Thursday, December 11, 2008

Creating a Sustainable Future

Responding to rising consumer awareness of a sustainable future, the 2008 International Home and Housewares show presented eleven exhibits focused on green. With topics ranging from embedding sustainable design, to corporate sustainability reporting.

"The first step toward a truly sustainable future is creating it," says JohnPaul Kusz of the Center for Sustainable Enterprise at the Illinois Institute of Technology, "design can be the engine for behavior change as well as new products. My contention is that we can extend the design brief to include the engagement of the end user in a dialogue with the product and its maker that creates a relationship of shared responsibility and stewardship,” he says. “By doing so, we can move from simply designing artifacts to designing and developing comprehensive business and system models that bring more value to the brands we create.”

One emergent “green” concept is corporate sustainability reports, according to Chad Upham, founder of Covive, Inc., a San Francisco-based consulting and design firm that guides corporations through the process of developing those reports. Upham says the process drives “real strategy and innovation” for the long term. He notes that every major company produces an annual financial report, which helps investors and analysts make decisions about their commitment to the company, which justifies a similar report on sustainability.

“Over the past decade, with the increase in access to global information through the Internet and media, the public has grown more aware of the social and environmental liabilities of the products they consume,” he says. “More consumers are basing their buying decisions on social and environmental factors in addition to quality and price. Corporations that are proactive at adopting strategies to reduce environmental impacts and strengthen communities build consumer confidence and can discover tremendous economic benefits through efficiency and goodwill.”

Mark Dziersk of Laga/One80 Design describes the changing product development process as moving from “a three-legged to a four-legged stool,” the latter including sustainability as well as what “works well, looks good and costs little.” He says the “old chestnut” that consumers won’t pay more for a product that includes an authentic sustainability element “is no longer true.”

“From Wal-Mart to Detroit to Wall Street, green has come into its own as a sincere piece of the go-to-market plan,” Dziersk says. “The mistake many companies make is to lead with green or compromise the other three legs. Looks great, works great, costs the right amount and ‘is green’ are the new table stakes in housewares, packaging and the design industry in general. Without the fourth leg, you will not be taken seriously in the future.”

Another element of an effective sustainability movement is cutting through the hype and zeroing in on what consumers want to hear as “green” becomes the buzzword of the early 21 st century. The Energy Pulse survey has shown that while today’s consumers embrace the concept of green home products, they also believe “green” may have more to do with the color of money they’ll shell out than saving the planet.

Albing International Marketing (AIM) has identified an “increasingly passionate interest in the environment.” In an online survey of more than 1,500 consumers, AIM found that 39 percent said “green” is very important to them. Another 39 percent said it was somewhat important and it “probably” should be more important to them. Four percent said it is “critical” to all of their decision-making.

Concerns for the environment come up in most focus groups and virtually every interview. “We have been astounded by the passion and level of interest among all consumers concerning the environment in the past 19 months,” Albing says. “In the past, it always seemed like a passing fad. Today, it’s considered a lifestyle choice."

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