Do we need a repairability rating for products?

I am typing this on my 2009 MacBook. My 17 year old stepson upgraded it this weekend with a new (solid state) hard drive and new memory, so it is has been given a new lease of life and hopefully it has a couple more years left in it.

As he was performing the upgrade surgery at the kitchen table, unscrewing the back, taking out the components, replacing them with others, he was telling me about the problem with the new Macs. You can’t upgrade the hard drive and memory. It’s all locked down. So when it’s gone, it’s gone. “And of course that is not very environmentally friendly”, he said.

I was reminded of this this evening, reading the results of a European Commission survey from July this year. Across the EU, 66% of people would be willing to pay more for a product if its guarantee of reliability was extended to five years. More than nine out of ten people think that the expected lifespan of products should be indicated. And almost half of respondents had decided not to have a faulty product repaired in the past 12 months because the repair costs were too high.

I looked up about the unrepairability of Macs. iFixIt gave the new MacBook Pros  1 out of 10 for repairability.

Which lead me to think – we now have energy efficiency ratings for products such as washing machines, ovens etc. Should we have a lifespan and repairability rating for products too? And a recyclability at end of life score.  This is key to the lifecycle impact of a product. We need products made in such a way, as they used to be, that one part can be replaced when it has reached the end of its life, rather than throwing the whole thing away. And we need the leading manufacturers to take responsibility for designing and manufacturing in a responsible way.

Advertisements

What are the values that ToysRUs is promoting to young people?

 

ToysRUs have recently released this ad. If you haven’t watched it, please do. The main message of it is that nature is boring, shiny plastic is good. Not only is ToysRUs using ads to create demand amongst children for their products, they are also putting out a negative message about nature.

Nature is having a hard enough time to get kids to spend time with her and get to know her (and, of course, we are part of nature, rather than separate from, but that is another argument), without explicitly anti-nature messages being added to the marketing mix.

Given this ad, I thought that I would look up what ToysRUs had to say on the subject of the sustainability, given that they are, in their own words, the world’s leading toy and juvenile products retailer, and you would think that they would at least have a passing interest in the future of the world’s youth. There was nothing to be found in the main navigation or under the About Us section, so I did a search on the site. This is what I found:

Screen Shot 2013-11-03 at 16.57.21A blank page.

To be fair, there was one other search result for sustainability on their site, a press release about the installation of solar panels on the roof of their warehouse from 2011. I then thought that maybe the information is housed under CSR or Corporate Responsibility. This brought up more responses, but the most relevant ones were about charitable giving. Philanthropy, but not sustainability as we know it.

A recent BBMG survey showed that 78% of Aspirationals are excited by going shopping. And at the same time, 9 out of 10 say that we need to consume less. It is hard for me to understand how we are going to consume less as a society, if we are excited about shopping, as the kids are shown to be in the ToysRUs ad. I engaged in a little bit of a Twitter debate about this, when I said that values needed to change, and I was told that being excited about shopping was not a value. I admit is not a value as such, but to me it is an expression of extrinsic values taking precedence over intrinsic values – seeking fulfilment in that which is outside of ourselves, rather than on the rich resources that lie within us. If companies are really going to help us go down the path of sustainable consumption, then they have an important role in promoting the intrinsic values that are at the heart of any long-term sustained behaviour change.

In the video for the petition against ToysRUs, the little girl says that kids ‘can go out and play in the dirt’. ToysRUs would no doubt counter, in private, ‘Where is the money in that?’ ToysRUs is about providing ‘products for magical playtime memories’ – but we all know the old truth that kids are often more interested in the box than in the product. Children have their imaginations, and being in nature is one of the best ways that children can both express their imagination and have their imagination stimulated. But if ToysRUs wants to exist as a business in the long-term it needs to be looking at how it can provide services as well as products – and helping kids connect with nature could be one of these services.

Clearly, ToysRUs having any kind of public sustainability strategy would be a start. But once they had that in place, they could start to take some responsibility for encouraging the wellbeing of the whole child, which includes being able to enjoy spending time in nature, valuing nature, promoting creativity and imagination and not fostering a reliance on consumption to generate happiness. Whatever you may think of McDonald’s, they are at least using the opportunities that they have to communicate with children through Happy Meals to educate them on nutrition and wellbeing. ToysRUs have a similar kind of opportunity – and after all they do show products in the ad such as a telescope and a bike which are ideal for exploring nature, although lost in the overall message.

When is ToysRUs going to take responsibility for the young people that it purports to stand for? I would like to see ToysRUs developing a sustainability strategy, and at the heart of that strategy would be a commitment to education, and particularly helping children to learn about nature. Companies need to start thinking about the long-term implications of their actions. They have a moral duty of care.

And perhaps ToysRUs could take on a little more of SMCG in its behaviour – Slow- Moving Creative Good – rather than just be about pushing disposable consumer goods. I hope that ToysRUs will listen to the voices that have risen up to express their views about this ad, and will use it as a catalyst to begin to take a stand for the genuine wellbeing of children.

——-

If you would like to express your views about the ad, you can sign the petition.

The value of values

1303054_Sainsbury_s_values_bananaA supermarket competing on value? Nothing new in that. But a supermarket competing on values? Now, that is a bit more rare.

Sainsbury’s is taking on Tesco’s. The issue is do with the Price Promise made by the supermarkets. The Advertising Standards Association has sided with Tesco saying that a comparison can be made between products purely on the basis of price. Sainsbury’s says that this is misleading, and that ethical considerations should be taken into account as well – otherwise you are not comparing apples with apples, or bananas with bananas.

Sainsbury’s has done the research to show that their customers are interested in where food comes from, and will make purchasing decisions on that basis. 84% of people surveyed who expressed a view agreed that ‘where and how my food is produced are important factors to me in my buying decisions’. Of the total of people surveyed, 24% of people neither agreed or disagreed, 64% agreed and 16% agreed – so for 2/3rds of people it is important.

Price is important, but it is not everything. We need to get away from the mindset of always driving down to the bottom line. At the recent sustainable consumption conference hosted by L’Oréal in Paris, a representative from Pepsi Co asked people in the audience if price was their main motivation behind their purchases – and when everyone in the audience didn’t put up their hand, he asked ‘why not?’ One of the other panelists tried to explain to him that price wasn’t everything, that she liked to make purchases in line with her values as well.

Good luck to Sainsbury’s in the Judicial Review. As brands talk about sustainable consumption and behaviour change, they themselves need to make a stand for what they know is right. And in doing so, they will appeal to those consumers who share their values. That is one of the values of values.

From FMCG to SMCG – Slow Moving Creative Good

My Po-Zu shoes - slow, moving, creative, good

My Po-Zu shoes – slow, moving, creative, good

We live in a world dominated by FMCG (fast-moving consumer goods) brands. It’s a fast-moving world. We are all consumers. And it’s all about the goods — the things we buy.

But there are signs of change. I believe that we are shifting to an SMCG world. One which is about Slow-Moving Creative Good. And seeing these signs of change as inter-related will help to consolidate and accelerate the shift.

Let’s take each of these elements in turn.

Slow — There is Slow Food,where we think about where the food comes from, and enjoy the process of how it is made, not just the consumption. There is Slow Fashion or Slow Style, the counter to Fast Fashion, clothes that are made to be worn again and again, and made in conditions that we do not need to be ashamed of, from raw materials that are recycled or produced in less environmentally-harmful ways. There is a general Slowing-Down, with more people turning to activities like meditation, yoga, walking and cycling as an antidote to the fastness of life around them.

MovingOriginally, I thought of this as part of Slow-Moving, and it works like that. But, whilst stirring some soup,it came to me that moving deserves to stand alone as well. It is about that which moves us, that which connects with us on an emotional level. It is the being in the present that enables us to be moved. I think that this was front of mind because of this morning reading Laurie Anderson’s obituary to her husband, Lou Reed. In it she writes of how he spent his last week “being happy and dazzled by the beauty and power and softness of nature”. It is about the movement that comes from inside when we are still, when we stop moving.

Towards an alternative modelCreative — We are not just consumers anymore. We create online all the time. Young people are using their creativity building apps. MakerFaires are pulling in the punters. We’re collaborating in our consumption. More people are growing their own vegetables and getting creative in the kitchen. We are the people formerly known as the audience. We are no longer an audience of consumers. We are creators, I firmly believe this innate in all us and needs to be expressed if we are to be fulfilled. And we want to be part of the brands that serve us. 

Good — It is not about the goods, the things that we buy. It is about the good that is generated and shared from what we do — whether it is the things we buy, the things we make, the love that we spread. It is a shift from physical goods to the network of good. My Po-Zu shoes shown in the picture above are an example of good, with every aspect of creation carefully thought through,from the coconut husk foot mattress to vegetable tanned leather, they are slow-made with love, and they encourage me to slow down and walk (Po-Zu means ‘pause’ in Japanese. Towards a new model, where we are not separate consumers.

I make some generalisations, and there is a long way to go until we are living a SMCG life. I know myself the journey that I need to go on. But the point is that the seeds are there, and growing. We have the research to show that more money does not make us happy once our basic needs are met. But qualities of slow, moving, creativity and good do.

What does this mean for you? What topics would you like me to see explore further within this, or who would like me to speak to? Do you think that there is more of a need to focus on what this means for brands, or for people, or both?

‘Welcome, we like you’ – the Icelandic tone of voice

Icelanders have a long history of telling stories. The Sagas of the Icelanders are widely seen as a forerunner of the modern European novel, written in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, and telling the stories of farmers as well as warriors and kings.

Icelanders have storytelling in the blood – apparently one in ten will write a book during the course of their lifetime. On my recent trip to Iceland with Super/Collider, I didn’t experience Icelandic storytelling first hand, but I did get a strong sense of a distinctive Icelandic tone of voice.

ImageIt is a tone of voice which is direct, but playful in its directness. On the wing of the Wow Air plane, was the message “This is the west wing”. A little something to make you smile as you look out of the window.

ImageThe advertising on the headrests was not for the in-flight peanuts and gin and tonic. It was for the Icelandic clothing company, Cintamani. It read “Cintamani is your attitude that leads to courage, joy and passion on your way to happiness”, and signed off with the strapline “We know the feeling”. What a positive brand message and I really felt that they did know the feeling. That made me warm to them. Again, direct and straightforward in tone of voice.

ImageAnd then at the first hostel that we stayed at, the Bus Hostel, Reykavik – “Welcome, we like you”. There, on the walls. Starting from a positive. Of course, the employees need to live up to these words with matching friendliness (which they did), but these words must act for an inspiration and reminder for employees as much as a greeting to guests.

We were then out to the raw nature of Iceland so didn’t come across many more brand messages. But experiencing some of the force of the weather that Icelanders have to deal with – in the form of sandstorms and gale force winds that blew out car windows (fortunately not ours) – I began to get a sense of where such a tone of voice might come from. The farmer who owned the hostel where we took shelter in the midst of the gale was direct in his speaking – his words ran along the lines of  “you are safe, that’s the most important thing that matters, why are you worried about your car”, when we tried to ask if there was somewhere else to park it. Fair enough. When you truly are at the mercy of the elements whether wind or volcano, then I imagine that you learn to value what’s important.

This reminds me again of the Sagas. Ben Myers writes about the style of the Sagas:

“The style in which The Sagas are written is, like some of today’s best fiction, unpretentious and unadorned. Characters move from A to B to C (often by long-boat), and the narrators remain unemotional and impartial; people live and die without sentimentality or judgment. It is up to the reader to provide that.”

traffic lights

I was also reminded that tone of voice is not just what you say. In Selfoss, the green traffic lights have smiley faces – and the red ones do too.

Leaving Iceland, I was given a final parting line to take away at the airport:

“Without my imagination, I couldn’t go anywhere”.
Vigdis Grimsdottir, Z: A Love Story.

I think my imagination will take me back to the Icelandic landscapes.

Have you come across a tone of voice of a country that has struck you? Please share.

The power of making in helping us to think differently

Nike have a new initiative – ‘Nike Makers’.  Nike never beat about the bush.  Or think small. “We’re here to unveil a new age of design. One that is about making better things and making things better.”

The starting point is materials. They are releasing the API for the Nike Sustainable Materials Index so that makers of code can create apps which will let makers of things design using more sustainable materials.

The video to introduce the initiative is classic Nike too. I quote some excerpts here, but it is 1 minute 32 seconds that goes by very quickly, so take a look.

“Make no mistake.

We hate sustainability.

We hate that people don’t even want to hear the word anymore.

We hate that it has become a management decision that is passed down like a pair of second-hand shoes.

We’re over it.

We’re here to unveil a new age of design.

It’s about making better things and making things better.

….

One that gives the power back to makers of things, not makers of decisions.”

And so it continues. The words resonate with me in so ways. I love the line: “We hate that it (sustainability) has become a management decision that is passed down like a pair of second-hand shoes”. It sums up how sustainability is managed in many companies, and how it is received by the people that it is passed down to, rather than it being something that is driven by the people who ‘make things’, those people who get their hands dirty everyday.

The emphasis on the makers of things led me to think back to an exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum last year – “The Power of Making”. The exhibition was a powerful celebration of the skill of craftspeople. The essays in the catalogue confirm the wisdom of Nike’s approach – and reinforces the idea that power is truly in the hands of makers. I say hands deliberately, as one of the re-occurring themes in the essays is about how by making things, you open yourself up to think differently. As Martina Margetts says, “Making is…a process whereby mind, body and imagination are integrated in the practice of thought through action”.

Dan Lepard, a baker, said the same thing at a talk that I went to: that using your hands open up different parts of the brain. This is so true. And this is why, when I run workshops, I find that even if participants have a simple activity to do, such as cutting and sticking pictures from a magazine to make a collage, it opens up minds to think in a different way than that if they had just been asked to write words on a flipchart.

We all need to find ways of bringing more making, and less thinking, into our work lives – and, paradoxically, we’ll find that it opens up the new ways of thinking that we are searching for – in order to make things better.

What is a sustainable brand?

My first post on this site looked at the definition of sustainability. The definition that I put forward was:

“Sustainability is a balance between the financial, human, and environmental. It is about living your values and acting with integrity, responsibility and generosity. It is about being in a community of discussion, dialogue and action – because no person or company is an island and everything is interconnected.”

Yet this blog is about sustainable brands, and so I have been thinking about what the definition of a sustainable brand might be. The answer that I have arrived at is as follows, and builds on my definition of sustainability:

A sustainable brand is one that has a meaning or purpose that goes beyond making money, instead seeking to increase the wellbeing of humanity and all life on our planet. It sees people as creativists, not consumers. And it understands the lifecycle and environmental impact of all its activities, so that it can seek to continuously innovate and reduce its impact to a minimum.

In summary, the three main elements are: purpose, people as creativists, and taking action on lifecycle impacts. Or to reduce even further: creating + connecting + acting. I will take a brief look at each of these three elements in turn:

1) Purpose

Santiago Gowland, VP of Brand Development and Global Corporate Responsibility at Unilever wrote “A lack of alignment around purpose slowly erodes attempts to be proactive toward any solution.” And we need companies that are creating solutions. There is increasing acknowledgement that just making money, to the exclusion of all other aims, is no longer good enough. Here is Umair Haque on the subject in an extract from his Harvard Review blog:

“The untapped capacity to create significance (and all the stuff that follows on from it — higher purpose, a sense of meaning, animating passion, intrinsic motivation) has never been more important: I’d gently suggest it’s the wellspring of 21st century advantage. As I’ve discussed at length both here and in my book, The New Capitalist Manifesto, the real roots of this crisis are that 20th century institutions, whether banks, governments, or corporations, are becoming more and more useless to people, communities, and society. They’re extracting wealth from them, instead of creating enduring, authentic value for them.”

A sustainable brand will be focusing on how to create enduring, authentic value – for the long-term and for all people.

2) People as creativists, not consumers
A sustainable brand is one that is forming a new type of relationship with its stakeholders: its employees, its customers, the communities in which it operates. The old model was one based of passivity: employees did what they were told within the framework of the company hierarchy; customers bought what the advertising suggested that they buy; communities got a hand-out if they were lucky.

In the past year and a half, I have been developing my thinking around my Creativist Manifesto. The manifesto states that the biggest choice that we have to make in society today is to be a creativist or a consumer. A consumer is passive and motivated by extrinsic values, and this is damaging to individuals, to society and to the planet. A creativist, in contrast, is active in creating their own identity and motivated by intrinsic values.

Companies, in different ways, are beginning to recognise the shift from consumers to creativists. For example, Skanska, the construction Group, in an article about the future of energy, talks about ‘prosumers’. It gives the example of a housing development in Heritage Springs, California, which claims to be the largest solar-powered community in the US. When the system produces more electricity than the homes are producing, households are given a credit back to their electricity bill. In this way each household becomes an ‘energy farmer’.

“This development revitalizes the term “prosumer,” coined by futurologist Alvin Toffler, who in the 1980s defined the prosumer as someone who blurs the distinction between a consumer and a producer. Energy Farmers are prosumers of the 21st century – urban citizens that are stakeholders in a local energy community. Systems like that of Heritage Springs build an intrinsic understanding of electricity by directly involving, engaging and empowering citizens in the abstract concept that is electricity use.”

The meaning of ‘prosumer’ is itself now not distinct, sometimes meaning ‘professional consumer’, and in my view ‘creativist’ is a more accurate term to use here – households which are not just consuming electricity, but actively creating it. Whichever term you choose to use, the principal is the same, and the concept will become more widespread across different sectors. It is the companies who both recognise and encourage the shift from consumers to creativists who will be leaders on the road to sustainability.

And in order to respond to, and be ahead of, the constantly changing world that we live in, companies need their employees to be creativists, not consumers – not passively along for the ride and their monthly paycheck, but creativists, bringing their creativity, their passions, their ideas to work.

3) Taking action on lifecycle
Companies such as InterfaceFLOR and Unilever are recognising that lifecycle analysis is essential to understanding the impacts of a company’s products, and therefore being able to identify where innovation is required in order to reduce impacts. It is this rigour and understanding which will provide companies with a solid base to innovate from, and allow them to take a real leadership position. For the best intentions and the best connections amount to nothing without taking action.

What is your view? What makes a sustainable brand? Please share your thoughts and examples.