Designing Green Products

In 1998, I founded a company that designed and manufactured sustainable office furniture. Unfortunately, we were ahead of the green “curve,” and the marketplace was not quite ripe for sustainability.  I am both encouraged and discouraged by the new sustainability movement.  Here are three of my observations on the topic of green product design: Continue reading

Sustainability: ‘Green collar’ jobs

Regardless of your beliefs about global warming and its environmental effects, businesses are placing stock in the idea of sustainability. I ran across this article, showing that the advent of and increase in ‘green collar’ jobs is the latest indication that green is here to stay. This is great news if you’re in the print industry. Continue reading

Sustainability: Duh!

I tried to think of a more eloquent title for this post, I really did. But when I saw this on Environmental Leader last week, all I could think was, “Duh!”

Sainsbury’s, a UK grocery chain, won the European Retail Solutions Best Green IT Initiative Award 2008 for their ingenious switch to using double sided receipts. This small change, which by the end of 2008 will be implemented in about half of all Sainsbury’s UK locations, will save 502,000 paper rolls per year! What a fantastic, easy, efficient and potent solution.

As I read the post, the “Every little bit helps” mantra you often hear with green initiatives kept wafting around in my head. Truly, this little bit will make a huge difference–and very quickly.

It’s so easy to get bogged down and discouraged by thoughts of going green. I hear it from my colleagues and I hear it from our customers–they want to help (ok, well sometimes they don’t, but usually they sort of want to get in the right direction) but everything seems so hard, so involved. Obviously this change was not simple (nor inexpensive) on Sainsbury’s part, but I really commend them for going after something they use daily (probably by the second) and finding a way to make it a little bit better.

Again, it’s not like a company can make a change like this overnight but what’s more important in this case is the ability to focus on a specific, central business function that can be done in a more environmentally-friendly way and figuring out an across the board way to enable it. Duh.


Sustainability: Company-endorsed environmentalism

As I begrudgingly spent $4.12/gallon filling up my tank the other day, I thought to myself, “There must be a better way.” Minneapolis, unlike other metropolitan cities, does not have the extensive public transportation infrastructure to make taking the bus or train an option. Not owning a bike, and finding it difficult to rollerblade to work, I began contemplating the idea of carpooling.

There has been a buzz around our office lately of co-workers exploring the possibility of biking or carpooling to work in an effort to reduce their carbon footprint, as well as fattening their wallets. I began to wonder how this mentality could be further encouraged by the head honchos of Four51. Has anyone explored a corporate policy of carpooling and rewarding for that behavior? Could anyone recommend some best practices to follow or advice for incentivizing employees to be more environmentally conscious?


Sustainability: Green Carbs

Remember, not so very long ago, when everyone was carb-obsessed? Carbohydrates, and the foods in which they usually found themselves (namely bread) were the enemy. It was carbs that made you fat and sluggish–banish the carbs and get the body and lifestyle you always wanted! It all seemed so easy.

First came the hype, then came the corporate buy-in (remember all those fancy snacks and beverages for the carb-conscious among us?) and then came the inevitable backlash. I remember hearing defiant rumblings at first from friends (“I love bread; I could never give it up!”) and then, before I knew it, all those reduced-carb cereals and snacks were disappearing from shelves.

For many of us, fads like these are commonplace and don’t really lead to a greater personal or societal impact. But what about the issue of sustainability?

Lately it’s been a (excuse the pun) hot button issue on the corporate and consumer level. At the nearby Toyota dealership there’s a six month wait for a Prius (not to mention a four month wait for a Camry hybrid), last week’s Economist had a 14 page spread on the future of energy, water companies are touting lower plastic usage in their bottles, reusable canvas bags are popping up everywhere from Macy’s to Target…the list goes on. I have to wonder though, about the inevitable backlash–about what will happen when people are sick of hearing about all things sustainable and stop listening…or caring.

GreenBiz had an article about this very topic last week where they discussed five ways companies can avoid ‘green fatigue.’ There are some very good suggestions in here, and anyone tackling sustainable issues at their company would be wise to plan ahead. It’s human nature to tire of things that get as much attention as sustainability and the environment have lately, but it would be an enormous mistake to lump this in with every other fad and (excuse another pun) just throw it away.


Sustainability: Chain of Custody Certification

I’ve covered the topic of Chain of Custody Certification a few times on the blog, but today I saw a post on the Environment & Sustainability section of WhatTheyThink that summed things up nicely.

To quickly summarize for anyone catching up, Chain of Custody (CoC) Certification is imperative for any company that exists in a distributor role. You must be CoC Certified in order to appropriately handle and distribute certified goods. If you are not certified, you cannot claim to distribute certified goods, it’s as simple as that.

The post summarizes a conversation between Gail Nickel-Kailing from WTT and Vic Barkin, a consultant and auditor from Smartwood. Vic does a really nice job explaining why distributors (in any industry) need certification to handle highly demanded certified goods, laying out the options and defining some of the requirements to come. If you are still on the fence about attaining CoC Certification, I’d strongly encourage you to read the post and take Vic’s advice.

Have you gone through CoC Certification? I’d love to hear about your decision-making process, your certification experience and your reflections as a certified company!


PS–This conversation was just part one–the next installment (coming today) talks about the nitty gritty details, so be sure to check back on WTT.

Sustainability: From top to bottom

Personally, I’m starting to feel a swing in the green pendulum. Not a swing away from green, but a swing towards real green efforts–beyond the fluff and into the real nitty gritty green details.

Environmental Leader had an article from AMR this morning about the focus that’s now being put on greening supply chains. The article offered a recap from the Ceres conference (Ceres is ‘an organizational catalyst focusing corporations and their investors on sustainability issues’) and the awards given there to companies with successful sustainability initiatives. Check out the full article for some suggestions on changes you can implement.

As supply chains come under more scrutiny for economical, efficiency and environmental reasons, it’s important to know all the details of your supply chains so that you are prepared to answer the tougher questions that are coming. While supply chains used to focus almost solely on cost, there is a new sentiment surrounding supply chains and their greater impact. Now more than ever it’s imperative you know what you buy from whom, why you chose them and what the impact–the real impact–is of that decision.


Sustainability: Kosher Green

I’ve really noticed an uptick in green discussions here in the print industry. As mentioned, WTT just had a whole green week and, almost overnight, every e-newsletter to which I subscribe has added a section on the environment.

Now, I will be the last person complaining about all this. My enthusiasm for the topic of sustainability has been well documented on this blog, but with any encouragement must come a note of caution (especially on this front). I’ve written about greenwashing a few times, and I’m extending the reminder yet again. As more green discussions happen around you and you’re more tempted to quickly latch on, don’t forget that honesty and authenticity are really at the forefront of this issue. Your customers want your commitment, not your slapped together, “but it has green font!” marketing campaign that really has no chops.

Last week, Brand Channel had a great article, Grading Green: The Watchdogs CMOs Must Appease, that discussed the leading groups that are working to regulate the green front. As the article points out:

In the lawless and unregulated landscape of going green, it became clear that someone, somewhere, needed to step in to provide some semblance of order and a credible means of measuring the myriad of ways companies can go, and pretend to go, green.

I definitely recommend reading the article as it describes the top three watchdog groups and what they’re looking for.

Then yesterday I was reading Seth Godin’s marketing blog and came across this post about the impending backlash against all the green marketing consumers are currently seeing. Seth’s argument tackles the idea of authenticity in a different way; he suggests the power of proof, especially when consumers get sick of all the green marketing and just want the bottom line:

The power of a number is the effect we saw when they put a number on restaurants (Zagats) and wines (Parker) and gas mileage (the EPA). People notice a number, and they work to improve it.

Seth’s thoughts on the topic are very interesting, especially considered in conjunction with the Brand Channel article. The warning signs are clearly flashing and we’d all be wise to heed the alarm.


Marketing: More thoughts from the STC

[The installment of Radio Four51 (podcast player above) features Rich Landa talking about the presentation he's making at the STC conference--have a listen!]

This post comes from Savannah, GA, where the PSDA (Print Services Distribution Association) is hosting another fine event for its members, the Spring Technology Conference.

Steve Cone’s keynote address focused on the power of strong brands. Cone, a Madison Avenue agency veteran and author, made the point that “the difference between B2B and B2C marketing communications is BS.” People are people in business and consumer settings, yet B2B marketers often ignore what they know to be true about human nature and play it safe. In doing so, they create “Me, too!” campaigns that gently disappear into the white noise of their targets’ lives. And you can’t spend enough money to transform a dull concept into a vital one; a big budget behind a bad idea is simply a really expensive bad idea.

I’m not suggesting that B2B marketers throw caution to the wind, but neither should we wrap ourselves in caution.


Sustainability: Truly a week of green

I was going to write a post about something other than the topic of green today, but there’s not much other news to be found–it truly is a week of green in the print industry. (And I’m certainly not complaining!)

In fact, an email just hit my inbox from the PSDA about a new category in the PEAK Awardsa green product category. In other email news, earlier this morning I received a message from WhatTheyThink announcing their new Environment & Sustainability section which is a fantastic addition for those seeking ideas big and small.

I could go on about all I’ve seen this week, but I’m sure you’re seeing a lot of the same information. Has it inspired any new plans or projects for you? If you weren’t convinced before, do you find yourself less skeptical now?