First published in March 2009 | No, there won't be eco-fatigue this year, mainly because it's hard to ignore the mind-boggling fortunes (and accompanying power shifts and reductions in pollution) that are in store for those who figure out how to get the world off its addiction to polluting power sources and wasteful consumption.
So while banks are crumbling and multinationals are laying off people faster than you can say ‘downturn', every key player—from the Obama administration (find a short overview of its ambitious eco-goals here) to the Chinese government—plans to dominate the post-recession economy by going sustainable, including a heavy dose of rules and regulations. But it’s not all macro-economic-geo-political-powerplay. Recession or not, consumers will continue to demand responsible behavior from brands. Just one statistic: “Four out of five people say they are still buying green products and services today--which sometimes cost more--even in the midst of a US recession.” (source: Reuters). Rest assured that the quest for an ECO-BOUNTY will continue at full force:
“ECO-BOUNTY refers to the numerous opportunities, both short and long term, for brands that participate in the epic quest for a sustainable society. Some of these opportunities exist despite the current recession, others are fueled by it, not in the least because of new rules and regulations. Downturn-obsessed brands who lose their eco-focus will find themselves left out in the cold when the global economy starts recovering."
So it's no wonder that we’ll continue to see a stream of eco sub-trends. Like the dozen or so relatively fresh* ones you’ll find in this briefing, which are begging to be sustainably and profitably applied by smart entrepreneurs and marketers. Some of them are focused on the long-term (since when is a recession an excuse to not look beyond tomorrow...?), while others will help you come up with quick-fix, low-cost green innovations fit for recession-ridden times.**
* That means we won’t be talking about the hunt for renewable energy sources (that’s macro, and it’s being documented everywhere), or about trying to invent new services or products that are merely eco-friendlier, a.k.a. the ‘eco-me-toos’.
** Now, let there be no doubt that because of the downturn (and lower oil prices), we will of course see many green startups go bust in the next 6 months—especially those with high upfront investments and zero short-term revenues . And yes, some cash-strapped consumers will (temporarily) shun premium-priced green products and services.
With the recession deepening, count on all things ‘eco’ to be repositioned from ‘worthy but expensive’ to ‘cheap and, oh yes, worthy’. On the one hand, cash-strapped consumers are going out of their way to save money on energy bills, motorized transport and other waste-prone, eco-unfriendly activities.* While the environment may not be their first concern, they will nevertheless do less damage. Other consumers are still primarily interested in sustainable consumption, but no longer willing or able to pay the usual premiums. Examples:
- BMW is now repositioning the Mini as not just fun-loving, but cheap to run, and eco-friendlier to boot. This will become an even more compelling story when the new Mini E (E for electric) takes to the streets.
- Payless ShoeSource recently announced a new line of affordable eco-minded shoes (Zoe & Zac) in April. On average, the shoes will be under USD 30. Summer Rayne Oakes, a green fashion and beauty expert, has signed on as eco-consultant for the green footwear collection, which will use sustainable and eco-friendly materials such as organic cotton and linen, natural hemp, recycled outsoles and eco-smart packaging.
- Whirlpool claims that its new topload Cabrio HE washer can save up to USD 900 in lifetime water and energy costs, while GE says its hybrid electric water heater will save consumers approximately USD 250 annually. Kohler Co. says that switching to its latest models of water-conserving shower heads, toilets and faucets would save a family of four between USD 90 and 200 annually (source: WSJ).
* Quite ironic of course, is the rapidly diminishing demand for oil due to a global decrease in economic activity, which in turn lowers the price of energy and fuel and therefore discourages (at least for the time being) costly investments in renewable energy sources. We guess you can’t have it all...
Around the world, being eco-conscious has become a status symbol for consumers, partly replacing traditional status symbols that are now associated with pollution, waste and excess. Two ECO-STATUS developments to watch: ECO-ICONIC (create an eye-catching green brand/product, advertise the hell out of it and make it very recognizable to the masses, which in turn makes it easy for buyers to get respect from strangers) and ECO-STATUS-STORIES (which involves providing buyers of little known/niche eco-brands with conversation starters and story details to make sure they’ll get a status fix from their peers).
Some examples we highlighted last summer.
This is what we said in our earlier briefing about ECO-ICONIC:
"Eco-friendly goods and services sporting bold, iconic markers and design, that help their eco-conscious owners show off their eco-credentials to their peers. At the heart of ECO-ICONIC is a status shift (isn’t there always?): many consumers are eager to flaunt their green behavior and possessions because there are now millions of other consumers who are actually impressed by green lifestyles.”Per the above, ECO-ICONIC is not about all green products, it’s about those products that through their distinct appearance or stories actually show that they're green, or at least invoke some curiosity from onlookers, and thus help their owners/users attract recognition from their peers. How 'new' is this? Well, just take a look around: a surprisingly high number of green products and services, imagined and designed in a distant past when green was seen as a compromise, still try to hide their sustainable superiority by looking as much like 'normal', 'non-green' products as possible."
For (many!) examples from last year, check out trendwatching.com/trends/ecoiconic.htm. For more recent spottings, scan the below:
- The Bigbelly is a solar powered trash compaction unit that holds up to five times as much waste as a regular bin. The highly flexible units can be placed almost anywhere, reducing waste collection and energy costs.
- Victorian Eco Innovation Lab, a sustainability organization founded by the Australian government in 2006, invented a shading system to harvest solar energy in schoolyards called VEIL Solar Shades. A user-friendly touch screen at the base of the shade is designed so that children can use it to monitor solar energy production and storage, turn the shade and recharge portable devices using energy from the shade.
- The DSe Hybrid 12m is a sustainable luxury yacht, which can cruise indefinitely at speeds up to 6 knots while creating zero CO2 emissions using technology that combines diesel, solar and electric power. On-board amenities include a master stateroom with a 270-degree panorama view, a 26” HDTV and a Bose home theater system. Prominent solar panels and wind turbines bestow a heavy dose of ECO-ICONIC on the owner.
- Australian Solar Sailor has developed a ‘solar wing’ for ferries and yachts, which harnesses both sun and wind energy. Like a large sail, the (very iconic) solar wing can be manipulated into different rotating positions, as well as folding flat in high winds. Vessels can reach speeds of 10 to 13 knots, the same maximum speed as conventional ferries. Even on a cloudy day, enough energy is generated to charge a vessel's main batteries and keep the boat running. Solar Sailor-powered vessels are already in service in Sydney Harbor, while North American launches are in the making in New York (Circle Line) and San Francisco (Alcatraz). Last month, the company also announced the sale of four ferry boats to Hong Kong as well as the design of another for the 2010 World Expo in Shanghai and ongoing discussions about building a clean-tech tanker prototype for Chinese shipping company COSCO. Tokyo, Amsterdam, London, Stockholm, Rio and others to follow?
- Texas-based Ronn Motor Company has designed a sexy new eco-friendly car, the Scorpion. This hybrid features the company’s Hydrogen Fuel Injection (HFI) fuel delivery system which increases fuel mileage between 20-40% and reduces CO2 emissions to nearly zero. Initially, only 200 Scorpions (priced at USD 150,000) will be available after production starts in Q2 of this year. One word of warning: UBER-PREMIUM-ECO products are obviously a much tougher sell now,
so this category isn’t for entrepreneurs who are faint of heart or empty of pocket...
- Toyota announced the details of the new Prius at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit (January 2009). This third-generation Prius comes with moon-roof solar panels above the rear seating that power the ventilation system, which is designed to keep the car cool while it's parked in order to reduce air-conditioning time.
- Not super-new, but still fun: Philippe Starck has offered his own take on the electricity-generating wind turbine. The design, called Democratic Ecology, features transparent plastic blades and is designed to produce 80% of a home’s electricity. The first in a series of designs reflecting Starck’s new environmental focus, the turbine could soon be joined by a solar panel that attaches as a thin film to existing windows. The device will be priced at EUR 500-800.
- The technology is still in its infancy, but phones are going solar. Available from June 2009, the Coral-200-Solar offers basic mobile phone features with an integrated solar charger. The device was created by Digicel, which primarily serves consumers in emerging Caribbean markets, who are among the 2 billion worldwide with limited or no access to electricity. Samsung recently unveiled its solar-powered touchscreen phone Blue Earth at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. Users can generate enough electrical power to keep their phone charged using the solar panel on the back of the phone, and the phone is made with recycled plastic from water bottles. The Blue Earth’s interface allows users to quickly switch back and forth to an energy-efficient screen using the 'eco mode' option. The 'eco walk' function allows users to count how much they are reducing CO2 emissions by using a built in pedometer to measure each step they take.
What’s your Baacode?
Here's how we defined the STATUS STORIES trend:
As more brands (have to) go niche and therefore tell stories that aren't known to the masses, and as experiences and non-consumption-related expenditures take over from physical (and more visible) status symbols, consumers will increasingly have to tell each other stories to achieve a status dividend from their purchases. Expect a shift from brands telling a story, to brands helping consumers tell status-yielding stories to their peers.
The link to ECO is easy: a green lifestyle is (in some circles) the ultimate status symbol, and thus ‘green stories’ are in vogue. Everything having to do with (eco-friendly) sourcing, production, ingredients and distribution represents a potential benefit to consumers keen on status stories. And the concept is extra attractive for service providers, since they often don't have physical products with which to convey their eco credentials. Some examples:
- Established by a former gym teacher, German Zirkeltraining sells a range of bags made from old German gym equipment. The handmade products reinforce their genuine heritage by promising to include a ‘little bit of sweat’. Prices range from EUR 90 to EUR 249.
- Crop to Cup is a fair trade coffee brand with a twist. In addition to buying coffee directly from farmers, representing them in markets and reinvesting in their livelihood, the brand also allows customers to trace their cup of coffee back to the farmer that produced it. Which in turn allows them to learn about the origins of the coffee and engage in a dialogue about the product.
- Most garments produced by Icebreaker now feature a unique ‘Baacode’ which can be entered on Icebreaker's website to trace the wool in a garment to one of 120 sheep stations in the Southern Alps of New Zealand. A customer can then view the living conditions of the animals that produced their wool, meet the farmers who run the stations and find out about their production process.
- Windunie is a collective of Dutch wind turbine owners who feed sustainable energy into the grid, for online purchase by consumers. Customers pick a specific owner that they want to buy electricity from, and are shown a 'passport' listing full details of the turbine owner, including their name, date of birth, location, hobbies, etc.
- Worn Again, an eco-fashion, 'upcycle' initiative has collaborated with Virgin Atlantic to help the airline meet its goal of halving its landfill waste by 2012. To achieve this, Worn Again has used family-run, small-scale workshops in Portugal to produce 2,000 limited-edition bags reclaimed from 1,000 old airplane seats. Also check out Above + Below, which turns restored London Underground and London Bus seat covers into shoes.
Info is power, power means money, and so on. Keep an eye out for a myriad of green intelligence services that will help consumers detect, understand, milk or unmask the eco-consequences of companies and their own behavior.
ECO-METERING is where ECO-FRUGAL and ECO-STATUS meet. Expect thrifty, status-seeking consumers to embrace a growing crop of devices and services that help them make the most of energy saving options (ECO-CHEAP) and simultaneously display the related ‘green savings’ to peers (ECO-STATUS), or at least provide them with eco-bragging ammunition.
Smart Meter Ontario, an informational site maintained by the government of Ontario, has a good summary of the benefits of smart meters:
- You’ll be able to take action to manage your electricity bills. With attention to how and when you use electricity, you'll be able to contain or reduce your costs.
- You’ll get real feedback about your electricity use.
- Your electricity bill will show how much you consumed—and, in the future, detailed information may be available to you via the internet or by telephone.
- You’ll get more precise electricity bills. The bills you receive will be based on the hourly readings taken and sent by your Smart Meter.
- In September 2008, smart meter producer Echelon announced the first full-scale roll-out of its Networked Energy Services (NES) System in Germany. The public utility of Hassfurt awarded the contract to provide all of its approximately 10,000 customers with an advanced metering infrastructure over the next three years. In fact, Germany recently proposed a new energy law requiring all new and remodeled homes to be equipped with smart meters by 2010 to promote energy conservation and efficiency. Echelon also has a deal with Swedish utility Halmstad Energi och Miljö AB to update its customer base of 38,000 electricity meters, and in November 2008, the NES System was chosen by the Group of Electricity Distributors in France (GAELD) to provide metering systems to up to 90,000 homes, to be completed by 2013.
- Expect simpler (and better-looking) domestic ECO-METERING applications to make waves, too: combining home security and energy monitoring, AlertMe uses a combination of motion sensors and power outlet monitors to keep homeowners informed via a hub plugged into the home’s broadband connection. The hub informs AlertMe servers in the event of a security issue as well as allowing the user to monitor and control the usage of any appliance plugged into monitored sockets. More? Wattson is a household energy monitor that receives information from a transmitter device attached to the meter and displays current usage data. And The Home Joule plugs into a power outlet and displays energy usage broadcast by the consumer’s energy meter. Combined with information from the energy company, it displays the real-time cost of energy.
- And let’s not forget (excessive) water use: UK-based Ecokettle’s Eco Showerdrop is the world’s first low-cost, universal shower meter. A digital LED display indicates exactly how much water a particular shower uses so that consumers can monitor their at-home use of water, saving money and energy. No installation or tools are required to install a Showerdrop, which is available for order through several sustainable suppliers posted on the company's website.
- Smart meters need a smart grid. Keep an eye on GE and Google, who are cooperating to develop a smart electrical grid that can make better use of power derived from renewable energy, and will enable consumers to monitor individual energy use, sell energy back to utilities from electric car batteries and program appliances to turn on at times when electricity is least expensive. Case in point: Google’s new PowerMeter aims to make energy consumption data more accessible to the consumer. Aiming to help users make better energy decisions, the technology taps into Google's architecture and the iGoogle gadget platform to show consumers their energy use in near real-time, including an analysis of how much energy is used by different household appliances and activities.
- From homebound to on-the-go ECO-METERING: eco:Drive is a new Fiat-branded widget that aims to improve driving efficiency by up to 15%. This means a smaller carbon footprint at the same time as saving on fuel. The widget can be transferred onto a USB stick and plugged into Fiat’s Blue&Me technology, which is a USB port on the dashboard. The software then evaluates the user's driving style and gives a mark out of 100. Tutorials subsequently encourage drivers to improve their driving, their score and ultimately, reduce their carbon emissions. The software also allows users to join an online community of Fiat drivers called Ecoville.
- Not to be outdone by Fiat, Honda’s Ecological Drive Assist System, or Eco Assist is now available on its new Insight hybrid model in Japan, and will be featured on the American Insight Hybrid from Spring 2009. During the journey, the system lights up to give the driver ambient messages about their driving style. Smooth acceleration and braking are rewarded with a green glow while aggressive starts and stops are reprimanded in blue.
- And of course ECO-METERING is jumping on the apps-train, too: iPhone app MeterRead promises to save users 10-20% off their energy bills by monitoring energy consumption. The application produces reports and predicts usage for the next 30 days. Ecorio is an Android application that collects journey data via GPS and, with the help of information such as mode of travel or type of car, calculates the carbon output of each trip. Users can view past journeys and access carpool and public transit recommendations as well as purchasing carbon offsets based on their footprint. Last but not least, Carbon Diem, a new software package that's planned for launch later this year, runs on users' GPS-enabled mobile phones to determine how they're getting around at any given moment—on foot, by car, or on a bus, train or airplane. As an algorithm tracks the transportation mode used and distance covered, the software uses that information to keep an up-to-the-minute record of the user's carbon emissions, displaying the results in both daily and weekly terms.
In our January 2009 Briefing we stated that ‘maps are the new interface’. A quick refresher:
“Will this year be the year in which all things ‘contextual’, ‘app’, ‘local’, ‘urban’, 'tags', 'lidar', ‘smartphone’, ‘convenience’, 'Cell ID', ‘spontaneity’, ‘infolust’, and ‘GPS’ finally come together in one orgasmic celebration of map-based tracking, finding, knowing and connecting? Embraced by eager consumer masses who will flock to anything from friend-finders to lowest-gas-price-locators? Aided by services that already know which street a user is on?
Judging from increased levels of MAPMANIA, we’re nearing that destination. As the Googles, Nokias (who expect half of their handsets to be GPS-enabled by 2010-2012), MapQuests, Navteqs, Openstreetmap.orgs, Apples and TomToms of this world continue to build the necessary infrastructure, devices and apps, any consumer-focused brand would be stupid not to be partnering or experimenting with map-based services. Why? Geography is about everything that is literally close to consumers, and it's a universally familiar method of organizing, finding and tracking relevant information on objects, events and people. And now that superior geographical information is accessible on-the-go, from in-car navigation to iPhones, the sky is the limit.
Eco-angles to MAPMANIA are popping up everywhere, too:
- The Green Map System has launched a community-driven version Open Green Map, which offers users the opportunity to add green locations and view recommendations by others. The site is available on mobile devices, and allows users to integrate Flickr photos and YouTube videos.
- FirstLook provides free access to average wind speeds anywhere in the world through a dynamic 5 km resolution map. Users are given the option to purchase a detailed report from 3TIER, the company behind the service. The tool also offers free solar irradiation data for the United States.
- Also check out Roofray, a Californian startup that aims to give consumers the information they need to install solar panels. The firm provides modeling tools that use Google maps to determine how much solar energy a home could capture and how that would affect their monthly bills based on past weather conditions, current bills, the pitch of the roof and the roof area available. The site eventually aims to provide a ‘RoofRaytings’ system that would be available to homebuyers as an indication of solar potential.
- And from the map gurus themselves: Google Maps Transit Layer, which is available for over 50 cities worldwide, overlays public transport lines onto the main map view, allowing the user to easily plan a green(er) journey to their destination.
ECONCIERGES are firms and services dedicated to helping households go green. And while any advice that reduces a household's (harmful) consumption is beneficial enough, the fact that such advice leads to savings makes this a very 2009 development. In the coming months, count on cash-strapped consumers (ECO-FRUGAL!) to embrace sustainability with a vengeance, but first and foremost for monetary reasons. Next? How about helping consumers make money by being green, by for example letting them generate and sell excess power to the 'grid'? A few examples:
New York-based Green Irene offers a Green Home Makeover service for USD 99, which involves a visit from an eco-consultant who will assess the home and provide a personalized set of recommendations for saving money, energy and water. If the customer chooses to make those changes, they can purchase solutions from Green Irene. The site also offers green office makeovers and Go Green workshop parties. Similar services exist in London (Green Homes Concierge and ecoconcierge), and Sydney (Todae).
A plethora of sites now offer tips and advice on how to lead a greener life. They make for great partners if you have a (genuinely) green service or product to promote. A few we like:
- Green Thing is a non-profit public service that inspires people to lead a greener life. With the help of videos and stories from creative people and community members in 196 countries around the world, Green Thing focuses on seven green actions, and helps users enjoy doing them.
- UK charity Oxfam recently recruited a team of Green Grannies to offer advice to the public on a range of subjects, from darning socks to making delicious food from leftovers. Part of Good Ideas Unltd, Oxfam’s new lifestyles campaign, the service aims not only to help UK consumers save cash, but also to encourage recycling and to help tackle climate change.
- Green Groove offers users a packaged solution for charting their way to greener habits. Visitors to the site are offered three steps to creating their own plan for ‘a phased withdrawal on catastrophic climate change.’ After selecting type, length and difficulty of their plan-to-be; they're invited to pick their goals from an extensive list. Finally, goals are prioritized to create a step-by-step plan that can be followed via a ‘goal tracker’ widget.
- A virtual world for green tips and tricks is offered by New York-based Climate Culture, which combines guidance, community and gaming to help consumers reduce their energy consumption.
One of the myriad things the web excels at is matching supply and demand. Here are some examples of companies making the most ECO-MATCHING:
- Local Reuse (to view it, you have to have access to the iTunes Store) is a free iPhone application that allows users to receive and donate free reusable items. The aim is to keep useful items out of landfills.
- Aiming to provide a single, central library of sustainable materials, Ecolect could be the solution for architects and industrial designers who have previously had to search among providers and information scattered all over the web. The site features materials with sustainable attributes and complements them with information and case studies designed to stimulate discussion over their use.
- Aiming to provide an alternative to the UK’s oversubscribed land-allotment lists and convert underused land back into productive use, the Landshare campaign seeks to match would-be gardeners with landowners willing to share their arable land. The site—which is set to launch this spring—lets potential users register in advance as a Grower, Landowner, Land-spotter (someone who knows of unused land), or Facilitator (someone willing to help elderly gardeners and others in need of assistance).
Last but not least, in a TRANSPARENCY TYRANNY world, there’s no hiding. With consumer interest and economic importance of all things eco growing indefinitely, expect the number of sites and apps dedicated to mercilessly uncovering and exposing green BS. Just one example:
- The Greenwashing Index offers consumers a chance to highlight cases of ‘greenwashing’, whereby a company spends more money and effort on marketing themselves as ‘green’ than they spend taking effective measures to fulfill this promise. Users of the site can rate and comment on ads, as well as posting their own examples to be evaluated by other users in line with GWI's criteria.
Another development that beautifully marries sustainability with long-term savings: eco-conscious and recession-wary consumers buying sturdier stuff. Be inspired by:
- Welsh clothing brand Howies offers a line of super-durable clothing called Howies' Hand-Me-Down that features jackets, backpacks and messenger bags designed specifically to last for 10 or more years. The company crafts its products painstakingly and uses high-quality components like organic tweed and ventile—an extremely tightly woven cotton fabric that is inherently water-resistant and uses 30 percent more yarn than conventional fabrics.
ECO-FEEDERS are small, sometimes tiny, new businesses and services that feed (off) big ECO players. Here’s an example that sums up this sub-trend in a nutshell:
- Luscious Garage is the first woman-owned and operated autoshop in San Francisco dedicated to servicing hybrids with a specialty in converting them to all-electrical plug-ins. Since opening in 2007 this unorthodox auto garage has attracted customers seeking a more friendly car repair experience with the garage’s laid back décor featuring plants and books. So far, the vast majority of customers have been Prius owners, but Luscious Garage is planning to diversify beyond hybrids in order to increase the company’s customer base. Which goes to show that ECO-FEEDER businesses may never be the next HUGE thing but they’re sure fun to start up if you’re the niche/long-tail entrepreneurial type.
Matching our recent GENERATION G trend with all things eco is a no-brainer. GENERATION G (that’s G for generosity) captures the growing importance of generosity as a leading societal and business mindset. As consumers are disgusted with greed and its current dire consequences for the economy — which has them longing more than ever for institutions that care—the need for more generosity beautifully coincides with the ongoing (and pre-recession) emergence of an online-fueled culture of individuals who share, give, engage, create and collaborate. For many, sharing a passion and consequently receiving recognition has replaced 'taking' as their status symbol of choice. Businesses should follow this societal and behavioral shift, as much it may oppose their age-old devotion to me, myself and I.
Here are some smart innovations by brands that manage to be generous to both their customers and the environment:
For an extensive overview of the new wave of perks, we'll refer you to our October 2008 briefing, in which we defined PERKONOMICS as follows:
PERKONOMICS | "A new breed of perks and privileges, added to brands' regular offerings, is satisfying consumers’ ever-growing desire for novel forms of status and/or convenience, across all industries. The benefits for brands are equally promising: from escaping commoditization to showing empathy in turbulent times."
As outlined in our October 2008 briefing, one of the most visible perks right now is dedicated—if not free parking—for hybrid cars, but how about free charging, too?
- Through a pilot program, Seattle-Tacoma International Airport now offers six prime parking spaces for electric vehicles. The green-striped spots—with power sockets—are located on the garage's fifth floor and are available on a first-come, first-served basis. Standard parking rates apply, but the electricity is free.
FREE LOVE, or the art of giving stuff to consumers, is an enduring trend. For a lengthy FREE LOVE overview, please read the full briefing (published in March 2008). Here’s an eco-twist we like:
- Freegreen is a website that offers free, customizable green house plans in both traditional and modern styles. The service relies on paid placement from product manufacturers, but it takes pains to be transparent about the products it displays, offering users ratings from established third-party green certification programs such as LEED and NAHB and research performance data through its own energy modeling reports.
Reward schemes will forever be a favorite of both producers and consumers. Here are some green takes:
- Philadelphia-based RecycleBank enables households to earn RecycleBank Dollars, redeemable for discount coupons at Whole Foods, RiteAid, Starbucks and participating local companies just by leaving their recyclables out to be collected. RecycleBank containers are embedded with identifying barcodes which collection trucks scan to track how much each household is recycling; the more customers recycle, the more they earn in RecycleBank dollars—up to the equivalent of USD 35 per month.
- Currently operating in eight regions in the US, NuRide allows its 40,000 users to earn up to USD 350 per year in rewards exchangeable for retailer discounts, gift cards, and tickets to shows and attractions just by sharing rides and otherwise limiting their car use. Because registered carpoolers specify their trip origin, destination, travel preferences and vehicle information; sponsors are able to target highly specific sets of consumers, both nationally and locally.
Basically, once companies and consumers can no longer get away with anything less than totally offsetting their negative impact on the environment—and this will happen sooner rather than later—the only way to stand out, to gain any kind of respect in the eco-sphere, will be to go the extra mile and be over-generous. From planting more trees than is strictly required, to cleaning up not only your own mess, but someone else's, too.
This is what we said in an earlier briefing:
ECO-BOOSTERS | “Expect companies who are serious about GENERATION G and the environment to quickly move from merely neutralizing and offsetting their undesirable eco-effects to actually boosting the environment by going the extra mile.”
Count on being sustainable or being carbon neutral to soon be just the starting point, not the end goal. So think about how your brand can actually boost the environment instead of just limiting damage. Call it PR or responsibility or both. As long as you go out of your way to be generous, everyone wins.
See the ECO-BOOSTERS section in our ECO-ICONIC briefing for examples.
This is a fun one for your product/service/experience development team: come up with green innovations that are truly superior—not just eco-friendlier, but better-looking and cheaper than incumbent offerings. Like:
- Luna Road produces and installs a range of LED based road lighting with the aim of replacing traditional reflective “cat’s eyes”. Luna Road lights don't have to rely on a car’s headlamps for reflected illumination, which means they provide drivers with visibility for miles ahead. The solar-powered lights offer 12 hours of after-dark lane lighting from 8 hours of daylight charging
- Philips (who by the way claim that 25% of their total sales now comes from green products) has introduced an ecological lighting concept called the Light Blossom. The Light Blossom collects energy and monitors light emissions differently in its ‘day’ and ‘night’ modes: at night the LEDs beam light only when and where needed through proximity-sensing technology, and during the day the Light Blossom imitates a real flower with petals that open toward (and follow) the sun, storing solar energy. The Light Blossom can also function as a wind turbine.
ECO-EMBEDDED, which we first highlighted last summer, could also have been dubbed ECO-PEACE-OF-MIND:
“While the current good intentions of corporations and consumers are helpful, serious eco-results will depend on making products and processes more sustainable without consumers even noticing it, and, if necessary, not leaving much room for consumers and companies to opt for less sustainable alternatives. Which will often mean forceful, if not painful, government intervention, or some serious corporate guts, or brilliantly smart design and thinking, if not all of those combined. Think green buildings, or a ban on plastic bags or gas-guzzlers—anything that becomes truly embedded into daily life, and by default leaves no choice, no room for complacency.”
In fact, the regulation part of ECO-EMBEDDED has already been called the 'fourth R', adding to the three golden rules for individuals keen on a more sustainable lifestyle: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.
For a full overview, check out last year’s briefing, then keep an eye out for an avalanche of new regulation, whether it’s the EU demanding uniform phone chargers, or the Vancouver City Council decreeing the highest green standards for private sector development in North America, or California getting the green light to impose stricter limits on auto emissions. Regulation is one of the main reasons why ECO-BOUNTY will continue to build, recession or otherwise.
There are plenty of schools out there with green practices among their goals, but a new school in Bali will be entrepreneurially green from top to bottom:
- The Green School in Bali boasts a working organic chocolate factory, aquaculture ponds, organic vegetable gardens, edible mazes and perma-cultural gardens all located on a campus built entirely of low-impact and environmentally conscious materials. The Green School is open to preschool through eight grade level children from all over the world, with tuitions ranging from roughly USD 4,000 to USD 9,000 per year.
- To stick with kids: how about green educational toys? Doesn't sound fun? Check out the Power House by Thames & Kosmos, a USD 149.95 miniature (working) green house with solar panels, a wind turbine and a desalinization system. The kit’s aim: teach children what it’s like to live off the grid, and get them (and their parents) to “consider a life without fossil fuel.” To make the experience more realistic, the user manual incorporates a storyline about high-tech pioneers inhabiting a small island who must make use of limited resources to survive. The 70 experiments and 20 building projects that form part of the kit mimic the tasks the kit’s fictional pioneers must perform. Expect many new toys to have a green slant, not only in the materials they're made of (or being solar-powered, for that matter) but with a green purpose, too.
As consumers become more transient*, eschewing anything too ‘fixed’—big ticket items having become synonymous with boredom, with hassle, with quickly-out-of-date, with maintenance, with taking up too large a part of budgets, if not lives—the move from fixed to ephemeral might just have some positive side effects for the environment. Think more services and less goods, more re-use by buying and selling secondhand goods, more shared ownership. From our TRANSUMERS briefing:
"TRANSUMERS are consumers driven by experiences instead of the ‘fixed’, by entertainment, by discovery, by fighting boredom. They increasingly live a transient lifestyle, freeing themselves from the hassles of permanent ownership and possessions. The fixed is replaced by an obsession with the here and now, an ever-shorter satisfaction span, and a lust to collect as many experiences and stories as possible. Hey, the past is, well, over, and the future is uncertain, so all that remains is the present, living for the now. "
*Needless to say, if temporary becomes just another word for 'disposable', the outlook for the environment isn't as rosy.
For an eco-friendly example of TRANSUMERISM, look no further than car sharing—especially the clubs that help people get rid of their cars altogether. Research shows that every car-share vehicle on the road replaces seven to eight owned vehicles, due to people selling their cars or deciding against buying a second or third vehicle (source: Sydney Morning Herald). As of March 2009 there are car share organizations in nearly 1,000 cities worldwide.
- During his address to the first Automotive News Green Car Conference in Detroit on 13 November 2008, Carlos Tavares (Nissan's executive vice president) outlined his plans to investigate electric car battery leasing options as a sustainable component of future versions of Nissan’s EV. Nissan also plans to work closely with retailers on innovative battery production and recycling methods in order to deliver improved power supply options to its EV customers.
- Connect by Hertz offers car sharing in London, Paris and New York City, with more cities to be added later this year. The service offers 180 free miles per day and free gas at a cost ranging from USD 8.50–10 per hour, with insurance, roadside assistance, maintenance and cleaning all among the benefits included. Members can reserve cars online or by phone, and vehicles are accessed via a smart chip-enabled Connect Card. What's next? How about Hertz Bikes?
- Speaking of bikes: Bixi is a high-tech public bike system in Montreal (even more sophisticated than Paris’ Velib service) to be launched this spring, using bikes equipped with RFID tags that allow users to track availability online via real-time information beamed to the web from the system's solar-powered bike stands. Users will pay a membership fee of CDN 78 for one year, CDN 24 for one month or CDN 5 for one day, with the first half hour of every trip provided free of charge.
- From bikes and cars to phones (for TRANSUMERS, the phone is the new car anyway ;-), and from more to less: as part of Nokia's strategy, the company has released a variant of their N79 handset that comes in less packaging and doesn't include a charger. The idea is for the customer to reuse their old charger; saving energy and reducing waste. Which coincides with the EU looking at forcing mobile phone companies to use a standard adaptor to cut down on waste. Which is very ECO-EMBEDDED. But we’re digressing ;-)
Forget traditional advertising for promoting green products and services: make the advertising itself clean and green! Get inspired by:
- British media agency Curb offers low-impact advertising that incorporates natural materials and is easy on the environment. Used in high profile campaigns by companies like Adidas and Volkswagen, Curb creates sand sculptures of all sizes, projects images onto falling sheets of water, burns patterns and logos into wood using that uses magnifying glasses and offers a ‘logrow’ service to cut logos as big as 30 meters wide into turf.
- Mailing Vert from Paris-based agency TBWA\Excel is a direct mailing service that goes beyond the use of recycled paper. Partners in Mailing Vert adhere to a charter including four principles: to protect the environment by purifying all waste water and using vegetable-based inks, solvents and cleaning agents; to preserve raw materials and protect natural resources through the use of paper that's either recycled or derived from sustainably managed forests; to track waste and minimize energy consumption by optimizing transportation networks; and to measure and offset the ecological impact of each phase of the direct-mailing process.
- Sustainable Development Multimedia’s Pubeco invites French consumers to reduce the environmental impact of print advertising by encouraging their users to view ads of local relevance to them online. Users post a free sticker on their mailbox that reads: "No leaflet, thank you—I'm reading them on the internet," use a postal code to create a personal space on the site displaying all the ads they want to search and earn points each time they visit the website that are then converted into grants given to the site's partners.
- Dutch creative agency Spranq has developed a new font called Ecofont that's specifically designed to extend the life of ink cartridges and toner by using 20 percent less ink than traditional fonts. The free, downloadable font is available for Windows, Mac OSX and Linux, and works best at a 9- or 10-point size.
- Toyota unveiled the latest version of their Prius hybrid (see also ECO-ICONIC) at the 2009 Detroit auto show. The launch was accompanied with flyers embedded with a variety of seeds and the slogan “Good ideas grow. Literally.” How’s that for an ECO-BOOSTER? (Source and image: PSFK.com.)
What already goes for the consumer arena at large, will soon apply to the eco-arena, too: expectations will be sky-high. This is what we’ve said in the past:
"The EXPECTATION ECONOMY is inhabited by experienced, well-informed consumers from Canada to South Korea who have a long list of high expectations that they apply to each and every good, service and experience on offer. Their expectations are based on years of self-training in hyper-consumption, and on the biblical flood of new-style, readily available information sources, curators and BS filters, which help them find and expect not just basic standards of quality, but the 'best of the best'."
The eco side of things? Soon there will be well-designed if not superior ‘green’ versions of everything. And consumers will know where to find them, whether that's in Denmark or China. Which raises the bar for brands not offering eco-versions of whatever it is they’re peddling. Just a random list of ECO-EXPECTATIONS spottings that show that no industry or sector—from eyewear to adult toys—is immune:
- Shenzhen-based automotive company BYD has announced plans to be the first brand to mass-market electric cars in China by the end of this year or early 2010, with plans to bring the cars to European and North American markets in 2011. The BYD e6 can run 300 kilometers on a single full charge and will retail in China for CNY 200,000 (approximately USD 29,000). BYD’s gasoline-electric hybrid F6DM can be plugged into a home electric outlet and is capable of traveling 100 km with a full charge, and will retail for CNY 150,000 (USD 22,000). Both BYD cars are safer than other electric cars because of the lithium ion battery technology that BYD has developed, which uses iron phosphate as one of the main electrode materials to keep batteries from exploding due to overheating.
- Adult toys are going green: Earth Erotics lives up to its tag line of ‘Doing it Green’ by offering a range of non-toxic, organic and environmentally friendly bedroom accessories, while Coco de Mer offers a selection of sustainable adult toys, including a wooden spanking paddle handcrafted by a fair trade project in India. Meanwhile, InHerTube (NSFW) offers a range of adult harnesses made from 100% recycled rubber.
- Green building solutions retailer Green Depot has recently opened a flagship store in Manhattan that is designed to demonstrate the high-performance eco building materials in action. A light booth made of recycled resin materials, for example, helps shoppers compare light bulbs and paint colors in a controlled setting, while the Zero-VOC Paint Bar serves up a line of paints free of volatile organic chemicals. See also Natural Interiors and Eco-Logisch.
- Insider London offers a three-hour "Cutting-Edge Green Tour” that highlights the most exciting and innovative sustainable retail concepts, buildings and designs that London has to offer. Naturally, tours are by foot and public transport only.
- Singapore’s Nanyang Optical has recently begun an eco-conversion of its brand by only selling green eyewear brands such as LinkSkin glasses which are manufactured to be RoHS-compliant using recycled materials with no lead, mercury, cadmium or soldering.
We could go on and on. How ECO-EXPECTATIONS will evolve into ECO-BOOSTERS. How ECO-EMBEDDED will leave brands with no choice but to be green. The main takeaway for now? It’s all happening, so just get going ;-)
With consumers, governments and corporations having acknowledged—and even embraced—sustainability as one of the major challenges of our time, the opportunities are endless. This briefing is obviously just a snapshot of all the eco sub-trends that are currently emerging. So, once
again, this is something that’s happening now, not a forecast for 2012. What to do? If you have even one entrepreneurial bone in your body, that’s an easy question to answer:
- Take any of the trends/examples above, spend an hour or two brainstorming, then come up with one new product, service or experience per trend for your customers. And then build & execute ;-)
- Figure out which of the above-mentioned brands you should really be partnering with.
- Most fun of all, come up with your own eco sub-trends and accompanying innovations. What about ECO-BARTER, ECO-SEX, ECO-CLOUT, ECO-TOYS, ECO-ECCENTRIC, ECO-CHIC and so on?
And if you’re in advertising: start an agency focusing on eco-campaigns (including green distribution channels and manifestations) today. The bounty will not disappoint.