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  • Getting to Green

    An administrator pushes, on a shoestring budget, to move his university and the world toward a more sustainable equilibrium.

Commercially contrariwise
September 9, 2011 - 2:45pm

I get daily newsletters from I generally scan the headlines, but often don't read the articles -- a significant portion of the cases they promote I consider to be greenwashing. On the other hand . . .

In today's letter, there were two stories that caught my attention. One of them takes a contrarian position on the topic of green marketing/environmentally preferable consumer products. The other takes a stand diametrically opposed to the whole business model of the industrial sector it inhabits. Intelligent opposition is generally worth reading.

The green marketing contrarian is Albe Zakes. Vice President of Terracycle, his point is that green marketing and environmentally preferable consumer products will never make much of a difference if all they have to offer is greenness/environmental preferability. His advice is to constrain product lifecycle processes to make them as sustainable as possible, and then to focus on quality and price just like any consumer goods company would. In one sense, this plays into Terracycle's business model (upcycling), but in another it's merely a recognition of the realities of the consumer marketplace. LOHAS (lifestyle of health and sustainability) products are already available to anyone who makes purchase decisions on that basis alone, and that basis alone isn't resulting in nearly enough sales. We need to address the remainder (large majority) of consumers by focusing on the product characteristics (value = quality / price) they really care about. Terracycle's focus on creating high-perceived-value products from waste streams (revisioned as resource streams) is certainly consistent with this advice, but upcycling probably isn't the only way to achieve the goal.

The real contrarian is -- no surprises here -- Yvon Chouinard. The founder and president of Patagonia is going head-to-head with the business model of the whole clothing industry. He took advantage of New York Fashion Week to preach a message about buying used, buying less, buying stuff that's going to last. (None of which thoughts are closely connected to "fashion" (obsolescence on an accelerated schedule) business models.) And he's driving home the "buy used" bit by establishing a partnership with ebay -- the virtual world headquarters of the "previously owned" market.

All of which just goes to show that some business folk really do "get" sustainability. And that they're beginning to amplify their message. And that the "green business" press isn't entirely devoted to promoting greenwashing. (Just mostly.)



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