Eco-Iconic

Here’s a bit on trends, an occasional series from Trendwatching (or pdf). This issues takes eco-chic up another level, saying

…the shift looks somewhat like this: we’ve gone from Eco-Ugly (ugly, over-priced, low-performance, unsavory yet eco-friendly versions of the ‘real thing’) to Eco-Chic (eco-friendly stuff that actually looks as nice and cool as the less sustainable originals) to now Eco-Iconic: “Eco-friendly goods and services sporting bold, iconic markers and design, helping their eco-conscious owners show off their eco-credentials to their peers.”

Here’s an example,; Top reasons people bought a Prius:

In other words, marketing dictates success will go to those who now look green. Consider:

To create eco-icons, creating a eco-friendly version of an existing product and sticking a ‘hybrid’ or green label on it may work in some cases, but will most likely prove problematic, as it will either be (literally) invisible, or will still be associated with the polluting version.

This is not to be confused with green-washing. They mean that while a product may be eco, it also has to look it too. A good example is the Golf TDI. Looking generally staid and boring (the same body as the more polluting model), it gets better mileage than the much lauded Prius, is much punchier (it can sprint!) than the Prius and the TDI costs less too. Eric regularly gets 50 mpg or more in his but the car has none of the cachet of the Prius. Prius sales are increasing because people want others to know they’re driving a hybrid. This is the heart of the eco-ICONic trend. Looks. Again it would seem that more people care about their image so if you can appeal to their vanity, they’ll buy.

On a related note, Yahoo posts an article saying in part, that EcoGeeks get the girls:

Just in case you needed another reason to care about the environment: It turns out girls dig guys who dig environmental technology. According to a study conducted by GM as part of this year’s Challenge X competition:

  • Nearly 9 in 10 women (88 percent) say they’d rather chat up someone who owns the latest fuel-efficient car versus the latest sports car.
  • Eighty percent of American car buyers would find someone with the latest fuel-efficient car more interesting to talk to at a party than someone with the latest sports car.
  • More than 4 out of 10 (45 percent) 18- to 43-year-olds say it’s a fashion faux pas nowadays to have a car that’s not green or environmentally friendly.

There’s more from EcoGeek on whether it makes sense to sell your old car to buy a hybrid.

Another reported product doing well is the solar powered lap top bag produced by several companies, ranging in price from $274-$412. I guess that’s one way to signal you have money to spend. You lose the eco-cool factor blowing it on an expensive handbag. Solar cells on the bag’s exterior store energy to power your lap top. I guess it depends on where you live as to whether it’d make sense for you to have one. Around here, putting your laptop in a bag in the sun would melt it.

Another interesting trend from Trendwatching is Eco-Embedding. This is described as mostly increasing government and policy intervention in product and process sustainability. While I don’t completely disagree with the intent of policy (exception: diesels are banned in CA meaning you can’t buy the aforementioned TDI Golf there) I would disagree with Trendwatching’s assertion that consumers won’t notice it; sustainability becoming seamless. In the short term, pending generational and demographic shifts, I think it’s more of an issue that the choice will be removed from a consumer’s repertoire of options (not always a bad thing). A clear example is plastic bags:

  • 500 billion plastic bags are sold every year
  • Almost 80% of plastic bag use is by consumers in North America and western Europe
  • 88.5 billion plastic bags were used in the US in 2006
  • 1,460 plastic bags are used in a year by an average family of four in the US
  • Less than 1% of all plastic bags are recycled in the US
  • It takes 1,000 years for plastic bags to degrade

The fact is, most people won’t bring their own reusable bags to the store and likely never will even if they’re charged extra for disposables. Eco-embedding means removing choice by banning the bags outright as San Francisco has done with other municipalities following suit. Another example is a recent policy enacted in New York City. In just four years, the entire taxicab fleet in the city will be hybrid vehicles, reducing emissions by 50% over the next decade.

One last example I’m not entirely sold on is this:

The incandescent light bulb will be phased out of the U.S. market beginning in 2012. Under the measure, all light bulbs must use 25% to 30% less energy than today’s products by 2012 to 2014. Earlier, Australia and Italy became the first countries to announce an outright ban by 2010 on incandescent bulbs.

As BadmomGoodmom mentioned previously, incandescents still have uses, such as in closets. It takes too long for the CFLs to warm up, longer than one would have need to be poking about in a small closet which uses more energy -aside from inconvenience. Considering the cost of closet CFLs and expected usage, one will never recoup the cost (in energy savings) of having purchased them. As it happens, not all incandescents will be banned in the US. Those using fewer than 40 watts or more than 150 watts will be exempt. Still, I can see a big market for higher wattage CFLs, often used in warehouses and the like but I can’t imagine what they’d cost. I had some 400 watt incandescent bulbs in the Brewhouse and those cost over $20 apiece.

At the close of the article, Trendwatching mentions Eco-Boosting, a sort of one-upmanship among producers meaning it’s no longer sufficient to clean up your own mess, you score points by cleaning up someone else’s. Examples would be DEs who recycle materials to create new ones (whilst negating their own waste process too). Mentioned is a new search engine, ecocho from the UK. For every 1,000 searches made on the site, they plant two trees. Thus far they’ve planted over 5,000 trees, offsetting over two million kilos of CO2. Imagine if Google did that. They’d have to buy land to plant forests every month.

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11 comments

  1. Interesting. So what eco-icon can we have to gain marketing success with organic clothing? My organic wool will cost $34/yard more than my non-organic. I’m tiptoeing into it to see if it will sell.

    Actually, I wish PA would outlaw the plastic bags at grocery stores. I almost never remember to take my cloth bags, but if they didn’t have the plastic and I had to drive home and get my bags, I bet it wouldn’t take long before I remembered. Instead, I feel guilty, bag in plastic and then don’t remember. Guilt isn’t enough consequence. Wasting time and gas driving home is.

    Marguerite

  2. Kathleen says:

    When we converted to fabric bags, it took some transition time too. Eric does the grocery shopping (I do the cooking; a fair trade in my estimation). After unpacking the bags, he usually puts the bags back in the car or he piles them in front of the door so one has to step on them to get out the door. Then, there’s transition at the store. Having them there and still forgetting to use them. Or even, dealing with grocery clerks. In the past, he’s passed the bags to the checker who then put them all in a plastic bag…

  3. Grace says:

    The lightbulb series: http://badmomgoodmom.blogspot.com/search?q=light+bulb

    I am uncomfortable with eco-chic signaling. What happens when fashion changes? Will energy policy swing as quickly as hemlines? Is it too much to hope for rationality over hype?

    I rinse out plastic produce bags and stuff them into canvas bags. I put them on the doorknob so I remember to put them into the car. Mark is almost trained to use the canvas bags (~85% of the time). He thinks it is weird to reuse plastic produce bags but I persevere. I bring my own jars to the bulk bins, and the staff at Whole Foods no longer wonders what I am doing.

    We rarely get our groceries bagged in plastic because I am too type A to stand around and wait for them to bag my groceries. I bag them while the cashier scans them.

    I just bought some organic bamboo/cotton/lycra from Dharma Trading for ~$11/yd. It is sheerer than I like, so I will use it doubled in some areas. That makes it expensive, but it sure is soft.

  4. Valerie Burner says:

    I agree about the plastic bags. Most stores won’t even offer paper anymore, and living in the mountains like I do, it only took one trip back up the mountain with plastic to make me hate them. The groceries were all over the back of the car, and I had to bag them before removing them. I started saving the paper bags and taking those back to the store. (Some will give you a $0.05 credit for each paper or fabric bag). Paper bags also make great compost. I finally received some upholstery books and made my own “paper bags”, and everyone loves them… When I remember to bring them into the store.. Or as you said, they don’t try to charge me for them and put them into a plastic bag!

  5. Claire-Marie Costanza says:

    There is something about the “why I bought a Prius” survey that just didn’t sit right with me; now I realize what bothers me about it.

    If you give purchasers of ANY model of car a similar multiple choice survey, a big proportion of those car purchasers will also choose “Makes a statement about me”. Why did you buy a Hummer? Corvette? Cadillac Escalade? Volkswagon Bug? Ginormous Pickup Truck? Miata? “Makes a statement about me”.

    I have been amazed in the past to read about or talk to car buyers where the biggest deciding factor about which car to buy (a MAJOR purchase) is the styling or the “image” associated with the car. (Or where the cup holder is located.) I just don’t think Prius buyers are unique (or “more unique”) in this regard. If “Makes a statement about me” had not been one of the mulitple choices in the survey, the responders would have selected a different multiple choice and the results and the spin on this survey would be a bit different, me thinks. I’ve participated in mulitple choice phone surveys before; these are not open ended survey questions.

    Claire-Marie

  6. Gail says:

    I have a MINI Cooper. Surveys of MINI Cooper owners also say that their car ‘makes a statement about me’. Hubby used to drive a Lincoln Mark 8 (yuck). He also would have marked that the car ‘makes a statement about me’.

    If people are car conscious, then yes, the car makes a statement about them. If all they want is to get from point A to point B, then they could care less.

    That was a crappy survey.

    As an aside, Hubby now drives a Jetta TDI. He *loves* it. VW is making a huge mistake by not bringing more of their diesels to the US.

  7. Anita says:

    I’d love to see more diesels in the US, since you can run them on a lot of different bio-blends as well as regular diesel fuel. I was intrigued by them when I stumbled upon http://www.greasecar.com
    It fascinates me that you can make diesel cars run on waste cooking oil – it’s recycling and less polluting at the same time.

    That said, my dream car is the Tesla electric sports car. I’ll have to be very successful in my business if I hope to afford that one at $100K+. But it’s so cool :-)

  8. Natasha says:

    My dad used to drive a converted biodiesel car during the oil crisis in the 70’s. He converted it himself and ran it off fish and chip oil. There are a few around here. You don’t notice them until you start craving fries or chinese food and the smell is wafting in the cabin

    One caveat on the Telsa’s and other similar cars they don’t go that fast. We were looking at one for short commutes but they don’t go over 35 miles per hour and in LA you can drive that slow even on the streets.

  9. Claire-Marie Costanza says:

    The Tesla will do 0 to 60 mph in 3.9 seconds, top speed 125 mph. That ought to be fast enough.

    http://www.teslamotors.com/

    The Tesla does indeed “make a statement about me” for many reasons, not just Eco-Chic.

    A quick google search reveals other electric cars (in production now or soon) that can reach and maintain freeway speeds. NEVs (Neighborhood Electric Vehicles) do indeed have lower top speeds (25-35) but NEVs are only one type of electric car.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neighborhood_electric_vehicle

    Claire-Marie

  10. Eric H says:

    I’m with Grace on this: I’m glad that the trend has shifted toward green where it’s reasonable, but I’m a little uneasy.

    Things are not always as they appear. The shift from paper towards plastic bags in the first place was in response to an earlier belief that we were killing trees to make them. True, but most of it comes from farmed trees grown for that purpose. Thus, we had a fashionable shift from a renewable to a non-renewable resource. The pro-hybrid regulation may be similar: taxi drivers are not too stupid or poor (a medallion in NYC costs $300,000) to make that kind of investment on their own, and GM may have previously had a hand in driving out autobuses and jitneys, so one wonders what kind of back-room dealing was involved. And of course it puts the city in the position of picking the winner, which the hybrid may not be.

    But my bigger concerns are (a) how much of this is greenwashing, and (b) what happens when people reach green saturation and fashions shift?

  11. Lisa Bloodgood in Portland says:

    I make sure to put my reusable bags back in the car. They’re the Trader Joe’s ones made out of the same stuff they make tarps out of, so while they’re not organic cotton or something, they are reusable. I have a bag from Target made of…it’s like thick nonwoven interfacing…and some tarp material ones from Ikea that are larger than the Trader Joe’s ones that I keep inside for when I walk or take the bus for fewer things.

    I wouldn’t mind having a car that runs on biodiesel or soap or some nifty Tesla thing. Tesla was cool. For now it’s an old Geo Metro.

    “what happens when people reach green saturation and fashions shift?”
    Maybe almost everything will be green and by then no one will notice. I think the better we take care of our planet and resources, the better. How would this help or hinder silk producers? I like silk and sometimes it’s the best thing for the job. Also, white or off-white silk organza makes a really strong and nifty pressing cloth. I got that tip from Threads, but I’ve been using one for probably a year, and it’s great.

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