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  • Fran 1:19 pm on May 2, 2011 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , sustainable lifestyles   

    The rise and rise of Collaborative Consumption 

    Did you know that most power drills are used for an average of 12-13 minutes in their entire lifetime? Neither did I – and as Rachel Botsman the collaborative consumption guru points out, that’s a big piece of kit to buy and store when what you really want is a few holes.

    Collaborative consumption describes the rapid explosion in swapping, sharing, bartering, trading and renting being reinvented through the latest technologies and peer-to-peer (P2P) marketplaces in ways and on a scale never possible before.

    Time calls the concept one of the “10 ideas that will change the world” and in her recent book What’s Mine is Yours Rachel Botsman describes why.

    Of course ideas like lending and product services systems have been around for a long time but today internet technology is removing the friction from P2P relationships, and a flood of activity is diverting us from ownership to access.

    Zipcar, the US pay-as-you-go car rental service started modestly at university campuses and has 560,000 members today. Its recent IPO raised $174 million, over twice its original target.

    Landshare connects people who have a passion for home-grown food with those who have land to share. Started in the UK in 2009, it now has nearly 60, 000 members and no doubt a profusion of veg.

    Even banks are being by-passed by the collaborative consumption shift. Zopa is an online marketplace that matches people with money to invest with borrowers who need a personal loan. By cutting out the middleman Zopa offers competitive rates to both parties – and the default rate is less than 1%. As they say, everybody wins, except the fat cats!

    What’s making it all possible? Years ago you’d be unlikely to form a business relationship with a complete stranger, but today the internet offers the social glue to build trust, and the efficiency to follow an individual’s track record.

    As Wired puts it: “What matters in the new era is not your physical wealth, but your reputation”.

  • Amy 9:09 am on April 18, 2011 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , environment, , sustainable lifestyles   

    Putting the fun in sustainability 

    When was the last time you heard the word “fun” associated with “sustainability,” “green,” or “environmental”? More importantly, when was the last time you experienced a sense of fun doing what everyone tells you is the “right thing” to do, like recycling, turning down the heat, or taking the train instead of a flight? No, “fun” is not the first word that comes to mind when you heave that bag of old newspapers into the recycling bin, no matter how virtuous you may feel. Because, frankly, the messages around sustainability—from governments, to NGOs to companies to media—are all too often about ecological gloom and doom, about giving up our selfish lifestyles to save the planet. Why would people embrace this concept with open arms when  it seems far less desirable  than any number of other activities you might be doing?

    A UK-based organization called Global Cool seems to have cracked this gloom-and-doom approach by getting people to act in a way that is good for sustainability and the environment, without ever mentioning those words—by making the actions themselves fun. Global Cool is aimed at that sizeable part of the population which is “outer directed,” driven by needing the esteem and respect of other people, and outward symbols of success, those who devour fashion, music, celebrities, the latest trends and who are heavy users of social networks.  Global Cool seems to have been enormously successful judging from their results.

    Wearing fashionable woolies supported by celebrity designers and models got Brits to turn their heat down (it’s good for your skin, too); “traincations” talk about the fun of travelling by train (real cutlery! room to stretch your legs!), and public transport gets a boost not by talking about climate footprint but by sharing videos of bands who love buses and great pick-up lines. Just the other day my Global Cool subscription popped up on my smartphone with an article entitled, “The secrets to a summer of sun and sex.” You bet I clicked it open. The post made me laugh and then, at the very end, there was a gentle reminder to “do it in public,” (oh right, use public transport).

    Companies could take a lesson or two from Global Cool. For one, the people at Global Cool don’t presuppose that people are interested in climate or the environment. When they “sell” green behaviors and lifestyle choices, it’s all about highlighting the benefit to the individual. They don’t preach. They don’t tell you to do it because you should. Most companies today recognize that getting consumers or customers to act based on their sustainability communication is a very tough nut to crack. A couple have even taken a lead from the NGOs and charities and started “campaign” websites. Marks & Spencer’s Plan A is one example. It’s all well and good to set out 180 commitments to achieve by 2015, “with the ultimate goal of becoming the world’s sustainable major retailer.” But then Plan A gets stuck with that fatal motto, “Doing the right thing.” The website doesn’t do enough to engage Marks & Spencer’s customers in Plan A, to make it sound fun. Similarly, Unilever’s Sustainable Living Plan, talks about consumers wanting “reassurance that the products they buy are ethically sourced and protect the earth’s natural resources” without giving them enough opportunity to jump right in, have fun, and get every one of their friends to chose this living plan, too. Aside from the requisite icons for signing up to a Facebook page or checking out a YouTube video, there is little effort to engage their consumers.

    Maybe a little less effort and a bit more subtlety is the way to go, if you want your customers to think that what you do—and sell—is fun. It worked for Volkswagen.

  • Fran 4:39 pm on March 15, 2010 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: BT, , Innocent, , sustainable lifestyles   

    Hello, do you read me? 

    This week, we’ve been on the look out for imaginative, engaging and comprehensive corporate sustainability websites in the UK.

    Marks & Spencer, better known for selling the nation’s undies than innovative communications, surprises with a strong, attractive site. It kicks off with Plan A – the set of sustainability initiatives that has saved the business £50m to date.

    M&S realises that its biggest impacts lie up and down its value chain rather than in-store, so its web-based communications reach out to customers. Users are invited to choose pledges that will reduce their own sustainability impacts such as joining the ‘Wash at 30’ campaign. Interactive features include a tally of the number of pledges made so far and friendly pop-ups of named contributors, together with their promises.

    In contrast, some of the companies you’d expect to lead the way in digital media like Orange and Virgin, have surprisingly static web-based sustainability communications. BT is the best in this sector, offering a host of useful and easily downloadable material for initiatives such as its Skills Journey. But opportunities for the multi-channel conversations we’ve come to expect from the best sites are lacking.

    No survey of British communications innovation would be complete without raising a glass to the power of humour, much appreciated at Innocent Drinks’ laugh-out-loud blog and on its twitter feed, followed by more than 23,000 people. Although not an out-and-out sustainability site, Innocent makes the connection between healthy products, happy employees and laughter – and manages to touch on many relevant issues without seeming to try. The corporate ethos extends to raising money for good causes with its Big Knit Campaign for Help the Aged and Age Concern. Customers are encouraged to knit funny hats for Smoothie bottles, and Innocent makes a donation for each one sent in. Knitters can upload pictures of their creations via twitter and flickr, and a ‘hat of the week’ is announced on the Innocent website. A handy ‘hatometer’ is available for uploading onto enthusiasts’ websites, giving their followers regular updates on the campaign’s progress. Lots of good ideas here for mainstream corporates.

  • april.streeter 8:22 am on February 23, 2010 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , sustainable lifestyles   

    From Being Green to Doing The Right Thing 

    Consumers’ perceptions of companies’ green credentials are more than a bit skewed, as New Scientist shows with its fascinating juxtaposition of  image versus reality in the business world. What New Scientist did was to mix data from an Earthsense survey from 2008 of 30,000 consumers and their ideas about industries’ eco-credentials with scores from Trucost on those industries. What emerges from New Scientist’s scatterplot graphic is that non-consumer industries are generally doing better at environmental performance than the public realizes, while many consumer industries are doing worse.

    Many a sustainability professional may take this as proof that companies, especially in technology, chemicals, and industrial goods and services, need to blow their own horns, broadcast their advances, and write their CSR reports in consumer-friendly language. Meanwhile, the food and beverage industry may simply need to clean up its act.

    But then there’s the cautionary tale of Whole Foods, which has had a sustainability focus and a green-tinged image from its first day in business, versus Safeway, which certainly hasn’t. According to Amy Westervelt at the Solve Climate blog, Safeway actually scored better than Whole Foods in CERES 2008 report on sustainability in the grocery industry.

    Because it has always touted its own horn (and because of its CEO’s outspoken media presence) Whole Foods is now under the media microscope, while Safeway has the benefit of relative privacy while it pursues sustainability goals.

    Which could lead many a company to question the value of hanging out the green wash. Or the greenwash.

    While it may hurt Whole Foods to have its actions and policies scrutinized, and benefit Safeway to have relative cover for its own attempts, transparency has got to be the best policy. Not because it is trendy, or green, but because it is the right thing.

    One of the reasons behind the food and beverage industry’s poor performance in the Trucost numbers is its huge lack of transparency. Masses of consumers would cry, carry on, and turn vegetarian if they knew, really knew, what factory farming and low-cost fast food production has led to. Ask Jonathan Safran Froer.

    When you raise children, you find yourself not infrequently having to think about why you say, or do, or question the opinions and beliefs you hold, and not infrequently you will have to tell your child “We do this because it is right.” That is not to say that there are immutable truths that should never be questioned. It means, after thinking things over, that this “rightness” is frequently the bottom line, the message we give our kids and the standard we hold them to. If they want our trust, we expect each of them to develop a moral compass, and to tell us the truth.

    And what’s good for the kids should be good for companies, too.

    • Amy Brown 5:25 am on February 24, 2010 Permalink

      Interesting to learn, April, about the gifted novelist Jonathan Safran Foer’s latest book, Eating Animals, prompted by his desire to find out more about what he was feeding his young son. That the meat industry and factory farming is a leading cause of global warming and other environmental problems–not to mention the other negative impacts to animals and potentially human health– certainly makes this carnivore uncomfortable but not yet moved me to action. I agree that transparency has long been lacking in the meat industry and until they change their act, books such as Safran Foer’s (even if his is more empathetic and less damning than others) will continue to be published to inform consumers about issues the industry chooses not to confront. It’s another inconvenient truth: that we all need to think more deeply about the way we feed ourselves and our children and what is truly sustainable for this ailing planet.

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