Culture

Published on May 12th, 2008 | by evodesign

14

Why Can’t Every Product be Sustainable?

timberland-boots.jpgIf you go to the mass retailers today, it’s likely that you’re going to pay more for sustainably designed, developed, manufactured and shipped products. In some cases, like my Timberland boots, the products will be superior in all ways that matter and the sustainable attributes will be an added-value. But in most cases the product will either be harder to find, quicker to wear-out or less aesthetically pleasing than the less-sustainable competition.

It’s tempting to point out the many examples beyond my Timberlands, which are sustainable without the sacrifice or the bloated price tag. Sure, they exist but they are the minority–a miniscule struggling minority. If we all start to question why, we can shift every product manufactured towards a more sustainable approach. Every product.

To turn the giant sloppy behemoth of mass consumerism and adjust the focus on proliferation of variation which has swallowed over every category, we have to do things differently than the niche green crowd. Specifically, we have to embrace consumer demand and submit to the retail reality that desire is what drives purchases—not fear and intimidation of repercussions. We also have to take off the hemp robe and cornstarch g&l lapel pin batch and commit to the belief that sustainable products don’t make you unique. Just like the planet, they are for everyone. Lastly we have got to stop allowing and making excuses. The technology is here, the information is available and there is no reason to have to give up anything to be more sustainable. The fact is that good design and teamwork can create products that do it all and still make money. Forget all the talk about compromise because they are excuses for laziness or greed.

So I ask the question why? Why can’t we make this shift—in our lives, in our workplace, in everything that we do. Why can’t every product be sustainable?

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  • http://del.ico.us/meryn/c2c Meryn Stol

    I’m reading “Cradle to Cradle” by McDonough and Braungart right now. I think that’s the term you’re looking for. You can follow my link for some resources on c2c.

    It will be a total paradigm shift in manufacturing.

  • http://www.evodesign.com Aaron

    I enjoyed “Cradle to Cradle” and highly recommend going to a speech by Will McDonough should you ever have the opportunity. He is inspiring and leaves the crowd wanting to get up and take action. Unfortunately for every good aspect of their book there are several negative aspects in my opinion. I was tangentially involved in one of their sustainable product initiatives and it was conducted in exactly the way that sours corporations to the idea of sustainability. Additionally, I think that it is very easy for people look at another profession and offer simplistic calls to action.

  • http://del.ico.us/meryn Meryn Stol

    “I was tangentially involved in one of their sustainable product initiatives and it was conducted in exactly the way that sours corporations to the idea of sustainability.”

    Please tell me more. I mean, this are kind of things we can all learn from. I guess Cradle to Cradle too hard for most organizations. I think the paradigm it’s best suited to whole new product lines, not for changing existing ones. Cradle to Cradle is not a feature that can be bolted on.

    Do you have any suggested reading (articles, books) regarding greening existing business?

    And what do you think of Adam Werbach in this regard?
    Do you know any other high-profile consultants?

  • http://www.evodesign.com Aaron

    I have gone in and presented my company’s product design services to people that I know and trust at major corporations. During those conversations the desire to be more sustainable almost always comes up. It is almost always followed by a long, charged anecdote about the seven figure project that they funded which resulted in nothing they could implement. I know that changing things takes time and I do not believe that a lack of immediate implementation is always a failure. But, a lack of implementation and an increased level of mystifying and skepticism is a failure. Some of these clients in both the US and China completed their sustainable project with a high-profile “Green-guru” and concluded it is far too complicated, expensive and difficult to do on an ongoing basis. This is just not true. In fact, I think it is easy.

    I have not met Adam Werbach but have heard from friends in the Bay area that he is incredibly charismatic and articulate. I like a lot about him but personally I think that the whole “happy people, healthy planet” is offensive to many mainstream people.

    I am sorry to type that I do not know of a high-profile consultant I would recommend. While I believe that many of the well regarded names know much more than I do, I also believe they are either blending sustainability and politics or using “green” as a marketing vehicle. Thank you for reading my blog.

  • http://del.ico.us/meryn Meryn Stol

    “I think that the whole “happy people, healthy planet” is offensive to many mainstream people. ”
    Can you elaborate? Why would people take offense with that?

    Do you perhaps now a directory of green business consultants? Is your business listed somewhere online (that is, somewhere other than your website)?

  • http://www.evodesign.com Aaron

    Well, I am not sure exactly why. One hypothesis is that people do not like advice on how to live from people they do not know. It is proven that some will passionately defend their choices if they feel that change is coupled with judgement. I general I think a successful approach is to segment your advice. So, if a client asks to suggest a more sustainable plastic for molding their housings I resist the urge to mention that they should also stop using underage labor to assemble the housing. I think most consumers are sort of the same way. Possibly it is because we all want to adopt change at our own pace and if made to feel badly or frightened about our pace we retreat from change all together. (I think I was guilty of that resentment and retreat mentality when the “paperless” office craze was in full fury about 15 years ago.)

    I do not know of a directory but you asked about reading suggestions and I forgot to include them. They are probably not part of the standard “green” library but I learned a great deal from Collapse by Jared Diamond, The Big Oyster by Mark Kurlansky and Coal by an author that I can not remember. I think that they are great for diffusing suspicion of causation.

  • http://del.ico.us/meryn Meryn Stol

    “It is proven that some will passionately defend their choices if they feel that change is coupled with judgement.”
    I understand. It’s a reason why I’ve started to research the art of storytelling. It helps people get to your conclusion by themselves. Stories are not intimidating, and you can’t disagree with them. Stories just are.
    I really like “The Story Factor” by Annette Simmons. If you haven’t read it, it may be a good addition to your library.

    Thank you for your book suggestions. Will check them out.

  • http://www.evodesign.com Aaron

    Thank YOU for the book suggestion. I know that story telling has been a major trend in the design world but I must admit I have not heard of “The Story Factor”. I will check it out.

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  • http://www.timberlandbottes.com sammer

    “The fact is that good design and teamwork can create products that do it all and still make money. Forget all the talk about compromise because they are excuses for laziness or greed.” Good suggestions!

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