Welcome to the very first edition of Green Stories. We’ll be looking at people who are making a difference in the environmental space, profiling their views and discussing their work.
First up is Vince Schutt, founder of Enviromentum. He’s a data geek and one of our leaders in green business who focuses on helping people adopt environmentally responsible behaviours through motivational interviews. This is part 5 of a multi-part interview and we’re talking about design and packaging.
Part 5: Communicating Sustainability Through Design
Akhil: What you’re saying is if I were a truly sustainable company, and I were making jeans, material really matters. First, I’d have to make a product that is more sustainable and I’d have to make the manufacturing really low Green House Gases. At the same time, I’ll have to set it up my company in such that it doesn’t promote rampant consumerism. People would buy my product at a fair price, but then I would offer to repair that product so they could keep using it for many years.
Second, when you design a product or business, you need to think about end of life. It’s not just about upstream. You need to take into account things like clothing reclamation. Some stores, like H&M for example, which is a very consumerist company, are still doing things like reclaiming clothing. So those end-of-life things need to be factored into a business. It goes back to the whole Koch industries thing. Instead of just giving consumers a misleading statement or fancy graph, you have to show consumers that you’re doing something practical out there. And then, with that hard information, a consumer can make a decision.
I also hear you saying that if a company is doing something good, something sustainable, green and social impact driven, they should advertise it. If a company is being properly green, they’ll be able to show that green-ness from every point of view. Stakeholders, shareholders, manufacturers and the point of view of the product itself. If the company really cares about sustainability. Just like a standard design process, a sustainability process thinks through every aspect of the product and system.
Vince: So really the process starts in the beginning for me. Applying Decision Support System (DSS) principles and saying we’re not just going to reduce failure rates, we’re going to look at the ecological aspects. And we’re going to include that as one of the things we’re designing for in the DSS process. And if you did that, making a decision like gluing the feet into the bottom of my apple computer would not even be an option. It would be preposterous to have glued on feet for a $1,500 apple computer (twice the cost of a comparable laptop). And yet here we are. It made it through not only the process, it made it into the design and to the end customers. When I look at my apple computer, I’m not looking at an eco-friendly machine. It’s clear to me that they did not include environmental processes because this is something so simple that it just wasn’t considered.
A: Let’s take the point of view of a brand or designer that wants to up their green marketing and really connect with the everyday consumer. Vince, you’re somebody who is in the 99th percentile when it comes to data literacy. What advice can you give a brand in terms of how to use the data behind their green initiatives to connect with their audience and develop strong green marketing? How can they use their values to increase sales?
V: I would ask brands and designers to rethink how they can present themselves differently on their packaging. This is highly critical.
A lot of consumer interaction comes from packaging. For example, a Fisher Price toy is not even selling you a toy as much as packaging. The packaging is as designed as the toy is. Like the colours used and these particular colours effect people. They do so much testing on using packaging to make sales, and then all that packaging drives a copious amount of unnecessary environmental impact.
What if a brand used that packaging opportunity to shout out about their initiatives, like taking the product back after people don’t want them anymore? Even saying something like that on the packaging, “when you’re done with this, you can donate this back to any store and we’ll find a new home for it” or “send it back to us and we’ll recycle it into a new product“, makes that packaging work towards displaying your values.
Or give consumers a real number regarding the impact of this product in terms of emissions. How many cars come off the road and for how long when you buy this product? How much GHG emissions are being avoided by choosing this product? Give consumers clear, concise information about their impact!
Another idea is don’t hide the recycling symbol on the bottom of the box or bottle! That symbol is always hidden. Why? The recycling symbol has a positive sort of feeling. People see it and not only feel the obligation to recycle, they feel good about doing it. If you make a recyclable box, and you say please recycle this box and put that symbol next to it, and you have to make sure it’s prominent.
Putting the recyclable symbol upfront communicates that you want this product to be recycled and it helps communicates your values because it’s front and centre. If your product is a beer or something, it could say please drink responsibly and please recycle this responsibly after you’ve enjoyed it. And then you put the recycling symbol on the bottle.
I think these are concepts that are important. Making your values clear and sharing them up front really shows the consumer who you are.