Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Sustainable for whom?

I just picked up some oatmeal from the company cafeteria. They've just switched to more environmentally friendly cups, plates, etc. Yay.

The paper bowl I just carried back to my office is green and white - a very soft friendly green mind you. It's called an "ecotainer". Clever! It's got a little slogan on it: "making a difference one cup at a time". Well don't I just feel like a swell guy!

No. I don't. I feel like an idiot because I just walked back to my office with piping hot oatmeal burning my frickin' hand!

It seems to me that "not burning hands" would be one of the basic design principles of a bowl. Along with "holds stuff in it".

So here's where the environmental ethos runs into a brick wall for me. I do care about the environment. Really. And I am willing to do certain things to keep it clean. If my jeans look to you like I've worn them 200 times without washing them, just know it's my abiding love for Mother Earth that is responsible. But products have to work. Period. They have to at least capably perform their basic and defining functions. Cars have to safely get people from one place to another. Cleaning products have to clean. Coffee cups have to insulate the hand from the burning hot coffee.

Oh sure, there's a warning on this bowl: "Caution: Contents Hot". OK. First of all, how they know what the contents are baffles me since they sell empty bowls. But anyway, NO! You don't get to sell a product with a warning that disavows the basic functionality of the product. You cannot take a sieve, call it a bowl and slap a warning that says: "this product doesn't actually hold stuff in it." That's crap! Yes, I know the oatmeal I just put in the bowl is hot. Oatmeal is supposed to be hot. And bowls are supposed to make sure my hand doesn't get burned.

So I'm asking you environmental folks to go back to the drawing board with this nonsense. Honestly, I do care about the environment. But I'm not really losing sleep about it and I'm not really willing to go very far out of my way to help out. I'm just not. Deal with it. And there are many many folks out there that are in this camp. Probably the vast majority of people. I would like to use more environmentally friendly products. But please go back and figure out how to make these products work. I'm OK with not cleaning the countertops as often. Heck, it's a great excuse. (Yeah, I just don't want to use harsh chemicals. They hurt the seals.) But I'm not OK with deciding to clean the countertops with one of your green products and finding it ineffective.

I would rather you gave me good ideas on how to use less stuff than push products my way that suck.

1 comment:

Coleman said...

Fair point. Efficacy trumps green, but question for you: Is this really a product downgrade? – did the original bowls protect your hand any better?

Being environmentally friendly (or more friendly) is absolutely a lower tier attribute after: perceived efficacy, product availability, price and sometimes brand equity. Don’t worry this is a point which I will continually emphasize with our marketers, BUT one which I think most marketers/r&d colleagues already know.

However, many times going green or greener actually leads to meaningful innovation and an improved customer experience. See:
http://www.goodcleantech.com/2008/09/hp_computer_sold_in_a_laptop_b.php