As you might imagine, in my line of work, I go through pens like toilet paper. I’m particularly guilty of the throwaway mentality that accompanies disposable pens — if I lose one, I just grab another… right? So, I was very intrigued when contacted by Inka about their pen, which they described as “a compact, precision crafted all-weather pen that is engineered to perform in all environments.” And by all environments, they mean all: they claim it works underwater (I have not tested this out yet…).
At the same time, I scratched my head a little: why contact me about this? I first found out that Inka pens had been labeled as a “cool new eco-product” by Plenty magazine, and were also included in the gift baskets given to Emmy presenters this year. Then I saw that the company also placed a statement about environmental consciousness prominently in its promotional literature:
Inka is dedicated to environmental responsibility, which is one the guiding principles in our product design. The Inka pen is built to last a lifetime — an alternative to disposable pens. The packaging is made from recycled materials and is recyclable.
OK, this is good, I thought. I decided to follow up with company president and engineer Greg Adelman to find out a little bit more about the company’s environmental commitment. Greg himself has worked in a number of positions that focused on environmental monitoring, including stints with Biospherical Instruments, where he developed instrumentation for measuring UV radiation, and the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, where he applied his skills to developing technology that kept track of the health of phytoplankton and coral reefs.
Greg brought all of this experience, as well as his own environmental concern, to the development of the pen. He believes Inka best meets its environmental commitments by applying a “different mindset” to product design:
I think a large component of [incorporating environmental stewardship into product design] is having a different mindset. Simply one of doing things the right way — I mean building products that are designed to last and wear well. (For example, using durable materials, designing moving parts that won’t wear out, replaceable parts — so if one breaks the whole product isn’t tossed, etc). Interestingly, by following these principals, we’ve found that the environmental issues take care of themselves for the most part.
Our next challenge is convincing the marketplace that it is not only worthwhile for ethical reasons to buy sustainable products, but it makes good sense. In our case, we think it makes much more sense to spend a little more on a pen that will perform well and last for a lifetime.
Of course, the other challenge is doing all of these things while creating a product people want to buy and will enjoy using — a design issue that William McDonough and Michael Braungart discuss at length, and display in the physical book itself, in Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things. After using the Inka pen for a week, I swore off those plastic pens in the office’s supply cabinet forever. Not only does it write beautifully, but also disassembles into an even smaller package that I can keep on my key chain (absolutely necessary for someone known to lose a pen a day).
As we’ve discussed before, the idea of shopping our way to sustainability is highly problematic. Inka makes sure that you won’t have to worry about that dilemma, at least in terms of writing instruments: a small ink cartridge is all that ever needs replacing. This is a great product, but more importantly, it’s born out of an approach to product development that needs replicating throughout the consumer goods industries.
Now, where’s my pen…?