Electricity-Generating Gym

I found this a while ago, but haven’t shared it yet- it is an amazing campaign (student designed) that won a Gold Cleo Award in the Student Integrated Branding Campaign category.

I have generally found our local electricity company (one that has been plagued with issues and complaints for a few years now) to be rather lack-lustre and dull in its attempt to communicate with the public.  They offer many innovative and effective solutions to our intermittent electricity crisis, yet often fail to communicate this in an efficient and engaging way.

The solution proposed within this video could certainly be adapted to our local context, and could genuinely facilitate better brand-consumer relationships. Given how saturated the market is in terms of gyms and exercise facilities, I believe that there would be opportunity for co-branding or sponsorship in order to make the idea more applicable.

In addition the whole system could be adapted by gyms in order to make them more sustainable and energy efficient. Many of the machines and mechanisms within a gym are electricity dependent- this hefty usage could be counteracted through implementation of a system as proposed in the video.

Essentially there is an entirely underutilised and undercapitalised source of energy within our reach. I feel that there is definite opportunity to re-contextualise the featured project for application in South Africa.

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Praise for My Hometown…

This post is long over due, and I have to admit that I have been a little slack on keeping this blog updated. With the end of January in sight, I have made a resolution to update this page more regularly- first and foremost because I believe whole heartedly in the cause, and secondly because I feel like there is value to be added (in-keeping with the healthy brand philosophy of course).

I was listening to the radio on my way to work the other morning, surrounded by fellow commuters and looking out over the City from the new Warwick Triangle flyover. On the radio, Durban was being applauded for the efficient use of waste as a means to produce energy.

Being a Durbanite, one is often accustomed to harsh accusations of ‘backwardness’ and ‘slowness’ – the news that we are, reportedly, the only city in Africa actively and effectively pursuing this energy-harnessing option strongly contests those notions.

We are a stage in the world ‘lifecycle’ where we can no longer ignore the realities of human life on the planet- we can no longer pretend that our presence and activity on earth has no environmental or ecological effect. In turn, the sooner we are able to capitalise on our human capability of innovation and invention, the sooner we will begin to alleviate the stresses and strains that we put on the planet.

I remember watching a TV show a few years ago; they were discussing the evolution of power sources and the realities of global warming and green house gases. One of the guests on the show shared a sentiment (and I paraphrase here) that the Stone Age did not end because we ran out of stone.

We should be progressing to new sources of energy and power. Oil and electricity are becoming passé and we should all be actively pursuing new ideas and approaches.  I acknowledge that this is becoming increasingly the focus of various industries and individuals, however I feel that this can also become the role of the ‘everyday’ person- you or I- in our ‘everyday’ capacity. Imagine concocting new ways of going about everyday activities- such as going to the gym, or for a walk- that could begin to address energy concerns.

Durban’s approach to methane gases and the use of landfills in addressing energy source is a huge step forward, and I feel that it is well worth taking a look at.  In turn, I think that opportunity for extension exists- especially in South Africa where we have had well-publicized issues with electricity supply and availability.

Landfills are problematic pockets of waste that ‘litter’ our countryside; they are regarded as extremely hazardous, not only to human health, but to environmental surrounds. The harnessing and utilization of the poisonous gases created by the interlaid decaying matter is a positive step in a movement toward managing the waste of our every growing population. Rather than allowing the gases to escape into surrounding soil, air and in certain cases, water systems, the process of waste to energy allows for the generation of new energy.

See what Durban Solid Waste is doing by watching the video below: Watts in The Rubbish Heap? Durban, South Africa.

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Woolworths: Living Wall


A friend of mine forwarded this link onto me this morning on Facebook; I was immediately intrigued, so I decided to share it.

16 October 2010 was World Food Day- the theme for this year was “United Against Hunger.” (Woolworths Trust, 2010) Woolworths’ answer to this theme was to create a virtual ‘living wall.’ In short, this is a wall that has been constructed in such a way that it is able to support the growth of plants/vegetation. Woolworths’ aim is and was; to get people to enter their name and e-mail, select a plant type (basil/spinach/straweberries/tomatoes) and plant a seedling on the virtual wall. Woolworths would translate this into a donation of the real plant to a South Africa school with a “permaculture food garden.” (Woolworths Trust, 2010)

“Permaculture is a world-renowned system of sustainable gardening and farming that’s design-driven, mirroring the healthy patterns of nature’s ecosystems. Permaculture combines plants, buildings, water, landscapes and people in ways that ensure that the particular environment generates more energy than is used.” (Woolworths Living Wall, 2010)

Woolworths, in partnership with several other brands and organisations, assists in something called the EduPlant programme. This teaches local schools how to grow and nuture plants using “resource-efficient permaculture methods.” (Woolworths Living Wall, 2010)

I think this is a very interesting project, and I can appreciate the thinking behind it. To-date over 6800 names and plants have been added to the virtual wall, which should translate into a sizeable donation to the South African school.

I must mention that I hope to receive continued updates on the project, and feel that it is important for Woolworths to show the actual delivery of the plants.  I think that the impact of the project may be reduced if there is not some sort of continuation. In order for projects to be sustainable there needs to be follow up. Driving people to the website, attaining their e-mail addresses and getting them to pick a plant is the easy part. It shall be interesting to follow the developments.

In the meantime, why not lend your name to the cause by donating to the virtual living wall?


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The Compliance Mindset

I have often wondered: with all the information, tools and thinking at our disposal, why do so many organisations/brands remain in the relative ‘dark ages’ when it comes to ‘sustainability’ and ‘accountability?’

Much of the thinking around the issues relates to codes, standards and guidelines, set quotas and globally defined ‘norms.’ If no one ever pushes beyond these standards or norms, I think there is little to be said for the possibility of progress. A compliance mindset negates a deeper understanding of why said standards and norms exist, and tends to prevent growth and true action on certain issues.

My lecturer once used the example of driving on the freeway to explain compliance for compliance sake: there is a difference between driving at 100km/hour because that is the rule of the road and you run the risk of a fine, and driving a 100km/hour because of a sincere concern for the safety of the passengers in the vehicle and other people on the road.

Brands and organisations are particularly guilty of the compliance mindset as there are set reporting requirements and set standards that need to be met. Simply fulfilling the criteria is not enough to sustain human activity on the planet and to maintain our ability to grow- there needs to be a push toward reengineering thinking toward understanding-driven solutions.

The quote below speaks specifically to this sentiment:

“Conformity for conformity’s sake is unconstructive, costly and a waste of management’s time, because it fosters a compliance mindset, rather than the notion of sustainable business. Codes or standards should ideally provide a framework for appropriate actions that are specific to a company’s operations and long-term aims.” (Worthington-Smith, R (ed.) 2009:59)

I feel that the idea of the standards, codes or accepted ‘norms’ acting as a framework is a far more sustainable approach to business. It encompasses an understanding that (like humans) organisations and brands are unique in their construction, characteristics and identities. Moving away from compliance would allow for such considerations to be made and would offer more fulfilling and relevant opportunities to the organisations/brands.

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The Story of Bottle Water with Annie Leonard

For those who enjoyed the Story of Stuff video, also check out http://storyofstuff.org and http://storyofstuff.org/blog/

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Going Green…

The above video clip acts as a commentary on the practice of greenwashing. It begins to interact with the idea that consumers are being led down a certain path when it comes to their thinking around the environment and being ecologically responsible. Greenwashing is the term “used to describe the act of misleading consumers regarding the environmental practices of a company or the environmental benefits of a product or service” (Greenpeace, n.d).

It is often found that the terms ‘green’ and ‘sustainable’ are often seen as synonymous, and that ‘being green’ is the answer to being sustainable. While one cannot argue that environmental impact, and concern, isn’t of high importance when it comes to the issue of sustainability; one also has to understand that the environmental issue is not the only (societal) impact needing to be addressed.

Greenwashing is a practice or tool that severely impacts a movement toward real environmental sustainability. As discussed by Annie Leonard in The Story of Stuff video (which can be viewed in an earlier post) the mass-consumption of ‘things’ at a societal level is driving the world into crisis mode. As a population, we are significantly impacting the planet’s ability to sustain life, and for as long as we buy into corporate and media greenwashing, true environmental sustainability is unattainable.

Visit the Sins of Greenwashing website for an insight into the so-called ‘Seven Sins of Green Washing’ (http://sinsofgreenwashing.org). According to the website the seven sins read:

1. The “sin of hidden trade off”

This is the claim that conveys the product as an environmentally friendly product “based on a narrow set of attributes without attention to other important environmental issues,”

2. The “sin of no proof”

This involves claims of environmental friendliness (or ‘green-ness’) that cannot be substantiated adequately.

3. The “sin of vagueness”

This refers to a “poorly defined or broad” claim that can lead to consumer confusion or a misunderstanding.

4. The “sin of worshipping false labels”

This refers to the use of  “fake labels” as a way to “give the impression of third-party endorsement,” when in reality there is no such third party or the endorsement does not exist.

5. The “sin of irrelevance”

This is a ‘green’ “claim that may be truthful but is unimportant or unhelpful for consumers seeking environmentally preferable product.” The website makes use of the example of products that claim ‘CFC-Free’ even though “CFCs are banned by law.”

6. The “sin of the lesser of two evils”

This sin distracts “the consumer from the greater environmental impacts of the [product] category as a whole.”

7. The “sin of fibbing”

In other words, telling lies; particularly around ‘green-ness’ and ‘green’ attributes. (The Seven Sins, n.d)

Read more by clicking on the link (http://sinsofgreenwashing.org). You can also download their greenwashing report which provides interesting statistics relating to greenwashing.

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When the consumer talks…

Earlier this year BP came under-fire for the mismanagement of the environmental disaster caused by a BP Oil spill off the Gulf of Mexico. A campaign, UnF__k the Gulf was established as a way for consumers to display their disapproval at the actions of the transnational corporation. Watch the video below:

Please note that the clip below contains language some may deem inappropriate.

This video supports the argument that the consumer-mind is shifting toward a higher level of consciousness. Within a South African context we have a more apathetic consumer base, one that is not as preoccupied with the mechanics of value creation (a concern more readily associated with mature consumer markets,) however, the fact that there is a movement and a shift happening, should be reason enough to begin to take consumer perspective, as well as accountability for impact, into consideration.

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A small, but growing trend is the reengineering of business practice toward a more sustainable approach. It is arguable that this comes in the wake of a more conscious consumer, one who realises that “the way people buy and consume products and services has profound implications for the future health and happiness of our species” (Kleanthous and Peck, n.d: 6). Increasingly, we see organisations putting their ‘hands up’ and acknowledging the role they have to play in the process.

The household cleaning product category has, for several years, come under fire for issues such as contributing to Ozone damage and emitting “toxic pollutants” (Saxena, 2006). It was found that the cleaning products would release toxic gases into the air, which in turn would be breathed-in by inhabitants of the space. The presence of these pollutants has (and had) the potential to have significant, negative impact on the health of those exposed to the emissions (Saxena, 2006).

Enter, Method; bringing a new approach to the everyday category of household cleaning products. Adam Lowry and business partner, Eric Ryan have transformed the category into a stylish, hygienic and eco-friendly one. The success of this can be seen in the massive growth that the company has experienced over the last seven years. They have passed the $100 million business mark and have an employee base of around 100 people. Which Lowry suggests is, “pretty quick when it comes to a soap company” (Gordon, 2009).

Brands and products attempting a more ‘green’ approach to the category before the launch of Method in 2001, had called for the consumer to sacrifice a little something in the name of the environment. Lowry and Ryan identified that this was usually the efficacy of the cleaning product. They set out to create a product that not only answered to a more eco-efficient brief, but also to the fundamental fact that a cleaning product should do just that: clean. (Lee, 2009)

How do they do it?

“Every single ingredient in their formulas, including the packaging materials, are assessed and scored by the Environmental Protection and Encouragement Agency, an independent research institute,” (Lee, 2009). In addition, Method works hand-in-hand with the Design for the Environment (DFE), a subsection of the United States Environmental Protection Agency. Through this connection Method has attained recognition of the fact that their products are “safe for people and the environment” (Lee, 2009).

The content of the Method product is not the only element that is considered and approved. As mentioned above, the packaging and its construction is also carefully monitored and investigated. The Method packaging is “completely recyclable,” and is made from recycled material “whenever possible,” (Lee, 2009).

This approach to the environment and people has also become second nature in terms of the organisation’s business practice. While they acknowledge that they are not quite on the carbon-neutral mark, they make every attempt to be eco-minded across their value delivery chain. The trucks that they use to move their products are powered by biodiesel, a cleaner, more eco-friendly fuel that has a diminished effect on the environment in comparison to traditional diesel and petrol run vehicles. They encourage and offer incentives for the use of public transport or “self-propelled transportation” by their employees and have an in-house “recycling and composting system.” In addition, Method have “energy- and water-efficiency reporting programs [sp.] in place at all factories” (Lee, 2009).

Method is attributed as “single-handedly turning the consumer-packaged-goods industry on its head,” (our story, n.d). According to Method they are, “here to make products that work, for you and for the planet, ones that are as easy on the eyes as they are on the nose,” (we are… , n.d).

It is evident that Method has taken a completely new and diversified approach to the household cleaning product category. I feel that it is also important to note that the organisation has approached the idea of sustainability not only from an environmental perspective, but also from a people/consumer perspective. Understanding that as a household cleaning product company that are obliged to take accountability for the content, and effect, of their products, Method has managed to find a balance between products that are people- and planet-friendly, and products that work.

In turn this acknowledgement of responsibility and the necessity for sustainability has afforded the company significant growth over seven years, perhaps suggesting that there is truth to “doing well by doing good,” (Freedman, 2006).

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The Story of Stuff

The Story of Stuff provides an interesting discussion on the issues of sustainability and accountability. It also facilitates understanding of how, at a societal level, we are driving the world into crisis mode.

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The Issue of CSR and CSI

CSI and CSR are often considered to be born out of bad business practice.

CSR // Corporate Social Responsibility       CSI // Corporate Social Investment

CSI and CSR are rather problematic terms, still used frequently in branding and business. I refer to them as problematic because of the issue with semantics. Semantics (in a broad sense) refers to the meaning and understanding of words (American Psychological Association, n.d).

In the case of CSI and CSR, it is found that entities outside of the corporate realm are negated or sidelined because of the specificity of the word ‘Corporate.’ Individuals, governments and Non-profit organisations (as examples) also tend to recognise a role in society and the world, and therefore tend to want to assume a form of responsibility and contribution. In some instances, Non-profit organisations (NPOs) and informal entities are used as a means to carry out the investment and responsibility requirements for corporate entities.

The word ‘Social’ begins to neglect that the impact human presence has on the planet lies beyond only social impact. While some may argue that governance, economic and environmental concerns do, in the end, all relate into social concerns, I would argue that impact and responsibility in these different areas should be acknowledged independently. At the same time, it can be argued that a lack of clear understanding as to where responsibility and investment should lie, results in confusion and an ability to claim contribution where very little is actually occurring.

Lastly, ‘Investment’ often has connotations of small projects with small budgets, while the word ‘Responsibility’ tends to lack a sense of action and implementation. It is felt that because there is confusion as to the meaning of CSI and CSR, they are often used as a guise to hide behind.

This brings me to my next point; CSI and CSR are problematic because they are born out of bad business practice. The sudden and marked realisation that organisations operating in a fast-paced, consumption-driven society had a significant social, environmental and economic impact bought about a necessity for corporate philanthropy and social donation. Increasingly organisations ‘jumped on the bandwagon,’ giving CSR and CSI a bad name and connotations of being nothing more than green-washing, window-dressing and putting up a front. CSI and CSR strategies have largely become Band-Aids where surgical intervention is needed.

It is therefore necessary to start thinking of solutions (for organisations) that lie beyond the conventional CSI and CSR. As the consumers’ minds begin to shift, and information availability increases, organisations have to adopt a new approach. I feel that this approach is one of sustainability and accountability.

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