Friday, July 18, 2008

Bagging up the green

There's a rise of environmentally friendly products and the surge in popularity of these products (yes, I mean the Prius) has got me thinking what is really Green and what is Green marketing. Not to say that the two can't be combined. A fine example of this are the re-usable bags given out at some retailers. I always thought that the path to fewer landfills and manufacturing polluted water and air is - surprise - consuming less. This is an odd statement coming from a member of a generation that worships at the church of Capitalism (the mall). There are some innovative ways that some stores have figured out to minimize consuming without minimizing profits and expanding their influence in public. This is part of a green marketing combination that’s quieter than a hybrid engine. This is part of the Green Scheme. Reusable, colourful, logo scorched bags instead of plastic or paper alternatives. Some come with discounts.

I think the true pioneers of the movement were the discount food stores. In Canada, the names No Frills and Food Basics spring to mind. You have to pay an extra 10 cents for a sturdy, plastic bag. Alternatively, you can bring your own or pick up one of the cardboard boxes near the front of the store used to courier the produce in and take your purchases home in those. The boxes are given a chance to serve a second purpose instead of being immediately thrown away by the store. Not a super flattering alternative, but by the number of higher end vehicles found in the parking lots of these establishments, it's clear that the practice isn't reserved for those tight on cash. That's just thrifty. But we're long past those days. We need to be more innovative, push it more. I picture people in a boardroom thinking "How can we incorporate self promotion?"

I really hate the idea of $80 sweat pants, despite the fact that they bear the coveted Lululemon logo, but I guess if you are a yoga enthusiast, it is justified. Where Lululemon lost out on pricing for me, they have made up in the bags you use to carry away the precious yoga gear. Those bags are awesome.

I think the marketing planning behind this was almost perfect. Take the subway at rush hour or go to a park/beach on the weekend. EVERYONE has one of those bags that can be easily folded when the content is consumed. These bags were designed to be reused. If you were to decide to refuse the bag, Lululemon will give you a 50 cent discount on your purchase. By the looks of the downtown core in the morning hours, I doubt anyone refuses the bag on their first purchase.

The Soup Nutsy (or Nazi) of Seinfeld fame has its own green scheme. With your first purchase, you are given a paper bag to carry your soup, bread and fruit/vegetable. The bag says that if you bring it back, you get a discount of 25 cent on your next order. There are just a few retailers that have taken on these plans but others are sure to follow. With your bags being waved all over town, retailers are accomplishing three goals that other businesses are spending literally billions of dollars trying to do:

You actually look like you care
. There are numerous imitation environmentally friendly projects out there that just scream fake. If you're not cutting down forests, you're releasing too many chemicals in the "green" manufacturing process. If you're not using as much fuel, you are spending more fuel getting the your vehicle's auto parts shipped from far and wide. Here, not so much the case.

Get your name out there
. Standing in a subway car filled with morning commuters, I am often surrounded by a sea of red, white and black Lululemon bags. It's like having a billboard in my face for 30 minutes. How much does a half hour commercial cost to produce and then air twice every day? Better than having people glance at your logo on a plastic bag in a garbage can, that's for sure.

Maintaining a loyal customer base. Granted, the savings aren't huge but it is easier to save than to earn. As for the Soup Nutsy, the bag I keep in my desk drawer regularly reminds me of the Soup Nutsy's existence and how I may enjoy another visit.

The notion of environmentally products has really spun out of control. Anything that uses slightly less metal, wood or water but then more of some other quickly-vanishing resource is not green. Using less period brings more to the environment. And hey, if you can use that for publicity all the more green energy-efficient power to you!

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