Our firm continually measures consumers’ attitudes and behaviors as they relate to sustainability, and we help companies and brands achieve a market advantage based on that research. We know better than anyone what motivates different segments of the population to make sustainable choices.
You know what motivates me? As our resident geek, I get jazzed by killer digital products that I can integrate into my daily life to make things easier and enable me to live a more sustainable lifestyle. Starting later this month, I’ll begin to share my observations about those digital products, where they succeed and where they fail. First on the list will be Good Guide, Nest, and Practically Green, but before that, let’s explore what for me is a constant source of internal debate.
There’s a persistent conundrum about being digital and being green. Electronic devices -- from the MacBook Air, iPad, Kindle, iPhone, and Canon Powershot I tote around on a regular basis to the massive server farms that power Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, and other major Internet companies -- have a notoriously high cost to the environment to produce and operate. All of these companies have strategic initiatives to reduce their carbon footprints -- like using solar to power server farms and abiding by EPEAT (the global directory for greener electronics) design standards for electronics -- but there’s only so much they can realistically do.
On the flip side, these devices and other technologies can also have a positive eco-impact. With film cameras, you had to take the film canister to a local photo developer who used chemicals to develop the entire roll (including the out-of-focus or poorly composed ones). Today, digital cameras allow us to upload, edit and share photos without even printing them, and to print only those we choose using less harmful inkjet printers. A recent story on C|net’s News.com revealed that the typical usage patterns for the iPad require less than $2 per year in energy costs for recharging, which is far less than the laptops that they may be displacing for many people.
So how do you solve this green/digital dilemma at both the personal and corporate level?
- Evaluate each company’s commitment to sustainability in their product design and manufacturing processes. Many companies today have sustainability sections of their websites, and if they don’t, they should. (If yours is one of the companies that hasn’t clearly articulated its sustainability story on its web site in a way that can actually gain the company a market advantage, for goodness’ sake please call us.)
- Consider how your choices will impact your own behaviors. My first-generation Amazon Kindle uses very little power and has replaced dozens of books over the last three years. I don’t print the myriad PDF versions of reports and presentations that influence my thinking, I save them to iBooks and Keynote on my iPad. As you create your own reports and presentations, consider how your readers may also be changing their reading behaviors in similar ways.
- Make a plan for what you’ll do with the devices when you’re done with them, including reselling, donating or returning them to the manufacturers who support device recapture programs. (Our studies show that consumers increasingly expect manufacturers to help them deal with end-of-life products, so this can be an important communications objective.)
One of the things you can do that has the most impact is one that is hard for me: Don’t buy a new device until you truly have a use for it. And encourage your consumers to do the same. That may seem to fly in the face of selling more product, but in the end, it’s an excellent way to build brand loyalty.