Fast Things 5: Mine your Bottles

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If we speak of fast things, then perhaps worrisome thoughts will emerge in your head. Ever more beautiful landfill poured out into open wounds in the earth, driven by the consumption of the desired but unnecessary. The anticlimactic sci-fi dystopia that is our age. Like lemmings, we march to the stores to partake in our t-shirt and top hobbies. With nothing to talk about between us, we stand in lines arms laden with a treasure trove of child labor.

A Day in the Life of a VC by Patagonia.

Gucci is the only ethical clothing company because they only produce in Italy. For those of us unable to afford more than their manpurse or cap this leaves us in ethical limbo (and no that is not some hip Swedish brand that the thinnest models wear). The beauty of 3D printing though is that we can have our cake and eat it too. With 3D printing, it should be possible to, for a certain extent, recycle a lot of goods and mix them in with virgin polymers to make new goods out of them. Not infinitely of course, but maybe a cycle or seven. If everything came with a QR code that would indicate all of the polymers, additives, and settings then even the complex plastic $300 limited edition running shoes could easily be broken down into their constituent parts for reassembly as another thing. Ground up old 3D prints, failures and water bottles could fuel future consumption. Technically this is already possible by using grinders and filament extruders.

A Patagonia T-Shirt: 100% recycled fabrics, PVC- and phthalate-free screen print ink, Fair Trade Certified sewn and bluesign approved. I have this T-shirt and I’m scared at just how smug it makes me feel.

The devil is in the details, however. We would need to cut several parts and the glue off of many water bottles while also cleaning and drying them properly. Together with the correct sorting and collection of goods, this is a herculean task. In some places where over-consumption, polymers, and millions of people coexist with a large urban poor population, such activity may be economically viable. In others, more machines and processes will have to be developed to enable them. Waste streams must also not become something for the local council or specialized firms.

Companies must en masse realize that if they obtain control over their waste stream that they will save costs. Alongside the environmental benefits and the perceived branding benefit, it is a beautiful thing if you manage to incentivize the general public to give you metals and polymers free of charge. Imagine having someone do work for free to provide you with something while simultaneously also feeling better about themselves and your brand? Screw recycling, how else do you get the suckers to like you so much? More ads? I think not. How do you transform yourself from a destroyer of millions of hectares of rainforest, which most large consumer brands are, to a savior?

Now what works is greenwash, but what if you could do real good while getting free materials? Imagine how happy your millennials will be! Is your good ultra scarce or are you as good a marketer as Supreme is? Then perhaps you may do well. But what if you make millions of something for tens of millions of people worldwide? The only option, in my mind, is to be the recycling and low environmental waste leader in your category. The greenest firm will win because is it by design more efficient. The more negative the news about mass die-offs of species, great big ocean waste patches and global warming becomes, the more likely the blame game will be. Oil companies seem impervious to boycotts and negative consumer pressure. But are you? What would happen if you would be seen as the wasteful clothing company, retailer, or car company? Will you spend millions making yourself look good then? I bet you will. But, there is now an opportunity to lead in your category.

I really want this hoodie but have resorted to just looking at the image while imaging how soft it would make me feel.

Become the Patagonia of energy drinks, real estate, or airlines. Think of other companies with an as pristine pro-environment brand as Patagonia? There aren’t any. Think of innovative brands, loved brands, fun brands, etc. There are many, many with good advertising and lots of love. But, green as can be there is only one! There is a huge potential here to be the category leader in green for your product.

At the same time, green begets green. Along with the environmental benefits, you can partner with your customers to together recycle. Now you’ve gone from destroyer to ally in saving the planet. The past conveniently is forgotten, and loyalty is yours. Efficiency will bring lower costs as well. Yes, there will have to be new distribution flows and retooling. Subsequently, however, there will be a considerable first-mover advantage. The only soft drink that doesn’t kill the planet is a fantastic brand opportunity. The fifth soft drink to go carbon neutral and have only recycled packaging will be playing defense and receive next to no recognition for it.

If you want to survive in a fast things world, then you have to make things that people will want to consume. If people feel guilt from over-consuming, then only by being the brand that takes this away, can you prosper in a world of fast things.

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