, ok, I will delete this post and send my coveted Dave-approved Certificate of Sustainability to Yeti’s swanky new HQ on the moon. As of today, this ad campaign is pithy nonsense.


PS- Yeti's ESG reports tell a clear, comprehensive story about their corporate impact and environmental initiatives. There's a lot to celebrate and emulate in there! It would be nice for their own reporting to come through a little more in their advertising, although perhaps asking for a pie chart from page 21 of an annual report printed onto a billboard, footnotes included, is a bit too much.

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