Icebreaker: From lust to love

It’s not very often that I fall in love with a company based solely on their advertising campaign; in fact, it’s only happened twice. Icebreaker is one of these companies – a relative “dark horse” in the sense that they aren’t a company that would have likely ever been on my radar. (Read as an admission that I’m not the most outdoorsy person). I first learned about Icebreaker in a sustainability marketing class from group members. A quick Google search of the company and I was in love.

Their ads are racy. Their ads are provocative. Their ads are unique. Their ads toe the line of offensive. Their ads are unbelievable. Their ads are polarizing.

First, let me give you a bit of a background on Icebreaker, because once I show you images of their ads, I guarantee my words will no longer register. Icebreaker is a sustainable New Zealand-based merino wool outdoor garment manufacturer. Leveraging the renewable resource of wool, Icebreaker internalizes a sustainability-orientation in all aspects of their business. Emphasizing transparency throughout their process, Icebreaker’s products are all traceable using a BAACODE. This enables consumers to go online and trace the location of the herd from which the wool in their product came, as well as where it was processed and manufactured.

The business model is amazing, with sustainability at it’s core. Icebreaker states that “It’s about our relationship with nature, and to each other.” Admirable. Understanding their business model simply reiterated my shallow love for the brand. I don’t actually believe in love at first sight; you can’t love somebody based upon appearance – that’s called lust, folks. So, I guess my feelings for Icebreaker were really “lust at first sight” rather than “love at first sight.” Now you’re about to see why.

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Had enough??? Well, lucky for you I’ll give you the option of whether or not you can handle a little more. If you think you’re up to it, watch this video!

Polling the Readers: Are Icebreakers ads inappropriate and offensive, or simply good marketing?

Happy Nappy: Making cloth diapers a realistic alternative

Babies need a lot of stuff. Clothing. Bottles. Toys. Diapers. It’s expensive. It produces a lot of waste. As we all know, there is a macro-social trend of couples choosing more natural lifestyle alternatives, including childbirth and childrearing. More people are choosing midwives over doctors. More people are choosing breastfeeding over bottle-feeding. Are more people choosing cloth diapers over disposable diapers?

I can unequivocally and confidently state that dirty diapers are gross. I have nieces and nephew. I have a ton of cousins. I’m fully aware. I care about the environment; I know disposable diapers are bad for it. But still, the last thing I want to do is wash a dirty diaper – gross.

Enter Happy Nappy.

When the Happy Nappy team visited Dragons Den, they left empty handed: the dragons didn’t believe their services were needed. Operating with a product in an industry that will exist as long as babies are born, Happy Nappy has seen growing success. They meet parents’ demands for keeping babies dry and comfortable in an environmentally sustainable way – and the Happy Nappy team does all the work.

Happy Nappy manufactures cloth diapers, delivering a fresh batch to customers’ houses weekly and removing the previous week’s dirty diapers to be laundered at their warehouse. Aware of the concerns many have over chemicals in cleaning supplies, Happy Nappy’s laundering process is certified phosphate free, chlorine-less, and balances pH levels to match a baby’s skin pH level. They even go as far as to only use cold-water detergents, further minimizing their environmental impact. Their goal is to use a laundering process that is environmentally and – more importantly – baby friendly. Did I mention that overall, it’s also cheaper to use cloth diapers?

Happy Nappy isn’t available everywhere. In fact, there are only franchises servicing select parts of British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario, and Saskatchewan. However, with a growing consumer demand for environmentally friendly alternatives, it is possible that there will be increased growth of Happy Nappy.

Some “fun facts” that may encourage parents to use services like Happy Nappy instead of disposable diapers: the average disposable diaper will stay in a landfill for approximately 500 years. Over 4 million diapers are disposed of per day in Canada. That is a whole lot of waste being added to the landfill. Cloth diapers are admittedly not the right choice for every parent, just as a midwife and breastfeeding aren’t the right choice for every person. It’s simply an alternative, one with considerable environmental benefits compared to the disposable alternative.

Recycling at UBC: Making it as easy as 1-2-3

I go to UBC, which is on its way to becoming one of the most sustainable universities in North America. UBC states: SUSTAINABILITY defines UBC as a university. Through our collective efforts in education, research, partnerships and operations, we advance sustainability on our campus and beyond.” With the UBC Sustainability Initiative leading the charge, UBC is committed to focusing on the campus as a living laboratory and the university as an agent of change. In fact, UBC is home to the greenest building in North America.

Opened in 2011, the Centre for Interactive Research on Sustainability (CIRS) is a “living laboratory” that is currently the most sustainable building in North America.

I am proud of what UBC has accomplished. I am proud of what UBC has committed to. I am proud of what UBC is working on. I am not proud of UBC’s current recycling practices, or the unsustainable recycling behaviour of UBC students. Some might argue that students have the tools to recycle. Our containers in the Student Union Building are biodegradable. We have recycling bins. We’re discussing a move to ban the sale of bottled water on campus. So why do I see photocopies and soda cans in the trash? Our student body is educated; we know better than to engage in this sloppy and lazy behaviour. So why don’t we?

We know that to influence behaviours, we must engage in (some of) the following activities:

  1. Remove barriers
  2. Provide incentives
  3. Impose penalties for alternate behaviours
  4. Give feedback
  5. Capitalize on commitment
  6. Use prompts
  7. Develop social norms
  8. Communicate congruently

With respect to norms, we are all socially aware of the injunctive norm that we need to recycle. However, all across campus we are surrounded by descriptive norms of those who throw everything in the trash rather than take the time to recycle. I have done some observation as well as questioned my peers, and I believe the main barriers to recycling on campus are:

  1. Poor recycling facilities / bins
  2. Unclear labeling of which items go in which bin
  3. Lack of prompts

In the Sauder School of Business’s home building, Henry Angus, we have minimal availability of recycling facilities / bins. I  believe that students want to recycle, we just aren’t given easy access to the necessary tools. Personally, despite my knowledge or recycling, I find it de-motivating that when I leave my classrooms, I have to first find a place to recycle. There are perhaps two disposal bins per floor for recycling, but garbage bins aplenty, and I have only ever found paper recycling bins – we do not have any recycling bins for cans or aluminum or organic waste that I am aware of (at least nearby classrooms). Furthermore, the bins we have are the massive bins that belong in the storage room. Well-organized bins, such as the ones below, would clearly illustrate where waste should be placed and would ultimately increase the frequency of recycling.

I propose we develop an organized waste management system that incorporates four to five clearly labelled bins, using visuals and colour to engage students and make the system simple. There should be a bin for (landfill) waste, food waste, paper products, organic products, and glass / aluminum products. Other schools have achieved great success with similar systems. They do not need to be large, and can actually be quite visually appealing. Placing these waste management systems in classrooms and hallways will inevitably increase the frequency of proper waste disposal by UBC students, furthering UBC’s commitment to a macro sustainable behaviour change.

Sample Organized Waste Management System

Additionally, I think UBC can do more to provide feedback to students. Our campus in well enroute to being sustainable; communicate this to students! Too many students are unaware of the initiatives, which I find sad because it is such a great source of pride for the UBC community. I mean, come one – which UBC student doesn’t want another bragging point when we illustrate our superiority over UVic?

“Sustainable Walmart” = Oxymoron Defined

In its very essence, Walmart is the epitome of an unsustainable organization.  Like any big box store, Walmart’s are traditionally located off the beaten track where they are built on cheaper real estate, thus the very act of consumers driving to a Walmart to shop is one of many illustrations of unsustainability. It’s like the “Outlet Mall Fallacy” – by the time consumers factor in their time, gas, wear and tear on their vehicle, and so on, is it really worth it to go all the way to Walmart to shop?

Plagued by critics condemning them for poor employee practices, perpetuating labour violations among suppliers, and similarly negative sentiments, Walmart is a company used to controversy. When they rebranded, changing the company name from Wal-Mart to Walmart and developing a refreshed colour scheme and logo design, Walmart introduced a new sustainability commitment.

Sustainable Walmart – Am I the only person who finds this oxymoronic?

As a large corporation, Walmart has a significant sphere of influence. Consequently, I believe they have a correspondingly large responsibility to demonstrate sustainable and positive behaviours. Walmart seems to be addressing this from a triple bottom line perspective: the economy, the environment, and the society. But what implications will these measures have for Walmart stakeholders, particularly consumers and suppliers?

Consumers don’t shop at Walmart because it’s sustainable; in fact, in a survey I conducted two years ago, respondents overwhelming agreed they didn’t actually care if Walmart was sustainable. This leads me to question why Walmart bothered introducing these sustainability measures, particularly as Sam Walton’s original approach was solely on a low-price focus: “Always low prices. Always.” The most logical conclusion I can draw is that it has to do with proactively making changes so that regulatory changes have a reduced negative impact on the corporation and their image. That, and it’s a great way for Walmart to improve their image.

Walmart’s “Responsible Growth” Advertisement

By introducing measures such as the Supplier Sustainability Index, Walmart is putting top-down pressure on suppliers to enhance practices to incorporate greater efficiency and sustainability. On the flip side, the very nature of Walmart’s supply structure demands quick turnover and response time by suppliers; in order to meet Walmart’s steep demands, suppliers have often cut corners in areas like employee well-being and health standards. Nonetheless, this increased pressure on suppliers is likely to result in changes throughout the entire commodities sector.

Historically, Walmart’s activities and efforts have had a domino effect on the economy and business practices; the same will likely be true as Walmart continues to reinforce their commitment to triple bottom line sustainability. One thing is clear: Walmart’s current strategy transcends founder Walton’s initial strategy of focusing almost solely on low prices; the company is demonstrating a greater commitment to the “how” rather than just the end product. Despite the significant discourse faced by Walmart, they are becoming progressively harder to hate as they address many of the areas and business practices long condemned by supporters and critics. As writer Lloyd Alter aptly stated, “The Wal-Mart Effect may yet do for the environment what it did for the American economy, which was to affect us all, whether we shopped there or not.”