Tag Archives: products

Ready to change how we think

28 Sep

Going to business school is a personal decision, based on all kinds of things.  What you do now, what you’d like to do next, what new ideas you have, how interested in business you are, and a host of other factors that shape your thinking through the application and acceptance process.  Notwithstanding this very personal vision, many of the experiences my classmates and I have shared so far have been somewhat “broad strokes”, touching on the traditional areas and sectors that the “typical” business school student is likely to be interested in.

But what if you are not typical? Clearly we all like to think of ourselves as unique, and to some extent we all are. But equally, in a business school setting, there are going to be several people who delight in the idea of 12-hour work days as investment bankers, thrive on the excitement of the trading floor, and leap out of bed at the thought of complex financial modelling.  I’m not one of them, I’ve realised, but figuring out what I don’t want to do early on is a good thing, I think.

What I really want to do is change the way we think about stuff and the people and companies who make it, sell it, use it and deal with it when we’re done.  I’ve written about stuff as a consumer and as an owner, and realised since moving into a small student bedroom that living with less stuff is not only possible, but kind of peaceful.  I’ve been practising my “elevator pitch” to my classmates, and researching companies, organizations and people who already seem to be thinking about stuff differently.

Now, it’s early days on the research front, but I thought I’d share some cool things I’ve found so far.  Some of these may be familiar, while others may spark some new interest.

  1. Look to your right, over there in the side bar.  Click on The Story of Stuff and see with Annie has to say about things.
  2. Check out this blog post by Joel Makower, the founder of Greenbiz.com, and a “guru of green” I think has some neat things to say.  The book he recommends is now officially on my list.
  3. While you’re browsing through the blog roll, stop on by The Clean Bin Project, which chronicles the great things Jenny and Grant did and learned in living “waste free” for a year. I was lucky to meet these two about a week before they took off on a cross-Canada bike tour this summer, and they are doing something special.

So here’s what I’m ready to test through business school, and hopefully get some of the best brains I know (my classmates!) to think through this with me:

  • How do we make better stuff? The kind that’s good for the environment, and for people, and for the companies that make them?
  • Is a stuff vs. services conversation something we’re ready to have? And who should we have it with?
  • How much, and what kind of stuff, is “enough” in a finite world, a closed system with limits on all kinds of resources?

You probably have ideas about your stuff too. Let me know what you think – say it out loud.


Time to come clean

1 Sep

OK. Confession time.  I have a lot of stuff.  Not as much as I did, say a month ago, but still, more than the average airline seems to think is appropriate as a luggage allowance for trans-atlantic flights.  So, unless my daily attempts to see if I can upgrade to business class (they get more bags) prove successful, I clearly have to make some tough decisions about what stays in storage, what gets gifted and what makes the trip.

But first, a look back at what I used to own … all my furniture and plenty of household items were given away to friends and family, or donated to community groups! Yup, even the table I bought at a yard sale, the $5 lamp from a thrift store.  Now, considering that just about everything I owned was given to me or bought second-, third- or whatever-hand, I think I’ve done my bit to spread “stuff karma” out in the universe.  And it was uncanny – a friend needed some extra furniture to add to a spare room, another had students coming to stay for a year, and someone else knew of folks who were out of work, short on cash and expecting a new addition to the family.  People were generous to me, and so I got to pass that on, right when someone needed a hand.  Just as importantly, it all went on one day AND they did the lifting! Hard to argue with that kind of efficiency.

So what’s left? Clothes, bags, hats, scarves and shoes – I had about 30 pairs! Some framed prints, photos from when they used to print them out, and all the myriad things that you stick in the junk drawer, the back of the closet, or the handy Ikea storage container, just as long as they are out of sight … and of course, out of mind.  In short, all the stuff that is super-annoying to sort through, but seems to take up an alarming amount of space!

What’s interesting is that the less stuff I actually own, the more protective I think I feel about it all.  Things I haven’t thought about in years are all of a sudden my long-lost friends, things I can’t imagine living without.  That sheer purple blouse I’ve worn exactly twice since I bought it – love it! The dress that I wish I could find the receipt for, cuz the tags are still on – best friend!  Don’t get me started on all the things I’ve convinced myself I *might* need.  Weird how that works – there’s a metaphor here somewhere.

But I think I have a strategy, or at least the beginnings of one.  My very wise friend Sarah said to me today – what you need is a few things for each of the various niches; think shallow and wide, not narrow and deep.  She’s profound, that girl.

What I need to figure out next – how shallow is shallow? Hard to know when you’re drowning in stuff, and everything feels deep! Anyone need a tote bag?

Better programs, better products

19 Jul

Sometimes we can’t help it. Those of us living in the rest of Canada find ourselves shaking our heads at Ontarians. Maybe the record heat is making them cranky, but it seems they’ve been up in arms since Canada Day about so-called “eco-fees” that came into effect on July 1, 2010 to cover the cost of recycling a range of household hazardous materials like left-over paint, aerosols, batteries and the like. This would seem to make sense to me, considering these materials contain pretty nasty stuff that ought to properly disposed or recycled.  But, amid a flurry of complaints, and some pretty haphazard publicity about tax-grabs and confused consumers, the “people” have spoken and today, the Ontario Environment Minister caved and recalled the fees.

It’s a pity, because these types of programs really work. We in British Columbia have had similar charges in place for many products for several years.  In fact, on July 1st, fluorescent tubes, cell phones, thermostats, batteries and a range of other electronics also became part of the province-wide recycling system. It’s called Extended Producer Responsibility or EPR, and it’s a policy tool being used successfully in BC, a few US states, and widely across Europe to deal with materials that are hard to dispose of or need special handling.

So why is this important? Producers make products, which we as consumers buy. Traditionally, we would buy them, use them, and throw them away when we were done.  Most often, these materials ended up in landfills which cost a great deal to manage and maintain safely, and were typically operated by local governments and paid for by all taxpayers.  That means that everyone paid the cost of disposal, even if we didn’t all use the product.  More importantly, it let the producers off the hook for being responsible for their products at the end of their useful life.

But EPR is a game-changer.  By sharing the responsibility for the product between the producer and the person who bought it, used it and threw it away, a whole new way of dealing with waste is possible.  First off, people tend to be more careful about what they buy.  Buying just enough paint for your new reno means none to dispose of at the end, and being able to recycle batteries means no harmful chemicals threatening our health.  Producers get in on the act too, making better products that either last longer or are easier to recycle, since it’s now be their job to manage the products once we’re done with them.

So back to the “eco-fees”.  These are the charges attached to the products governed by the EPR policy.  They go to the producers, usually represented by a non-profit organization whose job it is to take back the products and make sure they are disposed or recycled safely.  No money goes to the government, no taxes are snuck into other programs. The producers have to report annually on how much of their products were sold, and how much they recovered through take-back programs for recycling. And producers, especially for mega-brands like Sony and Toshiba, are starting to take this further, trying to figure out how to use EPR to make their products stand out even more to the discerning consumer.

Let’s hope that the retraction by the Ontario government is temporary, and that with a better organized communications plan, they can roll the program out with success.  It’s time to put your money where your mouth is!

In the interests of full disclosure, I work in the recycling business and have been a strong advocate of EPR programs for many years.  I also love to shop.