ECO-ICONIC

 

First published in June 2008 |What could we possibly add to the heaps of eco-documentaries, carbon emission studies, corporate greening initiatives, and Earth Day activities now dedicated to one of the world's biggest tasks at hand: moving from wasteful, polluting economies to sustainable ones? Well, how about a fresh, consumer-oriented look at the opportunities in the next 12-18 months now that ‘eco awareness’ has been embraced not just by treehuggers and celebrities, but by sizable parts of the global middle classes, too?

From eco-ugly to eco-chic to ECO-ICONIC

When applying this ever-wider embrace to green products and services, the shift looks somewhat like this: we've gone from ECO-UGLY (ugly, over-priced, low-performance, unsavory yet eco-friendly versions of the ‘real thing’) to ECO-CHIC (eco-friendly stuff that actually looks as nice and cool as the less sustainable originals) to now ECO-ICONIC:

ECO-ICONIC | "Eco-friendly goods and services sporting bold, iconic markers and design, helping 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.”

Symbols and stories

Per the above definition, 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.

Now, ECO-ICONIC works both in the world of traditional status symbols (build a green brand/product, advertise the hell out of it and make it recognizable by the masses, which in turn makes it easy for buyers to get respect from strangers) and as part of the STATUS STORIES phenomenon, which involves providing buyers of little known/niche eco-brands with conversation starters and story details to get a status fix from their peers.

Iconic 101

To refresh your memory:

“An icon is an image, picture, or representation; it is a sign or likeness that stands for an object by signifying or representing it, or by analogy, as in semiotics; in computers an icon is a symbol on the monitor used to signify a command, file or record; by extension, icon is also used, particularly in modern popular culture, in the general sense of symbol — i.e. a name, face, picture, edifice or even a person readily recognized as having some well-known significance or embodying certain qualities." (Source: Wikipedia.)

In brand and design terms: the iPod, the Mini, Coca-Cola bottles and Havaianas flip-flops ;-)
Or, as StepInsideDesign puts it:

“Icons offer people idealization and identification. They are the ultimate manifestation of our collective desires. Modern icons are products of our culture, coming out of our desires and going on to pave the way for everyone else to follow -- becoming the benchmarks by which we judge all other brands.”

Now translate the above to the eco-sphere. To create eco-icons, creating a eco-friendly version of an existing product and sticking a ‘hybrid’ or green label on it may work in some cases, but will most likely prove problematic, as it will either be (literally) invisible, or will still be associated with the polluting version. The Volkswagen Golf Hybrid—more on that later—is a good example. Instead, the solution is to make it new, bold and above all, to make it look very different from existing non-green offerings. Like, yes, wait for it: the Prius. Want examples that aren't as overused? Scroll down. But first:

No, not everyone cares!

We can’t point out often enough that hundreds and hundreds of millions of consumers, from the poor to the somewhat rich to the truly rich, don’t really care that much about the environment. Either because they don’t have the luxury of fretting over carbon emissions while trying to survive, or because they are too addicted to living large, from SUVs to McMansions to jetsetting around the globe. Take cars: the only thing that seems to (somewhat) influence the prosperous eco-unwilling is high fuel prices. But even then:

  • In 2007, US sales of small SUVs totaled 301,625 year-to-date through November, an increase of 22.7% vs the year-ago period, according to AutoData.
  • BMW saw its 2007 profits up by 9%, in part because of higher sales of its popular X5 SUV.
  • In 2007, 341,798 SUVs were sold in China, up 49.1 percent compared to the 229,182 SUVs sold in 2006. And in the first two months of 2008, sales of sport utility vehicles in China were up 38 percent, while sales of luxury cars climbed 30 percent compared with the corresponding period a year ago.
  • In Australia, sales of new SUVs jumped 4.6% in October 2007 compared to September 2007.

Last but not least, many consumers are deeply skeptical about large corporations claiming to go green, as very few companies are seen as honest to begin with. However, as stated before, a large enough eco-conscious audience now exists to make it worthwhile for brands to join the ECO-ICONIC fray. Just seek out the eco-minded middle classes around the world and you will be off to a good start. For the next 12 months, at least ;-)

Examples

As promised, let’s move on to the examples. Here’s how brands from around the world are already making the most of ECO-ICONIC, as well as a few examples of brands that aren't getting it (yet).

Note: we picked a few sectors that we think are setting the ECO-ICONIC tone right now. From real estate to automotive to utilities to detergents. Had we also included examples from airlines, hotels, furniture and so on, we would have ended up with a 120-page briefing. So please just add your own (industry-specific) examples if you'd like to turn this briefing into an in-house brainstorming session. And learn from cross-industry thinking. Remember the EXPECTATION ECONOMY? ;-)

Cleaning | In an ECO-ICONIC world, visibility counts, for big and small products alike. Which, in the case of cleaning products, means exposure will start the moment others check out your shopping basket or cart. Will that bottle of washing-up liquid scream 'green!'? Some examples:

  • New-Zealand-based Beauty Engineered Forever produces a range of environmentally-friendly household cleaning products from natural ingredients and essential oils that are not harmful to the environment and safe for consumers. The packaging has been designed to connect with the customer on a personal level with playful and cheeky pick-up lines, such as “I’ll do your dirty work” and “I’ll make it all white.” And yes, it’s different enough to be easily recognizable to visitors of one’s kitchen ;-)
  • Belgium-based Ecover makes a range of domestic and professional cleaning products like washing-up liquid, laundry detergents and bleach. As a matter of policy, all ingredients are from renewable sources and of the "highest possible biodegradability."
  • Daub & Bauble hand wash, hand lotion and dish detergent comes in three scents: Sorrento Lemon & Ginger, Mission Fig & Thyme and Tarocco Orange & Clove. Packaging features limited-edition patterns designed by Wink (of Target, Macy’s, American Eagle Outfitters and The Limited fame, among others). Daub & Bauble products use only natural ingredients and the bottles are fully recyclable. Prices: between USD 8 and 10. Tagline: “Aesthetics with Ethics.”
  • And no, we didn't forget about Method, which was started in 1999 and whose eco cleaning products line now extends to laundry, specialty surfaces, dish, hand & body wash and all-purpose cleaners. Method’s very recognizable design makes it the leader in ECO-ICONIC cleaning.
  • Not so iconic: Clorox Green Works is at least 99 percent natural and made from ingredients derived from coconuts and lemon oil, and the products are formulated to be biodegradable, non-allergenic, packaged in recyclable bottles and not tested on animals. However, the design is far from different, and worse, the Clorox name will forever be associated with chlorine bleach.

Transportation | Now, chances are that when asked to name iconic products, green or not, cars will come to mind first, with (for now) Toyota’s Prius taking the ECO-ICONIC prize. As The New York Times put it: “Why are Prius sales surging when other hybrids are slumping? Because buyers want everyone to know they are driving a hybrid."

Source: CNW Marketing Research

No wonder then, that most other car manufacturers are keen to give their ‘clean(er)’ cars a distinctive, if not iconic look. First, let's look at two, by now well-publicized, ECO-ICONIC runner-ups:

  • Honda’s FCX Clarity is a fuel cell vehicle that runs on electricity powered by hydrogen, and emits only water vapor and heat. Honda is also developing a Home Energy Station for refueling the FCX Clarity, which it has been testing in Torrance, California, since 2003. A modest roll-out in the US is scheduled for this summer, with Japan following in the fall. Honda is supposedly also working on a dedicated 'global hybrid' family car (meaning that like the Toyota Prius, there won't be a non-hybrid version) which is scheduled for launch in 2009.
  • First unveiled as a prototype in July 2006, Tesla Motors began regular production of its electric sports car, the Tesla Roadster, in March 2008. The 2008 model is already sold out and Tesla is currently taking reservations for the 2009 model. The 2008 Tesla Roadster accelerates from 0 to 60 mph in just 3.9 seconds, has a top speed of 125 mph (201 km/h) (limited for safety) and has a base price of USD 98,000. There are already plans to introduce a sedan, competing with the likes of the BMW 5 Series and the Audi A6.

But ECO-ICONIC isn't restricted to flashy or big: the market is witnessing an 'innovation overload' in smaller, funky looking electric, hybrid, trybid and what have you cars. In a city near you (soon):

  • Myers Motors all-electric NmG (No More Gas) has a range of about 30 miles and can be fully recharged in six to eight hours on any standard 110-volt outlet. The fully enclosed, single-passenger vehicle sports two front wheels and a single drive wheel in the rear.
  • Designed in California and manufactured in India, GoinGreen's G-Wiz electric cars are a hit in London, where the company has sold over 1,000 units, making London the electric car capital of the world.
  • The Subaru R1e is a battery-electric micro car undergoing development. Subaru hopes to start selling the car to consumers in 2010.
  • The all-electric version of the Aptera is priced at about USD 27,000, and will go 120 miles on a charge. Its jet-shaped appearance is nothing short of, well, iconic ;-)

  • Another zero-emission car with iconic potential is the Mitsubishi iMiEV, first exhibited at the 40th Tokyo Motor Show last September. From the brochure: "The 'fastback' exterior design expresses the quickness of the car with an appearance that is pleasing and lively." The iMiEV's release date in Japan might be moved up to 2009 (from 2010), with 1,000 vehicles possibly ready for sale at EUR 17,000 (USD 24,800) next year. (Source: Autoblog Green.)
  • The Nissan Pivo is a concept car by Nissan and is powered by a lithium-ion battery. The car is essentially a 360 degree rotating cabin on a chassis of 4 wheels, and hence eliminates the need for reversing and makes parking easier. The car's futuristic design incorporates large doors for easy access to the cabin and large windscreens and windows for high visibility. (Source: Wikipedia.)

Next? Chinese car makers going eco-friendly or at least eco-friendlier. We'll save that one for a future briefing, but to get started, here's an excellent overview on Treehugger.com.

Spot the differences.

  • P.S. Not so ECO-ECONIC: Volkswagen’s diesel-electric hybrid version of their Golf hatchback. Whatever you do, don’t make it look like the old, polluting version of what you’ve been doing. This may have made sense a few years ago, when hybrid meant lower performance and less coolness, but those days are gone. But these days, owners of a 'hidden' hybrid simply miss out on a big chunk of 'status'. Oh wait... Volkswagen just canceled it...
  • And let’s not forget eco two-wheelers: check out Suzuki and Intelligent Energy’s collaboration, which resulted in the Suzuki Crosscage, a prototype hydrogen-fuelled concept motorcycle.
  • From Oregon-based Brammo Motorsports comes the Enertia Bike, a fully electric bike with a top speed of 50 mph and a range of 45 miles. It can fully recharge via a standard plug in 3 hours. A standard model, said to be available soon, will cost USD 11,995.

Yes, we know, there are plenty of other vehicles and modes of transport going green and iconic, too. Three more examples, just for the fun of it:

 

  • The SunRay golf cart recharges its own batteries in the sun through solar panels mounted on the roof. The company now also has a ‘Sunray Solar Roof Kit’ available for other popular golf cart models.
  • Australian Solar Sailor has developed a ‘solar wing’ for ferries or yachts, which harvests 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. The 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 the vessel's main batteries and keep the boat running. Solar Sailor-powered vessels are already in service in Sydney Harbor, and the first of these "green ferries" in America could be launched in New York Harbor by Circle Line, which has partnered with Solar Sailor to build a USD 8 million, 115-foot hybrid ferry for its Statue of Liberty – Ellis Island route. And San Francisco announced that it will replace its ferries to Alcatraz with sun- and wind-powered ferries. Tokyo, Hong Kong, Amsterdam, London, Stockholm, Rio and dozens of others to follow? (Tip of the hat to the New York Post and Wikipedia.)
  • Here’s one of our favorites from the pedal sector: French La Petite Reine, which maintains a fleet of about 60 Cargocycles for hire by businesses that need to make small to medium-sized urban deliveries over a distance of up to 30 km. Weighing only 80 kg (as opposed to 1,000 kg or more for most delivery vans), each Cargocycle can transport about 180 kg of merchandise in its 1,400-liter cargo space, with the help of an electric assist motor. Cargocycle deliveries are faster than those made via traditional truck, and also 10 to 20 percent less expensive, La Petite Reine says. It makes some 2,500 less-polluting deliveries every day for clients including DHL, ColiPoste and Monoprix.

Bags and shoes | Enough automotive. What could be more visible than the stuff consumers wear or carry, day in, day out? There are plenty of ECO-ICONIC opportunities in the world of haute couture and fast fashion. Check out:

  • Ecoist's bags are made from misprinted or discontinued snack bags, pull tabs and candy wrappers. Material that would otherwise end up in landfills is folded into straps and woven into bags and clutches by Mexican artisans and Brazilian women’s cooperatives. Yup, it's been around for a while but it's one of those eco-conversation starters that should provide you with inspiration even if you don't work in fashion.
  • Adidas Originals’ eco collection—the Grün Collection—offers a range of products, including classic silhouettes like the Forum basketball sneaker and the ZX 500 runner, all made from recycled and natural materials. More importantly, the earth tones and fabrics get the message across to other eco-conscious sneaker freaks.
  • And one more shoe example, to illustrate a missed opportunity: in February Nike introduced its Trash Talk shoes. From the sole to the shoelaces, this shoe is produced not only from ‘environmentally preferred’ materials but also recycled waste, with much of the latter coming from Nike’s own production facilities—scraps that would otherwise have been discarded. It’s a great idea, but the shoes don’t exactly tout their eco-credentials, looking too much like Nike’s other shoes. Same for Nike’s eco-friendly Considered line. Pity.

Clean DIY power | Not only is consumer-generated solar and wind power ‘hot’, it can also be a very visible, iconic activity. Hey, personal windmills or solar panels are the new green accessory ;-) Learn from:

  • First, more bags: made of Bavarian leather, Noon Solar’s Corland Solar Powered Bag incorporates a flexible solar panel into the body of each bag, which allows for charging a cell phone or iPod. Collecting energy with the bag is simple. The bag can be placed in a window with the panel facing towards the sun at work, home, at a café, or while walking/biking around town. Even on cloudy or rainy days, energy is collected through the UV light of the sun. The battery pack has a green indicator that lights up when it's charging. The current Fall 2008 collection of the Corland Solar bag retails for USD 383, but is already sold out. Other solar bags from Noon Solar are the Willow (USD 274) and the Logan (USD 412). Check out these other solar bag makers, too: Reware, Eclipse, Picard and Voltaic.
  • Italian design house Zegna created the ZegnaSport Solar Jacket with built-in solar cells in its collar to charge the wearer’s iPod and mobile phone. The electricity is transferred via conducting textile cables to a small Li-ion storage battery, or directly to a device.
  • HYmini is a hand-held universal power charger that uses wind and solar energy to top up most gadgets, and it comes with miniSOLAR panels and extra batteries to store even more power. Twenty minutes of stiff breeze will provide 30 minutes of iPod time. The HYmini can be attached to bike handlebars or car windows. The basic HYmini device costs USD 49.99. Also check out competing Solio, whose hand charger was voted Best of Adventure Gear by National Geographic.
  • Sometime this year, Citizenrē REnU will allow consumers to rent a solar energy system (the REnU) for 1, 5 or 25 years, instead of having to make significant investments by buying one, and having to deal with maintenance. At the end of each month, Citizenrē will send a bill showing how much electricity the REnU system has generated that month. The company claims to have signed up 30,000 people who are interested in participating. However, as the site warns: “We want to make very clear that the location of Citizenrē’s manufacturing facility is still in negotiation. And, as with all scheduling, delays can occur.” Also, keep an eye on SolarCity, a California-based solar installer, whose SolarLease leasing program offers a similar promise. Hey, visibly decking out roofs with solar panels is as ECO-ICONIC as it gets!
  • Edinburgh-based Renewable Devices’ Swift Rooftop Wind Energy System has been on the market since 2004. The 'Swift' roof-mounted wind turbine has a power output of 1.5 kW, and has been installed on hundreds of buildings (residential, and on Tesco supermarkets and BP gas stations) across the UK. The price is around GBP 2,000 including installation.
  • Mariah Power’s Windspire is a wind power appliance that provides a safe method for harnessing power from the wind. At 30 feet tall and 2 feet wide, Windspire sports a propeller-free design, and sells for USD 3,995.
  • In the US, Arizona-based Southwest Windpower rustled up USD 8 million in venture capital for development of its new 1.8 KW Skystream 3.7 turbine. The Skystream produces usable energy in exceptionally low winds and will provide up to 100% of the energy needs for a home or small business. Any extra energy is fed into the utility grid, spinning the customer's meter backwards. The price is approximately USD 13,000, which includes installation costs.
  • Canadian WINDTERRA is targeting the residential market with its vertical axis wind turbine, the Eco 1200, designed to operate in micro-winds of as low as 3 meters per second (about 10.8 kilometers per hour). The Windterra costs USD 7,000 including installation.

Commercial real estate | Last but not least, green trophy buildings are all the rage, and like cars, they offer a fun, almost indulgent starting point for anyone trying to spruce up their ECO-ICONIC offerings. Consider the exhibitionist glee with which these buildings expose their vast green roofs, towering windmills and glimmering acres of solar panels.

  • The Bahrain World Trade Center is the world's first commercial building to incorporate large-scale wind turbines into its initial design. It has three massive wind turbines that measure 29 meters in diameter and are supported on bridges between the BWTC’s two 240-meter-high towers. The turbines generate approximately 11–15% of the BWTC’s total energy needs.

Pictured: Light House / Castle House / Pearl River

  • The Castle House, a 42-storey apartment tower under construction at Elephant and Castle in London, will feature a roof with an array of integrated wind turbines, each nine meters in diameter.
  • The Lighthouse is currently being designed by international consultants Atkins (who also designed the aforementioned Bahrain WTC), and is envisioned as a 360-meter, 55-storey luxury low-carbon office tower in Dubai. Quite a lot of the structure’s energy will be gained from three huge 225-kilowatt wind turbines and 4000 photovoltaic panels. Plans are still in the development phase, but the building is slated to be completed by 2010.
  • The 309-meter-tall Pearl River Tower in Guangzhou, China, designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, aims to be one of the most environmentally-friendly buildings in the world. Slated for completion in 2009, it too features turbines that turn wind into energy for the building's heating, ventilating and air conditioning.
  • More Dubai: the 370-meter, 92-floor Wave Tower, designed by the Spanish architectural group A-cero, will be located right on the water. The “seascraper” is designed to be a green building: interior gardens or 'sky gardens' will be located in common zones, improving the air quality and working as natural temperature regulators. The building's silk-screened glass skin will assist with controlling heat from the sun. Wave Tower will also contain a water purification plant, which will desalinate and purify the surrounding sea water to be used as drinking water and for landscape maintenance and sewage. (Source: MetaEfficient.)
  • The Solstice on the Park, a 26-storey residential tower in Chicago's Hyde Park neighborhood, to be completed in September 2010, is literally shaped by solar access. Its surface is designed to precisely the optimum angle for 41.5 degrees north (Chicago), which allows the sun to enter the apartments during winter for passive solar warming and keeps it out during the summer to reduce air-conditioning usage. The saw-tooth design creates balconies that block direct midday sun, decreasing the need for power-hungry air conditioning. In winter, when the sun is lower, rays pass through the windows to warm the interior. Quote from the architects: “By making latitude into a visible feature for the façade and its reason-to-be, the project challenges the current notion of pure iconography and symbolism in tall buildings."
  • The Agro-Housing concept by Israeli Knafo Klimor Architects is a combination of housing and urban agriculture. The building is composed of two parts: an apartment tower and a vertical greenhouse. The greenhouse is a multi-level structure for cultivating crops such as vegetables, fruits, flowers and spices. It's equipped with a drip-irrigation system, heating system and natural ventilation. Knafo Klimor Architects developed this concept with concern for predictions that 50% of China's citizens will eventually live in its cities, a trend mirrored in many developing countries in the world.
  • South Beach is a planned commercial and residential complex to be located on Beach Road in downtown Singapore. The development will feature two new towers, 45 and 42 stories tall, which house two luxury hotels, offices and apartments. Designed by British architectural firm Foster + Partners, a key feature of the design is a large 'environmental filter' canopy that covers open spaces, providing shelter from the elements and drawing air currents to cool the area beneath it. The two towers will have slanting facades to catch wind and direct air flow to ground-level spaces. The buildings' facades will also incorporate photovoltaic cells. Rainwater will be collected off the towers and the canopy and flow into a holding tank underground, instead of being wasted. South Beach is scheduled for completion in 2012. (Source: Wikipedia.)
  • And last but not least, expect many more green roofs and walls to add to the ECO-ICONIC landscape. From GAP’s headquarters in San Bruno, California, to the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco to the Ann Demeulemeester store in Seoul, to the ACROS building in Fukuoka, Japan. And yes, green roofs will increasingly appeal to households, too. More examples at the aptly named greenroofs.com, and Wikipedia.

Keeping track of future ECO-ICONIC examples

Springwise Treehugger Evo Inhabitat MetaEfficient

This Trend Briefing is just a snapshot of what’s happening out there. For ongoing ECO-ICONIC inspiration, from detergents to motorcycles, check out the following sources:

However, make sure you don't just track other people’s smart innovations, but design and market a few yourself, too! But wait, there’s more:

NEXT: ECO-EMBEDDED

If there’s one trend that will eventually render ECO-ICONIC 1.0 obsolete, it’s going to be ECO-EMBEDDED:

“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' (remember the main priorities for individuals and societies keen on a more sustainable lifestyle: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle). What better way to bring ECO-EMBEDDED to life than some global examples of governments, architects and brands that are taking action:

Plastics | Consider the incredible pollution (and waste) caused by the production and disposal of plastic bags:

  • 500 billion plastic bags are sold every year
  • Almost 80% of plastic bag use is by consumers in North America and western Europe
  • 88.5 billion plastic bags were used in the US in 2006
  • 1,460 plastic bags are used in a year by an average family of four in the US
  • Less than 1% of all plastic bags are recycled in the US
  • It takes 1,000 years for plastic bags to degrade

Now, it would be *very* easy for consumers to bring their own durable shopping bags voluntarily when they head for the grocery store. Well, they just don’t and the majority probably never will. And if left to corporations, it will take years and years of half-assed pilot programs to beg consumers to bring their own, or charge them a few cents per bag. (To no avail: most consumers will gladly pay up. Only when the price is raised to 20 cents, like it was in Ireland, will consumers start to take notice). The only solution: governments stepping in, and getting rid of the bags all together, leaving all parties involved no choice but to deal with it. Learn from:

Taking the ban beyond bags: in Australia, the soon-to-be-built AUD 300 million Totem shopping center at Balgowlah may be the first council-enforced plastic-free zone in the country. All 60 retailers, including Coles supermarket, will be banned from providing plastic bags. They will also be banned from handing out food and drink containers made out of plastic or non-biodegradable foam. (Source: Manly Daily.)

Credit cards | Yet another manifestation of ECO-EMBEDDED, this one championed by corporations: automatic carbon offsetting, as part of a purchase or purchasing process. Whereas a small number of companies now timidly ask their customers if they’re willing to maybe, perhaps, please spend a bit more after a purchase to offset the accompanying carbon emissions (especially airlines), why not go one step further and just embed the extra cost into the price? Two examples:

  • By using GE's Earth Rewards credit card, consumers ensure that a portion of their net expenditure will go to offsetting the emissions created by their purchases and activities. For example, spending USD 25 contributes enough to offset the emissions associated with running a typical refrigerator for a month. Spending USD 500 offsets the emissions from driving almost 1,500 miles in an average car.
  • Brazilian Ipiranga gas stations have launched a Carbono Zero credit card in cooperation with MasterCard, which offsets the carbon emissions from their customers. When a customer uses the card to pay for fuel, Ipiranga calculates how much CO2 emission that amount of fuel represents and will revert part of the sales to CO2 neutralization programs. Means of offsetting CO2 include reforestation projects, preservation of the rainforest and sponsorship of renewable energy companies.

 

Green(er) taxis | As part of PlaNYC, the New York Taxi and Limousine Commission will implement new emissions and mileage standards for yellow taxicabs that will lead to a fully hybrid fleet by October 2012. The new standards will be phased in over a four-year period and will reduce the carbon emissions of New York City's taxicab and for-hire vehicle fleet by 50% over the next decade. According to the PlaNYC, "New York City's 13,000 taxi cabs will still be yellow on the outside, but soon they will be green on the inside.” Currently there are only 375 hybrid vehicles in the city's taxi fleet.

Green cities | While also part of ECO-EMBEDDED, we opted to showcase green buildings in the ECO-ICONIC part of this briefing. So let’s move on to lots of green buildings that together form ECO-EMBEDDED cities. Here's a few to get you going:

  • The much-publicized Masdar Initiative (Foster + Partners) is a newly-planned, six-million-square-meter development within Abu Dhabi and aims to be the world’s first “zero carbon, zero waste” city. It will also be car-free, with surrounding land planned to contain wind farms and photovoltaic farms as well as research fields and plantations so that the city will be entirely self-sustaining. Completion date: 2015.
  • Foster + Partners sure are busy: Moscow's Crystal Island is a new development located on the Nagatino Peninsula, edged by the Moscow River, only 7.5 km from the Kremlin. The USD 4 billion "city inside a building", which would become one of the tallest structures on the planet, will reach 450 m into the sky, and house up to 30,000 residents. The exterior facade will be solar responsive and will include solar panels which, along with wind turbines, will generate electricity for the huge tower. Dynamic enclosure panels can be controlled to modify temperature inside the building—closed in winter for extra warmth and opened in summer to allow natural ventilation. Crystal Island is scheduled to be built within the next 5 years.
  • Dongtan is a new eco-city planned for the island of Chongming near Shanghai. Planned to open by the time the Expo 2010 opens in Shanghai, it will house 50,000 residents, while by 2040, the city is slated to be one-third the size of Manhattan with a population of 500,000. Dongtan will produce its own energy from wind, solar, bio-fuel and recycled city waste, and—in order to reduce its impact on the environment—will only allow hydrogen-fueled or renewable-energy-fueled cars on its streets.
  • The Bionic Tower is a proposed vertical, ecologically-sound city designed by Spanish architects Eloy Celaya and Cervera & Pioz, created to hold 100,000 people in a 300-storey tower of 1,200 meters high. The Bionic Tower has no governmental or financial backers at this time, though the city of Hong Kong is said to be interested. We’ll keep an eye on possible developments. You never know!
  • Designed by Rem Koolhaas’ OMA office, The Gateway Eco City in the UAE Emirate of Ras al Khaimah is a planned eco city intended to be entirely sustainable. Solar technology will power the 1.2 million-square-meter city, built using locally-sourced Arabic materials and aesthetic styles to support the city’s overall ethos of sustainability. Development will take shape in five phases; the estimated time for completion is 2012.

Green nations | Green buildings, cities and... nations. The rush is on: in April 2007, Norway, the world's fifth largest oil exporter, stated that it was aiming to be carbon neutral by 2030, while Costa Rica aims for the same by 2021. California (practically a country by itself ;-) aims to cut emissions by 80% by 2050. Sweden claims it will be the first oil-free country in the world by 2020. And last but not least, in Iceland, 99.95% of all electricity used is already produced by green energy.

Count on the list of ECO-EMBEDDED initiatives to become much longer this year:

  • Keep an eye on German cities like Berlin, Hannover, Dortmund, Cologne and Stuttgart, which have applied a complete ban on all vehicles that don't have a catalytic converter or diesel particulate filter. To enter these ‘low emission zones’, cars must have a windshield sticker stating the installation of such devices. Drivers without will be fined EUR 40. Similar plans are currently being applied in cities around Italy, while other cities in Europe (Amsterdam, Madrid) are also thinking about ‘dirty car’ bans. (Source: Autoblog Green.)
  • The incandescent light bulb will be phased out of the U.S. market beginning in 2012. Under the measure, all light bulbs must use 25% to 30% less energy than today's products by 2012 to 2014. Earlier, Australia and Italy became the first countries to announce an outright ban by 2010 on incandescent bulbs. Countries such as the Philippines, Brazil, Venezuela, the UK, Ireland, the Netherlands, Belgium and New Zealand are also attempting to introduce measures to phase out the use of incandescent light bulbs. For an overview, see Wikipedia.

Still, we’re not there yet:

NEXT NEXT: ECO-BOOSTERS

While ECO-EMBEDDED may make the first wave of ECO-ICONIC products and services redundant, expect the ECO-BOOSTERS trend to offer ECO-ICONIC a new lease on life:

ECO-BOOSTERS | “Expect smart companies to quickly move from ‘merely’ neutralizing and offsetting their undesirable eco-effects to actually boosting the environment by doing something extra.” Just remember, if your brand wants to be UBER-ECO, boosting is the new neutral ;-)

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 (no pun intended). From planting more trees than is strictly required, to cleaning up not only your own mess, but someone else's, too.

These boosts will then used by brands to add 'green boasts' to their green products and services that in turn will make their owners and users look even more attractive and considerate. So the bar will be raised yet again. As we're not futurists, this is not something for 2020 or even 2010; it's already happening. Check out some early ECO-BOOSTER examples to get a feel for things to come:

  • As part of its sustainable growth initiative, FIJI Water will offset its total carbon footprint by 120%. Pity it still involves plastic bottles, of course.
  • London-based Ecoigo, a ‘green’ car service, aims to be carbon positive, offsetting double the emissions from every trip as well as from energy used by its office.
  • BMW Hydrogen 7 series may not be very ECO-ICONIC, looking exactly like the original, ‘dirty’ 7 series, it does apparently sport an engine that actively cleans the air, actually showing emissions that, for certain components, such as Non Methane Organic Gases (NMOG’s) and Carbon Monoxides (CO’s), are cleaner than the ambient air that comes into the car’s engine. Now, even if this is to be taken with a grain of salt, it perfectly illustrates what ECO-BOOSTERS should one day be about.
  • US-based ‘Of The Earth’ sells handmade Flower Seed Paper that produces a bloom of flowers after being used. The paper sheets can be planted directly into the soil in a pot or in the garden.A fun advertising application of this cradle-to-cradle thinking: when Honda UK wanted to remind avid gardeners that their range of products is not only good for their garden, but also good for the environment, they worked with inferno to print the mailer on similar paper containing seeds that could be planted to grow flowers. We know, we know, it's a bit frilly, and a digital mailer would still have been better, but it's the thought (and direction) that counts ;-)
  • Claiming to be the first free green search engine, Ecocho plants up to two trees for every 1,000 searches made via the engine.
  • ‘The Energy Plus’ office building in Paris, designed by (again) Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, will have the largest solar roof array in the world. It will generate all energy needed for the building, as well as providing additional energy to be fed back into the grid. Aforementioned Masdar Headquarters will also generate more energy than it consumes.
  • The city of Perpignan (France) will invest EUR 500 million in the development of a renewable energy park capable of providing 135 MW of power, which represents more energy over a year than the electricity consumption of the city of 200,000 inhabitants. Surplus energy will be bought by electricity company EDF at a better rate than is paid for electricity from other sources.
  • Back to DIY green power for a bit: in California, the Assembly Bill 1920 (also called the Solar Surplus Power Bill) will enable consumers who produce solar power to be paid by their utility company for any excess electricity they produce on an annual basis. Michigan, Minnesota, and Rhode Island are considering similar plans.

Opportunities

Opportunities for ECO-ICONIC

When designing your 2009 eco product line, don't mirror what's already out there in the non-eco world, but make it bold, original, distinguishable, and yes, iconic. Whether it's cars, shoes or detergents. Find your own Jonathan Ive (by engaging in a bit of CROWD MINING perhaps?) and give your customers something that will yield them instant respect and status from other green-minded consumers.

Quick exercise: name three ECO-ICONIC products in your industry? And how can you do better, learning from ECO-ICONIC leaders in other industries (hence this briefing)?

Opportunities for ECO-EMBEDDED

Prepare for much more regulation in years to come as it is the only way to embed sustainability into mature and emerging economies. (China, anyone?) Which means new markets for anything and everything. So joining in, instead of fighting the inevitable, may be a smart move. Why wait until something becomes mandatory—especially if you can see it coming for miles and miles—to then (yet again) be lumped in with the laggards?

Quick exercise: come up with at least three products and services in your portfolio that are most likely to be replaced with ‘embedded’ alternatives in the near future. Are you in any way prepared to make money from those alternatives?

Opportunities for ECO-BOOSTERS

Count on merely being sustainable, or merely being carbon-neutral to soon be the starting point, not the end goal. So start thinking about how your brand can actually boost the environment instead of just limiting the damage. Call it PR or responsibility or both. As long as you’re going out of your way to do something extra, everyone wins.

Quick exercise: come up with at least one headline-worthy (and honest!) ECO-BOOSTER to be implemented before the year is over, learning from the examples in this briefing.

Hey, you have half a year left!