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green@work : Magazine : Back Issues : March/April 2006 : Green Marketing

Green Marketing

Style's Role in the Green Marketplace
Blending aesthetics with environmental consciousness is a recipe for market acceptance.

by Holly Bornstein

Through style and ease of use, these products will accelerate mainstream adoption, and facilitate education and conversation.

There is an interesting debate afoot that is well-summarized by Jamais Cascio of “Which will prove more beneficial? Widespread adoption of gradualist (green) measures or slower adoption of more radical ideas?”

It shouldn’t be an either-or; these activities should occur simultaneously. In fact, widespread adoption of incremental behavioral changes will open the door to bigger, more radical ideas.

Creating green products that have an aesthetic appeal naturally results in a product with a greater chance of market-wide acceptance. This along with ease of use is a winning combination.

Products that deliver on these two concepts also serve to encourage a deeper conversation about the things that surround us. Most people don’t realize that many of the items they buy and use aren’t just bad for the environment—that somewhat intangible thing “out there”—but also are bad for them, their workplace, their home and their families—the very tangible “in here.” Facilitating education and conversation about this topic will forge a path for bigger ideas and bolder solutions. Focusing on products with which masses of people regularly come into contact can result in both measurable mitigation and considerable word of mouth.

How diapers can make a difference
Disposable diapers are the third-largest single consumer item in our waste system. Past EPA figures show that 18 billion disposable diapers are sold per year. Each year approximately five million tons of disposable diapers accumulate in U.S. landfills, and it takes 500 years for a diaper to break down in a landfill.

Now comes a stylish option: gDiapers, a cross between cloth and disposable diapers. The outer diaper is cloth and comes in fashionable colors—very appealing for moms. A flushable insert is placed into a vinyl sleeve in the cloth component. When the insert is soiled, you remove it and either flush it, compost it (wet only) or discard it as you would a disposable diaper. Then replace with a new insert. The cloth diaper exterior is included in the regular wash cycle. gDiapers is the first consumer packaged product to receive the Cradle to Cradle design certification from eco-innovators William McDonough’s and Michael Braungart’s design firm, McDonough Braungart Design Chemistry (MBDC). The Cradle to Cradle process evaluated the materials of the gDiapers flushable refill; the complete formulation for human and environmental health impacts throughout its lifecycle; and its potential for being truly recycled or safely composted. Certification also entailed the evaluation of the product’s energy use, water use, and workplace ethics of the company and its suppliers.

Using a gDiaper is very close to the process of changing a disposable. Unlike the cloth diaper there is no need to hire a diaper cleaning service or figure out how to clean them safely. gDiaper has kept the process simple and low-hassle. There are a lot of added benefits, such as no elemental chlorine in the product and no smelly diaper pail in the house. One customer summed it up well when they shared with Jason Graham-Nye, the co-founder and CEO, that, “You’ve redefined convenience for me.”

moving into the kitchen
Let’s stay inside the home, but move out of the nursery and into the kitchen. Granite countertops are all the rage throughout the country, frequently mentioned as a noteworthy upgrade in real estate listings. But few people talk about or consider the dark side of their choice in granite. The granite industry is littered with labor (including child labor) and environmental violations. For example, bonded labor, including child-bonded labor, is widespread in quarries of granite and other stones in India. Typically the United States imports about $34 million of worked and un-worked stone, including granite and marble, from India per year, with the figure rising.

I have not been in a single granite-countered kitchen in which the topic of conversation has been about the consequences of granite consumerism. Yet James Sheppard, the president of Vetrazzo, Inc., the maker of beautiful “green” countertops, knows that his product sparks the conversation about green building and the materials we use in our homes. He states that, “People buy our product because of our aesthetic and bold dynamic. First they buy for the beauty, and then they feel good about it because it fits their values. The kitchen is the heart of the home; it (a Vetrazzo countertop) is a centerpiece for people talking about recycling and sustainability.” He brings up the point that other green building materials may be hidden in the joists and aren’t able to serve this key role of triggering conversations. Additionally, because people are initially drawn in by Vetrazzo’s appealing look, the company is getting customers who wouldn’t normally choose a green product to make an incremental change.

Vetrazzo engineered stone is 85-percent recycled glass. Thousands of pieces of polished glass—which began life as beer bottles, windshields, traffic lights and stemware—comprise the core of this solid countertop. Each countertop includes about 1,300 recycled bottles. The remaining materials are cement and fly ash (a furnace byproduct), resulting in a total composition that pushes 90-percent-recycled material. In addition to style, this product also meets the ease-of-use criteria: It’s heat-resistant (up to 720 degrees) and stain-resistant, and only needs to be cleaned with a damp cloth and mild soap.

The owners of Vetrazzo are not only ensuring that their product is green, but that the production process is as well. They recently received a $1,285,000 grant from the state of California’s Department of Conservation, Division of Recycling. In their production process they do not melt the glass—they use the glass in crushed form, which saves an enormous amount of energy. Vetrazzo is the type of alternative product use for recycled glass that the state wants to encourage. As Olivia Teter, Vetrazzo’s vice president of product development, put it: “We solve a problem using recycled glass; we keep it out of the landfill.”

Good news for Vetrazzo, and perhaps bad news for granite. A December 2005 article in The Wall Street Journal titled “Design trends destined to die” listed matte stone as one of the five “what may die” items, and its “what’s next” counterpart was engineered stone.
So next time you notice something interesting and stylish on a baby’s bottom or in a kitchen, be sure to start a conversation. It might very well prompt a healthy discussion.

Holly Bornstein is the founder and principal partner of Propel Marketing, LLC, a direct-marketing firm that specializes in green products and services. A common thread through her marketing practice and articles is accelerating the adoption of green products and services among mainstream consumers and businesses. She can be reached at hbornstein@propelmarketing. com.

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