On April 16, 2014 I was honoured to be asked to present at the University of The Fraser Valley’s inaugural Graphic and Digital Design Portfolio Show. For those that attended, here are links to some of the resources I mentioned in my talk. For the other 6,999,999,850 or so of you who missed it, the approximate text of the speech follows.
You Are Here – The Talk: April 14, 2014 – Heritage Park Center, Mission, BC
Welcome. Thank you for having me, here, and congratulations to the University of The Fraser Valley Graphic & Digital Design Class of 2014.
You are here. And you are, indeed, green. But that’s not a bad thing.
I was once green, too. A long time ago in a galaxy far far away. Thirty years ago, in Calgary. I rummaged through old boxes of photos and found my original promo shot. I think I saw too many Tom Cruise movies… Yeah, I was green all right. Green as grass.
I graduated from the Alberta College of Art in 1984. George Orwell had predicted constant surveillance, a perpetual and undefined state of war, doublespeak and fascism dressed as strong government. (That wouldn’t really come until 30 years later)
Michael Jackson gave us Thriller, Eddie Van Halen told us to Jump. Prince sang about Purple Rain and acid rain was the environmental scare of the day.
The Macintosh launched. With a Superbowl TV ad that made history. When I graduated, we still pasted our layouts on to boards with beeswax. Auto correct was done with an exacto knife. But through it all, there was always someone we could call. The Ghostbusters. (RIP Harold Ramis)
But in 1984 another team of people was setting out to save the world. The United Nations asked the Prime Minister of Norway, Gro Harlem Brundtland, to create an independent organization, to focus on environmental and developmental problems and solutions. Three years later, this Brundtland Commission published a report called “Our Common Future”, giving us one of the key definitions of sustainable development, still being used and abused today.
“Sustainable development is the kind of development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”
At the time, when I graduated, I had no clue about any of it.
So now I have to make an environmental confession, if you will permit. Forgive me David Suzuki, for I have sinned.
What’s the worst environmentally damaging thing you have done? For me, it was this. A 1972 Oldsmobile Delta 88 i bought for $100. It had a 455 cubic inch V-8 engine. It moved me from Calgary to Vancouver in 1985, probably emitting as much carbon as a loaded 747 at take-off.
But the car itself was not my worst crime.
You see I used to change the oil in that car… And what do you think I did with the old stuff? Take it to the garage for recycling? Nope. I dumped it right in the alley. At our house, a block from the Bow River. I’d call a cop if I saw someone doing that today.
Somewhere out there is a 2-headed trout calling me ‘grandpa’.
I share this story not merely to cleanse my soul, but to illustrate why It’s so important that as designers and businesses we embrace the concept of Sustainability Literacy.
Even if you don’t think we’re all going to hell on a hockey stick graph, these days you need to understand the concepts of sustainability. Not knowing enough about sustainability can put your design practice your clients or your business at risk. And when we are ignorant, we are dangerous.
Sustainability is a technology. You can think of it as an upgraded operating system for the economy. And like any technological innovation, its adoption can be graphed. The standard technology adoption curve is basically the same for any new idea or invention. From the leading edge early adopters to the laggards. It can also be illustrated with cartoons. (A picture tells a thousand words)
So even if that is you, at the far end of the curve, driving your Hummer, and you don’t care about sustainability, the people on the other end of the scale do. These are the letter writers. The protesters. The leaders of shareholder activism.
And besides the pressure from these groups, there is increased scrutiny on environmental regulation and claims. Are you a label reader? Do you look at ingredients? How about where a product is made? What about certifications?
All certifications are not created equal.
For businesses selling packaged goods, or designers out there wanting to do packaging design work, theres a riveting document out there called Environmental Claims: A Guide for Industry and Advertisers. This is a treatise put out by the good people at the Office of Consumer Affairs Canada. Among other things, it outlines three basic levels of certification.
Type I Eco Labels – are Independently verified by a third party through a testing process, usually around components of a life cycle
Examples: Canada Ecologo, USDA Organic, Canada Organic, Energy Star
Type II Eco Labels – are self-declared claims made by manufacturers, distributors or others who stand to gain by an improved environmental perception of the brand. Usually on a single product attribute. Credibility of these claims can be strengthened if manufacturers provide the supporting information in a clear, accurate and easily accessible way.
Examples include ‘Biodegradable’, ‘Non Toxic’ and ‘Recycled’
Type III Eco Labels – A comprehensive Data list based on performance of a product throughout its life cycle. Similar to nutritional labeling.
So what about a label promoting a CFC Free product? It’s none of the above. Because CFCs have been banned for over 10 years, this is a completely irrelevant claim. This is what we call Greenwashing:
Green-wash (green’wash’, -wôsh’) – verb: the act of misleading consumers regarding the environmental practices of a company or the environmental benefits of a product or service.
It’s one of the biggest risks to a company or brand. As designers, you’ll have to really watch out for this.
The Sin of the Hidden Trade Off
A claim suggesting that a product is ‘green’ based on a narrow set of attributes without attention to other important environmental issues.
An example of this would be a Japanese whaling company that proudly boasts about their recycled photocopy paper.
The Sin of No Proof
An environmental claim that cannot be substantiated by easily accessible supporting information or by a reliable third-party certification.
One example would be the term ‘Recycled’. Is it 50% recycled? What is the percentage? Is it per-consumer waste, or post consumer?
Just saying ‘recycled’ is like going to an online dating site and not posting a photo. Danger!!
The Sin of Vagueness
A claim that is so poorly defined or broad that its real meaning is likely to be misunderstood by the consumer. ‘All-natural’ is an example. Arsenic, uranium, mercury, and formaldehyde are all naturally occurring, and poisonous. ‘All natural’ isn’t necessarily ‘green’.
The Sin of Irrelevance
An environmental claim that may be truthful but is unimportant or unhelpful for consumers seeking environmentally preferable products. ‘CFC-free’ is a common example, since it is a frequent claim despite the fact that CFCs are banned by law.
The Sin of Worshipping False Labels
A product that, through either words or images, gives the impression of third-party endorsement where no such endorsement exists; fake labels, in other words. Designers have to be really careful about this, because it looks like fun to design these! You get to use little leaves and planets and stuff… Maybe an earthworm… But if a client asks you to do this, they are leading you down the path of sin!
The Sin of Lesser of Two Evils
A claim that may be true within the product category, but that risks distracting the consumer from the greater environmental impacts of the category as a whole. Biodegradable single serving coffee brewer cups is one example.
The Sin of Fibbing
Environmental claims that are simply false. The most common examples were products falsely claiming to be Energy Star certified or registered. But here’s a more relevant one.
The image on the left is part of a promotional video that Enbridge produced in 2012 to help encourage British Columbians to support the shipping of bitumen through Douglas Channel from Kitimat. Unfortunately they missed a few things. like about 1000 square kilometers of islands. Whether you support Northern Gateway or not, its obvious that blatant Greenwash is not the way to convince people you can be trusted.
Oh, and who first spotted these missing islands? A Vancouver Islander named Lori Walters, Graphic Designer.
So with all these rules and regulations and potential pitfalls of green marketing, is it even possible to do good design and, God forbid, maybe even have a little fun?? Sure!
In 2008, London Drugs asked me what they should do to brand their sustainability initiatives. After looking at their business, their programs and their customers, we came up with one big question: What’s the Green Deal? This program does not preach. It does not judge. It simply offers credible information for shoppers looking to live and buy a little greener.
So is What’s the Green Deal a type I II or III label? It has elements of all three. In describing products, we refer to certifications whenever we can and we tell people the difference. We also do research on self declared product claims and share them. And, with our recycling programs, we track and share our waste diversion rates with the detail of a type III label.
Part of the London Drugs strategy is not to blow our own horn, but rather thank the customers who helps recycle over 11 million lbs of packaging, electronics, batteries, cell phones and more every year.
For our Earth Month 2014 campaign, we went into stores, surprising customers who were recycling or buying green products and giving them a $100 gift card. We also have an online contest, where people who bring recycling to their local stores can enter to win an energy efficient electronics bundle worth $1500. Customers can also enter on Facebook and Twitter.
More importantly, What’s the Green Deal tells the world that London Drugs will always be asking the question, and moving forward.
Because sustainability is a journey, not a destination.
And, as with any journey, the best part is the stories you gather along the way.
Here is a fun web video I produced for Left Coast Naturals. It does a really good job of describing the basics of sustainability, but also reveals a surprising discovery about their supply chain.
After all that organic love, would it surprise you to know I did work for a coal fired power plant?
Drax, one of Britain’s largest coal power facilities, was working on a plan to commingle biomass with the coal. I was asked to design a report to help explain why that might be a good idea. Working with Terrachoice, we branded it Field to Furnace .
Right up front we transparently addressed the challenges of coal, even clearly stating its impact on climate change. Then we explained where biomass comes from and what sources might be available. Finally, the key point was explained in this info graphic. Showing that biomass is part of our current C02 cycle, while fossil fuels like coal are adding carbon dioxide from our planets past.
So where is it all going? Like coal and biomass, How can sustainability coexist with the current world we live in? Here’s a look at how traditional economists see environmental sustainability…
The economy must grow, more sales, more profits, more GDP. And within all that is e public sector, government programs and the like, some of which are supposed to be in charge of protecting the environment. If the economy keeps growing, so the current thinking goes, we can grow our support for public and natural systems.
BUT there is a growing school of thought that says is is actually inside out.
It’s a field called Ecological Economics, and it was actually started in the 1920′s. In the briefest terms, the idea is that nature is a closed system, with hard limits. Within this system the market economy must exist. And coexist with public services, each providing to their strengths.
As you will quickly surmise, this implies a net zero growth state. Is it possible to provide for human welfare with an economy that does not grow?
More importantly, is it possible to exist on the planet with an economy that does not stop growing?
Obviously worthy of more debate than we can give it here. Look up a book called The End of Growth, by Richard Heinberg, or The Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy.
So by now your minds are melting… You just wanted to get a job doing something creative and now you have to save the whole frickin’ world??
Well maybe it’s time to get a little perspective.
Let’s go back to the 80′s, where a little movie from Britain promised to give us all The Meaning of Life
An open letter to BC Premier Christy Clark – April 7, 2014
May I call you Christy? It seems appropriate, given your warm, woman-of-the-people style of governing. I’m a soccer parent too, so that puts us on the same sidelines, wouldn’t you say?
Anyhow, it’s about this Bill 4 thing. You know, the amendment to the BC Parks act brought in by your government on March 24th, 2014. The one that now allows industrial activities within BC’s Provincial Parks.
I would understand if you missed it. After all, the legislation was rapidly passed without any meaningful consultation or dialogue. Maybe you were at a game with young Hamish at the time.
On behalf of my young family, I am very concerned about the provisions within this new bill, especially as it now appears to “allow the Minister to grant an industrial activity ‘research’ permit if it is determined that “… the research relates to “an environmental assessment or a feasibility study,” or is “necessary to inform decision making around changing the boundaries.” Which wouldn’t be so bad, if Bill 4 didn’t also specifically mention transmission lines, telecommunications projects and pipelines.
Pipelines?? Really? In our BC Parks?
Maybe you don’t have the time to follow Hamish’s private school lessons on earth science, so I’ll sum it up for you: They aren’t making any more intact natural ecosystems. To use terms perhaps more familiar to you, that factory has been shuttered – replaced with an offshore production line making Doritos and flat screen TV’s. And as most qualified biologists will tell you, an ecosystem cut in half, by say, a road, does NOT create two smaller ecosystems.
So that means the 14% of our province that is ‘protected’ is one of the world’s last chances to set aside wilderness for our future. If you think I exaggerate, just look at what is happening to the once vast tracts of undisturbed wilderness in the Amazon and Africa.
Of course, the Minister for Environment, Mary Polak, assures us all that we have naught to fear. Any of those fine upstanding global corporations who might dare to stretch the definition of ‘research’ will have to have her personal approval first. So we have at least one unimpeachable line of defense for BC’s pristine ecosystems.
But the Vancouver Sun reported last December that the Ministry of Environment is anticipating applications for boundary adjustments to at least 35 parks and other protected areas to accommodate industrial pipelines, transmission lines and resource roads. So Mary’s desk might get a little swamped.
Personally I would rest much easier if you scrapped Bill 4 and left BC’s world-class park system as protected as possible within our legal framework. The corporations will work around it. They always do.
When most companies think of marketing, it’s all about simplifying and wrapping up their advantages in a few carefully-chosen words and images. But sometimes showing customers and prospects the bigger picture can make a greater impact.
Click for a larger view
Hemlock Printers recently hosted a booth at the Globe 2014 Exposition, part of the world-famous summit on business and the environment held every two years in Vancouver. They challenged Unicycle Creative to design a booth that would tell the story of their significant environmental advantages, that would still be approachable enough for general trade show use in the future.
The team decided to bring their printing supply chain right out into the open, giving sales representatives a tool to engage customers with a story at whatever point interested them most. It also let Hemlock showcase the depth of their signature ZERO program for helping individual projects offset their carbon footprint. All done with a warm, inviting illustrative style.
What stories lie waiting in your supply chain? Do you have special relationships with suppliers? Have you moved to improve your transparency, oversight or certifications recently?
Consider bringing your supply chain to the marketing party. Done right, it can open a window to your brand that educates, entertains and demonstrates authentic brand advantage.
And if your President rides his bike to work, as Hemlock’s Richard Kouwenhoven does, put him in there, too.
We recently completed some blog updates for the London Drugs What’s the Green Deal? program, to help recognize some recent achievements and help customers feel the sustainable love. In the past, we have concentrated on longer-form articles for the GreenDeal.ca blog. These perform well, both from an SEO perspective, and for creating a searchable online database of usable information. But sometimes you want to get the point across in a quicker, more engaging and, hopefully, sharable way.
The first message was designed to let people know that their recycling efforts at London Drugs are making a difference, by sharing a milestone recently achieved by the unique in-store Styrofoam recycling and Bring Back the Pack program. With over 200,000lbs recycled to date, it’s a great story. We used Google and good old-fashioned calculator math to figure out just how many coffee cups that actually represents.
The second post was our Green Valentine – an ode to sustainability, recognizing that romance can be eco-friendly, too.
Unicycle Creative recently had the opportunity to create another magazine ad for long-time client BRODA® Coatings, to run in the Quebec market. Maison 21, a magazine focused on home design and construction, is the publication. This particular issue focused on the hot topic of renovations.
We decided to reach out to our homeowner and contractor target market with the built-in truths of renovation (the chaos) and link this with one of our main product benefits (easy maintenance). The sketch for the idea, originally envisioned as a photograph, inspired the client to ask if we could test a cartoon look for the finished execution.
To avoid any linguistic complications, we kept the headline straightforward and informational, letting the cartoon do the work of adding the charm and engagement factor. The headline reads something to the effect of, “By the time you finish renovating, you’ll be glad you chose a finish this easy to maintain.”
Cartoons have an easy appeal, and can often be a great way to address painful subject matter in a non-threatening way. As multiple language marketing opportunities continue to grow, it’s worth keeping this tried, tested and fun option in your brand toolkit.
Through our www.cbrproducts.com/QC landing page, we can track results from this campaign fairly easily, so we will let you know how many characters decide to ask for some free samples. And if you know anyone in Quebec who is renovating, feel free to forward this along. It just might offer them a ray of hope.
Your CEO may not be interested in spending extra money to save the world’s forests, but if everything else were equal, (including price), who wouldn’t choose to hug a tree?
The Wheat Sheet is an office-grade paper that offers the same quality, appearance and performance of regular paper, but uses less trees, produces less carbon and is cost-competitive with other 30% recycled ‘tree’ papers. Wheat Sheet contains 60% wheat straw residue from the wheat farming process, 35% recycled FSC Certified wood fibre from the plywood industry and 5% FSC Certified plantation fibre.
It is marketed by Social Print Paper, a company of self-described ‘Competitive Social Entrepreneurs’.
“Many sustainable products are asking consumers to pay 20, 30 or even 40% more. We want to break that model,” says Social Print Partner Minto Roy, “I also hope we can change the ideology that says paper has to be made from trees.”
At present, the paper is made at a mill in Northern India. Predictably, the labour costs there make it profitable, but it’s also a matter of having the specialized equipment to process the wheat straw from the farming process.
Photo: Minto Roy
The team at Social Print has visited the plant, and reports that their employment and safety standards are strong enough for another of their major customers: Wal-Mart. Furthermore, according to a life cycle assessment recently completed with TruCost, the Wheat Sheet still delivers a measurable carbon footprint improvement, even when shipping is factored into the equation.
For the average company, the carbon footprint of their paper may not be that material to their overall impact, but an organization like a major university can be a different story. Based on using 70 Million sheets of paper in a year, a university such as UBC can reduce their carbon emissions by 381,000kg and save almost 8,000 trees, by using Wheat Sheet instead of virgin fiber paper. That’s no small amount, and well worth considering in an overall corporate carbon reduction strategy.
So look for the ‘agri-paper’ movement to start to take off. Pretty soon you could be more concerned with your paper’s gluten count than its carbon footprint.
On a dark, rainy November night in Vancouver’s Yaletown, lovers of beer and design gathered to raise a glass to better packaging. Appropriately, the ‘Nice Package’ invitation to this Print and a Pint event, hosted by Hemlock Printers, featured that icon of Canadian brewing, the stubby bottle.
Those of us old enough to remember dragging a case of these rotund vessels to a party may feel a swell of nostalgia. In a world of long-necked beer elegance, the stubby now looks rather like a favorite old uncle, sitting in the corner telling stories from the 70′s and smelling faintly of unfiltered Player’s tobacco. Yet this unassuming party-goer has more going for him than portly vintage charm. Efficient to transport and stack, and able to resist breakage while falling from a formica table, the humble stubby was the only single-serving bottle sold in Canada from 1961 to 1984.
But back to Print and a Pint, featuring David Walker from St. Bernadine Mission, Brian Dougherty from Celery Design and Beth Corbett from Neenah Paper. We got a look under the hood at the research-intensive process behind St. Bernadine’s Original 16 beer package design, and Celery’s efforts to make the world’s most sustainable LED light bulb package.
Attendees also got a chance to try their hand at designing their own beer label, as the Print and a Pint invitation (by Unicycle Creative) featured a punch-out coaster with a blank-labeled stubby bottle just waiting to be envisioned.
This was not the first homage to the short round beer bottle. Douglas Copeland featured it on the cover of his 2002 book, Souvenir of Canada, and it has made a recent local comeback with pacific Western Brewery’s Scandal Organic Ale and Lager. But its days as a sustainable standardized package are, alas, long gone.
Big Canadian breweries now mostly use a standard brown long-necked bottle, and still collect and refill them, on average, 15-20 times (according to the Brewers’ Association of Canada). Though the abundance of modern bottle designs and colours no doubt makes this less efficient than it once was. (In the U.S. most bottles are crushed, melted and re-formed, a much more energy-intensive and wasteful process, and some states still don’t have a beverage deposit and return system at all)
So can more standardized design make a comeback? Will the need for resource and energy efficiency win out over our desires for personal expression and individuality? Whatever your answer, one thing is certain. The stubby, once a sign of enforced ubiquity, has now ironically become a symbol of beer-geek uniqueness.
Cheers to that.
To find out more about Print and a Pint, visit Hemlock.com
I am a big Apple fan. I spend the majority of my day writing, designing and producing on Apple devices. In Christmases past, I have handed down my ‘old’ laptop and iPhone to my 13-year old boy. Yet along with my enthusiasm for all this creative technology comes a gnawing fear that I am enabling my teen-child with all the tools he needs to become another disconnected, slack-jawed digital drone. So Apple’s new christmas ad stopped me in my tracks.
‘Misunderstood’ does a brilliant job of helping me to explain to my son the difference between digital CONSUMPTION and digital CREATION. As I say to him, when he plays a video game, watches YouTube or scans Facebook posts, he is a consumer of creative product. A willing receptacle for messages and images generated by others. But if he takes a photo, makes a movie or creates a song, his brain kicks into a completely different mode, enabling him to share HIS ideas with the world.
(Spoiler Alert!) I told my son to watch ‘Misunderstood’ and see the difference in perception and emotional connection from the beginning of the spot, when everyone thinks the teen character is ignoring their family Christmas, to the reveal, where we see that he was connecting and ultimately sharing, in his own creative way. Then imagine how the spot would have been if that character had NOT made the Beautiful Family Movie… dark, depressing and ultimately empty.
My son, to his credit, replied “But don’t you have to consume to create?”
Yes, it’s a balance. We all need the inspiration, education, delight and relaxation that comes from absorbing the (hopefully high-quality) creations of others. But as with all things in life, it is balance we must continually seek.
I hope the whole world embraces Apple’s Christmas message. If you have a phone with a camera, take some pictures. Make a movie. Share it with people. If not, maybe just write a letter, draw a picture or sing a song.
Christmas has become a time to consume, but it’s also the perfect time to create.
I was forwarded the video below from one of my sustainable marketing colleagues, and when I saw the brand name ‘Michelin’ I was expecting a large, bold, global brand approach to tire sustainability. What I saw was a whiteboard video that looked like it might have come from the local tire repair shop. So is Michelin’s sustainability communications budget smaller than their annual corporate bill for paper clips? Or is there a larger agenda at work here?
The strategy behind the information is pretty solid; take the discussion to a level beyond that of mere tires, with the term ‘Sustainable Mobility’; address the key issue of tire use in the product lifestyle; offer some tips for viewers on how they can reduce their own impact. Though they could have gone deeper on how they are improving their manufacturing impacts (if at all) or addressing any of their own social impact programs (if any).
But it’s the tone and manner of the piece that intrigues me. Is a homespun message more believable than a big brand statement? Does a high production value equate with corporate spin? I am certainly a fan of the human-scale, animated message. (See the ‘SustainaFOODability’ video done by Unicycle Creative for Left Coast Naturals) Yet, as the Guardian put it in a recent article, “Sustainability isn’t something soft and cuddly that executives do to salve their consciences. It’s about managing the non-financial risks to your business and firming up your future competitiveness and resilience.” Does the Michelin video communicate that facet of the issue?
As always, I’m curious. What do you think of the warmer, smaller-scale approach for larger brands – is it… ‘Sizewashing?’
Creating a brand is like having a child; a flash of passion followed by months of discomfort, culminating in the birth of something you hope will one day grow up to support you. Or at least not spend you dry and dent your car.
Naming companies, programs or products can be one of marketing’s most creative and rewarding opportunities. Or it can be a bottomless time-vacuum.
To avoid the latter, here are three questions that may help get your bed-wetting bundle of business love off to a well-named start.
What’s your story?
The best names often encourage the reader to ask ‘why?’ This is a much stronger question than ‘what do you do?’ The chance to engage a prospect with your brand story is one of the most powerful opportunities in marketing.
In the case of ‘Sole’, a boutique coffee produced on a single farm in Costa Rica, the name means the same thing in English and Spanish – the ‘sole’ or only producer. Sole also happens to be the name of the Mamacita of the farm itself. This name led us to use photos of the actual farmers on the packaging, offering a sense of local pride that stretched all the way to the shelf.
How different is good?
Being another Robert, Jane or Jack comes with its comforts. A strong, stable, familiar name puts you in good company and is not likely to encourage taunts around the playground. But in the corporate world, the familiar may not stand out on a resume or in a busy market scape, either. Businesses also face the complex challenge of trademark. Get too close to a competitor’s registered name with your corporate baby and you could be quick pen pals with their law firm.
Online marketing is another reason to look at staking out new naming turf. Securing a strong series of web domains is tougher and tougher these days, and in a crowded market space your SEO could be confounded. I often recommend considering names that have a lateral connection to the category; that at first glance seem unusual, but upon further reflection, make a lot of sense. Fresh Canvas Spa is a good example of this. To begin with, the spa started up in a building that for decades was home to a local art gallery. We made the new instantly familiar while opening up a whole range of possibilities in the customers‘ imagination.
Will it grow on you?
Many of the most successful names I have worked on have not been big client favorites right out of the gate. I like to compare this to the ‘B-Side’ album effect (for those retro enough to get the metaphor) The pop song you heard and instantly liked often wears quickly. It’s the quirky track further back in the album that gets its hooks into you, speaking to your life stages even more meaningfully as years progress. OCION was one such name. As the identity for a water clean-tech company, it evokes a global image of vast horizons of pure H20, while incorporating the ions that are at the heart of the technology. When first presented, some thought it too unusual, and difficult to pronounce. But it has gradually won over its detractors, and is now leading the re-branded company into a larger market future. (You can find out more about the process here)
That’s what I always try to coax out of a brand identity – a focus not on who a company is, but who it wants to be. Your name should have layers of meaning that can unfold as the company or product matures. It should grow to surprise and delight you, taking on a life of its own that will make you proud to say you brought it into the world.