There’s a funny scene towards the beginning of the recent 21 Jump Street reboot where Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill’s characters pull into their high school’s parking lot in a rumbling 1970s Chevy Camaro. Though Tatum and Hill think the street rod will make their fellow students drool with envy, they actually end up being chastised by the other students for driving a car with such a ridiculously low MPG rating.
While the scene above exaggerates the situation a bit for the sake of comedy, there’s definitely a bigger theme underneath it: Just where, exactly, is the intersection of sustainability and cool?
In the automobile sector, they appear to intersect when fuel economy and power are not mutually exclusive. The most popular hybrid vehicle in America – the Toyota Prius – is loved because of its fuel economy and the statement it makes about the driver. But it lacks power. In short, Steve McQueen wouldn’t drive it, so it loses a lot of cool points.
On the flip side, Tesla Motors introduced a battery-powered electric vehicle with levels of horsepower and torque that left previous hybrids in the dust. Not only did Tesla raise the bar for hybrid/EV performance, they also managed to gain the attention of many consumers who previously had no interest in owning a hybrid vehicle (and, given the price tag, those consumers are at the very upper end of the income scale).
Other car companies have followed suit – including many who have made a name for themselves in the performance department. Both Lotus and Porsche have recently developed hybrid vehicles that are pushing the boundaries of hybrid-supercar fuel economy AND performance.
So what’s the takeaway? If your glass is half empty, it’s that sustainability and cool intersect somewhere in the neighborhood of a $250,000+ household income. The other way of looking at it is that sustainability can sometimes spur cool. The Prius, got the ball rolling and performance/cool followed.
As you work through product innovation in your organization, focus on bringing both to market. And if you can’t create both, focus on sustainability first with cool to follow. You’ll earn the cache of being first and the loyalty of the devoted Actives, which can prime the pump for an audience expansion as you layer on the cool factor later.