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It ain't easy bein' green

by Wendy Jedlicka - Jedlicka Design, Ltd.
Jedlicka Design, Ltd. ­ President
o2-USA/Upper Midwest ­ Chapter Chair

With maybe a few exceptions, nobody wakes-up in the morning calculating how to trash the planet. Instead, our daily lives are a series of choices, each miniscule in their individual impact, but when multiplied billions of times over ­ day after day and year after year ­ the impact is enormous.

Study after study has shown, we in the developed world, and the United States in particular, use far more resources than we alone can produce and that the planet can replace. Amazing, as we account for only a small fraction of the World's population. But in other ways not so surprising, we are if anything really good at what we do.

Funny thing that, being really good at something. Though the rewards are great when the timing is right, there's no guarantee that what you do can go on forever. Be sustainable. And in the general scheme of evolution, it's the species that adapt and grow that survive.

After finishing my Master's degree in International Business, out of all the hours of lectures, one comment my economics professor said still sticks in my head. In one class he was going on and on and on about how the European Union, by not allowing hormone and antibiotic laced beef products in for sale, was imposing nothing less than a full blown trade barrier in the name of health. His basic take was "let the market decide."

But the market HAD decided. They had freely elected these officials, and collectively through this forum were telling American producers "We don't want your product." In addition, there was no ban on organically grown beef or organic beef products. Seems simple enough, if you want to sell to this market, give them what they want. Not just what we want to sell.

The old ways of popping-out this week's brilliant idea and then churning them out by the gazillion in spite of the consequences, still works great. Or does it? The store shelves are bulging with "brilliance" each SKU fighting with their neighbor to be THE lucky one to go home with the consumer. Brimming with choice, and competition, nearly 70% of all new products fail. Why?

The simplest answer is that the whole of the selling environment is changing. Or maybe, the old products aren't as good as they could be.

Consumer markets are maturing, meaning unless you can offer a break-through advantage, the basic need in a given sector has been met. A good example of this is the paper clip, there are coated ones, curly ones, springy, tiny, big and small, metal and plastic. But in spite of all of that, this product, which we all have ever changing piles of in a drawer/box/dispenser, has remained pretty much unchanged since its invention in 1899 by Norwegian, Johan Vaaler.

Consumers are becoming better educated. From nutrition facts detailing the contents of their food, to the efforts of lawmakers and consumer advocacy groups culling out ill conceived goods, to instant information access through the internet -- the days of dumping 'whatever' out there (at least in the developed world) are over. Car dealers, electronics stores, and other durable goods sellers are all well aware that the customer will come to them well qualified, and in no mood to be toyed with.

And finally, there are simply MORE of us. This means that though there are more people to sell to, there are also more people competing with you. The days of the one-trick-pony are over. Even the humble paper clip has been designated as a multi purpose tool, with several computer manufacturers designing their emergency disc eject around the properties of this versatile tool. Products must not only do everything they promise, but to cut through the noise of the competition, must offer more.

This concept of offering you more is no better exemplified than in green products. Green products are produced to not only meet a need, but depending on the product, are; healthier, more energy efficient (save you energy dollars), more resource efficient (meaning you can make more selling units per resource unit), and have minimal impact on the wastestream than their less conscientious competition. Making these products in general better for both the consumer and society at large.

So why aren't all products already green?

As said before, no one wakes-up devising ways to trash the planet. Our choices have become a death by 1000 cuts. Manufacturers, their creative service vendors, and the consumer all play a part in this scene, and fear is one of the key factors in why change is slow to arrive. Fear felt by the consumer that the unfamiliar product isn't as good ­ coupled with fear of wasting their ever-stretched dollar. Fear felt by the manufacturer that the consumer won't accept the new product. And fear by the creatives of being fired (loosing the account) for stepping too far out of the norm.

Yet innovation is about embracing fear and using it to your advantage. Fear is good, and fear is a powerful motivator. In the 2002 PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP / 2002 Sustainability Survey Report, respondents indicated it was the fear that NOT adopting green business practices would have an adverse effect on consumer perception. And so, negatively impact their market share.

One of the quietly mumbled fears is that if industry does NOT adopt green/sustainable business practices, they will be legislated into action any way. And certainly NOT in an advantageous way. The farsighted recognize this and stay ahead of this curve to be best positioned when the inevitable comes.

Manufacturers and their creative service vendors have always had the power to change the course of industry, markets, and production if they wanted to, with many of the solutions having been there all along. Like Dorothy's magic slippers that take her home after her long adventure.

But unlike Dorothy, it will take more than a simple click of the heels to create change. We find ourselves in our current state as the result of millions and millions of tiny decisions. Our salvation will come in much the same way.

We just need to remember: each long journey begins with a single step, this is the only planet we've got to live on, and "there's no place like home."

Change begins with each one of us taking the time to stay educated on new opportunities, and changes in their industry. Here are a few suggestions:

MCAD:Online Certificate in Sustainable Design

Resources for Sustainable Design

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