Category Archives: Brand/Marketing

new Emeco Navy Chair made of 111 recycled plastic bottles

Debuting at the Milan Furniture Fair this past spring was one very familiar looking chair.  The iconic Emeco aluminum Navy chair was developed back in 1944 and is a widely recognized symbol of mid-century American design.  However, this years fair saw a new Navy chair that despite all the familiar lines was something all together different.  Dubbed the 111 Navy chair, this chair is composed of a specially formulated composite containing 111 recycled plastic bottles.  The chair is part of a joint venture between Emeco and Coca-cola, and is over 4-years in the making. The result is a strikingly colorful plastic version of the original classic that carries a message to consumers that up-cycling our plastic waste can be both viable and beautiful.

The 111 Navy  is constructed from a hollow one-piece injection molding with a semi-gloss scratch resistant surface. It comes  in 6  bold colors including Coca-Cola red, snow, flint gray, grass, persimmon and charcoal.  The 111 recycled PET bottles make up about 60% of the chair which is reinforced with glass fiber to achieve the desired structural integrity.  Around 300 million recycled Coca-Cola bottles will go into 1 year of production for the chair.  This is just a fraction of the bottles Coke produces but regardless is an impressive example of upcycling use for soda bottles.

Coca-cola has long been involved in various large scale projects attempting to reinvest the company and it’s brand in better recycling strategies and awareness amongst consumers.  This particular venture is also unique in that it resulted in a product that is not immediately identifiable as being part of the Coca-cola brand.   In fact, the designers stayed quite true to the original Emeco chair. Rather than emblazoning the chair with Coke’s strong visual equities, as with other promotional objects, they restrained themselves to including just a small raised bottle detail on the top of the chair back.  Other than a familiar color scheme, what’s really left is a nice plastic version of the classic aluminum design, with the balanced visual appeal and heritage of the original Navy chair.  What I find most interesting is the way this product ties together two, previously unrelated, classic American design icons of such differing recognition.  This may be appealing merely for its irony, but regardless it creates an interesting narrative.

Recycling, and more specifically upcycling remains a challenging proposition to most companies.  The crux of the problem is that the business and infrastructure for collecting usable waste materials like plastic bottles remains  fragmented and under-serving to the volume created.  This is compounded by the fact that a growing global economy insures that inexpensive raw materials are always available.  Certain materials may have great potential for becoming more widely used manufacturing stocks, but there must be a greater effort to consolidate the collection, cleaning, and processing of such materials before the demand for producing mass market products can be met.  It will be expensive to implement, but has long term advantage to whomever captures ‘the stream’. Coke just took one step closer.

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the apple ipad: just a begining

image via apple.com

Wow! I can’t believe how much debate is flying around about Apple’s new product, the iPad, which they officially introduced yesterday. People expect a lot from Apple these days, and apparently they get really upset when the newest  apple product just isn’t something they instantly want. Though I do understand some of the criticism, I feel much of the feedback is a little misplaced. Interestingly enough, much of the most vehement negative commentary is coming directly form some of apple’s biggest devotees; creatives.  It’s widely known that many of apple’s most ardent followers lean heavily on the creative side of things, i.e. designers, artists, etc.  They are upset because they expect apple products to be ‘tools’ for their creation of work and expression, and the ipad is clearly NOT intended for producing any type of content, but rather for consuming it.  And that’s fine. If the recent success of e-readers like the Kindle has taught us anything its that there is a momentous shift underway to bring every last shred of existing media, art, and entertainment content to a digital audience. Creating an attractive and well designed product with which people can experience this transition of content, is certainly a legitimate cause for a new entry form apple. I think it’s pretty clear that, in typical apple fashion, this a preemptive entry into a still developing market, just as the now iconic iPod was nearly a decade ago.

The one thing I will agree on with the dissenters is that the name “iPad” is absolutely horrible.  Can’t win em’ all apple, try again.

wal-mart sustainability index – free market sustainability?

wal-mart-storesmallerEarlier this month Wal-Mart announced a bold new plan to create a comprehensive “sustainability index” for every product it sells.  The index is intended to capture the full impact of each product and “effectively quantify the sustainable attributes of a product by examining the energy & climate, material efficiency, natural resources, and people & community aspects of a manufactured product throughout its life cycle”.  The following link is to Wal-Mart’s 16 sustainability questions, on which the index is based. The end goal will not be to apply a simple score, or ranking to each product, but rather to force Wal-Mart’s suppliers to analyze their products and processes, and then release real information, and benchmarking concerning their respective practices.  This will then create greater transparency amongst suppliers in the hopes that they will begin competing with one another to create more sustainable products.  Though Wal-Mart will be giving preference to those suppliers whom provide the “greenest” options, the full scope of this preference will remain ambiguous, leaving it up to the suppliers themselves to determine the highest standards.

This approach is typical for many of Wal-Marts past initiatives, which have employed their global market influence to encourage others to make certain changes to their businesses without direct involvement or funding from Wal-mart themselves.  Wal-Mart’s authority comes from the fact that they are the worlds single largest retailer.  Previously, this power was used to force lower prices, but the same leverage is now serving a grander scheme of using free-market pressures to produce more sustainable products – a very provocative and increasingly buzzed about concept.

sustainable-wal-martThe immense challenge of creating an index complex enough to cover the tens of thousands of products sold by Wal-Mart, has lead to their creation of the Sustainability Consortium – “a group comprised of leading academic researchers and companies, working collaboratively to design and develop the Sustainable Index”.  The consortium includes institutions like Arizona State University and University of Arkansas, and is being expanded to include other leading retailers such as BestBuy and Target.  The index will no doubt see considerable iteration in years to come, but for the time being it represents a very compelling starting point.

It’s always exciting to see Wal-Mart continue to push the envelope in the realm of sustainable products and packaging.  Though many progressives, will continue to “love to hate” the mega retailer, they will have a harder time keeping up if Wal-Mart continues raising the stakes the way they are.  We’ll be watching closely as the the”index” begins being applied, to see from where the most measurable changes come from. Exciting stuff.

“greener” magazines

magazinesI recently came across GreenerMags, a new interactive publishing platform developed by the eco-preneurial company FirstRide.  The platform is intended to create an alternative publishing and social networking space for readers, publishers, and advertisers – and I must say it does so quite beautify.

Before getting into how GreenerMags works, I should offer you a little background into the guys who conceived it.  Firstride is an interactive company located in my former neighborhood here in Brooklyn, Williamsburg. The company’s mission is to improve upon existing industries by creating compelling online brands that extend the cultural and environmental benefits thereof.  Their original project, FirstRide Cars was a specially catered web portal that allowed consumers to order fuel-efficient, flat priced cars through a more efficient and enjoyable experience than otherwise available.  Beginning in the New York area they carefully selected the cars and the dealer network “to bring a responsible and stylish approach to the car business by making it easier to order safer, cooler, greener cars online.”  The great thing about FirstRide Cars is it generated a sense of community in the car buying process in a way that could be detached from allegiance to a specific brand or company. This showed the potential of bringing together a broader consumer base around a common social interest and aesthetic appreciation rather than pushing the conventional marketing-speak.

Firstride has taken this philosophy a step further with GreenerMags, by creating an alternative platform by which to experience online content.  The motivation is pretty straight forward; to avoid the waste associated with traditionally printed magazines.  Magazines, of course, use vast amounts of paper, resulting in the needless destruction of trees.  Additionally, magazines thick and glossy coated pages makes them difficult to recycle meaning they will inveritably end up in our already clogged landfills.  But this is not simply another online magazine, GreenerMags is a completley new interactive platform designed to create a unique viewing experience.

frmagRather than giving up all that makes printed magazines great, and simply modifying content so it fits on a typical web page or blog, GreenerMags takes its inspiration from the print experience to create a full-page, horizontal viewing environment.  No banner adds or generic browser page formating, GreenerMags recreates the design purity of printed content in a semless side scrolling panel.  This allows only the intended content to be the focus of the viewer, including interctive elememnts like embedded video and audio files.  Advertisments can maintain their full-page pressence so they no longer have to be converted in to sterile little side bars, or obnoxious flash animations that constantly pollute the periphery, as on many websites. By gently gliding the cursor across the page one can leaf back and forth through the pages, viewing each spread in its totality.

Its well known that the magazine industry is under some serious economic pressure these days, with many well known titles being lost on the chopping block of large and small publishers alike.  Despite these dire circumstances there are always new opportunities to be forged by those willing to push the status quo. Though they may just be getting started, I hope to see GreenerMags gain momentum as more print-minded people understand that going digital is not the same as giving up.

The Gort Cloud?

gort_cloud

There has been much written in recent years on the affect that new media and communication technology is having on the business world.  However the myriad of new conduits and networks that now drive new companies and their brands can be hard to grasp given their constant state of change.  The new book ‘The Gort Cloud: The Invisible Force Powering Today’s Most Visible Green Brands’ examines the invisible construct that has been specifically to 23 of the top Green companies in the US, including Seventh Generation, Tesla Motors, Southwest Wind power, and Interface.

The author, Richard Seireeni makes a number of very compelling observations that help the reader understand the Gort Cloud in action.  It seems straight forward in theory; a complex network that includes aspects of web 2.o, viral marketing, social media, and crowd sourcing.  But what’s most significant is the vast number of people it connects and the variety of groups and individuals it reaches.  The ‘Cloud’ connects brands not only to potential customers but also to potential investors, employees, suppliers, distributors, bloggers, trend spotters, and business news channels, at nearly no cost.  While this idea of a green community is well known and talked about, it is still very interesting to see how many of these leading companies used cloud connections to reach strategic partners that would not necessarily have been available in a conventional business context.  This is well illustrated by the examples of NGOs and certifying agencies being enlisted to test products, and upstart green technology providers collaborating as a means to advance there own exposure.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect applied to the Gort Cloud is its ability to provide greater credibility than conventional media channels.  It can do this because it is an essentially open forum, that is being viewed by millions of people with a common interest in improved sustainability and environmental preservation.  This creates a type of mass peer review of anything that enters the cloud, resulting in any exaggerated or unsubstantiated claims being quickly identified.  I never really considered how valuable those snarky blog comments probobly are in the big picture, though I do still find them to be a bit anoying sometimes.