Jonathan Scott may be a solar-power activist, but he’s also a reality-TV celebrity who understands how to cater to mainstream Americans, and a business owner who, along with his identical-twin brother, Drew Scott, is building an ever-expanding retail empire for Scott Living housewares.
So even as he’s smack in the middle of rolling out his documentary in praise of harnessing solar energy, Power Trip, Scott also understands and is willing to express his views on the limits of climate-change activism, and what he sees as the dangers of imposing draconian measures to combat it on a free-market economy that still runs on hydrocarbons.
The Scotts’ show, Property Brothers, is a big hit on the TLC cable channel and, along with their ever-expanding line of home goods and housewares, has put them in direct competition with Chip and Joanna Gaines, who also are TLC home-makeover stars and whose Magnolia line of home goods and furniture appeal to similar swaths of American consumers—sometime in the same stores.
Scott told Chief Executive that he and his brother have a “high bar” of expectations for their business. That includes manufacturer partners of Scott Living. “We make sure we provide something that really solves a household problem,” Scott said. The brand provides a “zero-question, love-it guarantee,” he said. “That’s where we invest in our consumer, so that the consumer continues to trust our brand. We hold that [relationship] with a lot of respect.”
Similarly, he said, the handful of retailers with which Scott Living partners, including Kohl’s and Michael’s chains, also must meet the brothers’ standards. “We never just put our name on something or pick a retailer that won’t support us,” he said.
At the same time, Scott said that he and his brother hold themselves to a demanding standard of “airing a brand new episode of one of our shows every week” on cable. “The next-closest [home-improvement] host only does 13 new hours a year.”
Separate from his brother, over the last couple of years Scott has emerged as a Christmas-holiday spokesman for the Jaguar Land Rover brand and sings the praises of the Jaguar I-Pace all-electric vehicle, of which he owns more than one. In the same alternative-energy vein, three years ago Scott began harnessing his passion for environmentalism by producing a documentary about energy production and “solar suppression” in America.
His path from celebrity contractor to solar-energy activist began in 2015 when he decided to install solar panels on his own home in Las Vegas. Meantime, the state of Nevada slashed reimbursements for selling excess electricity back to the grid, a move that Scott believed was meant to suppress competition from decentralized solar energy.
“The film is a really honest look at what’s going on with solar energy,” Scott said. “The technology is here. And anyone who says it’s not good for business — they’re wrong.” Among other factors, he said, “It used to be that solar panels were very expensive; it would take 20 years to pay back your investment. But now the cost of panels and batteries is continually coming down, and the technology keeps improving. That’s all good for consumers.”
Yet in his overall enthusiasm for alternative energy, Scott draws the line at the sort of draconian approach to climate-change mitigation that is advocated by, for example, Greta Thunberg, the teenaged Swedish activist who advocates “flight shaming” of airline passengers for promoting greenhouse-gas emissions.
“I don’t believe in shaming,” Scott said. “You shouldn’t vilify someone just because it’s taking time to transition. A lot of people don’t have the financial means … You can’t just say no to fossil fuels at all right now. It’s impossible. We’d go back to the Stone Age, and the economy would collapse.”
Scott averred that he understands “what Greta and other people are saying if you truly want to commit to this 100 percent. But the unfortunate thing is, the world is run by economics, and if the economy collapses—particularly in a powerful nation that has the means to lead the world in the [energy] transition—we can’t waste that. We want to find large and small ways to have an impact. But we’re not going to vilify people who drive gasoline-powered cars.”
Scott explained that “there are things I have to do as part of an ability to run a business and employ people. I have to fly around. In a horse and buggy, it would take longer to get my work done. On the flip side, I try to be conscious of my carbon footprint. And I don’t use single-use plastics; I try not to waste food. I do the little things But on the big scale, most of my experience is in the soar realm and with renewable energy.”
And in that regard, Scott said, those concerned about climate change can do a lot besides wag their finger at air passengers. “You should be using your voice to make sure we’re passing legislation that allows [alternative-energy] companies to compete,” he said. “Fossil-fuel companies are spending billions of dollars to stifle innovation so that they can hold on to as much of their profits as possible. They don’t care about coal ash or the human costs. That’s what I don’t like.”