Sustainable products and brands aren’t just about creation and consumption. They’re also about having a sustainable strategy for disposal. And that end-game isn’t always well thought out today even with sustainable products.
At the Sustainable Brands conference last night, Leonard Robinson from the California EPA commented that the patent approval process for new products should require an analysis of the entire lifecycle of the product, including how it will be disposed of. His comment generated the only spontaneous, mid-speech round of applause of the night.
The fluorescent, spiral-shaped lights we’ve been buying at the hardware store lately? They contain mercury, and must be recycled. But few consumers know this, nor do they have a clear means and location to do that recycling. Subsequently, those mercury-filled light bulbs are being added to our landfills.
Apple’s iPod has been considered a strong green product, since it essentially eliminates the need for CDs and all of their packaging. But what happens to the iPod itself when we’re done with it? When we’ve moved onto the latest model, how can previous iPod models be recycled, re-used or repurposed?
Many companies, such as Keen, are thinking through the entire lifecycle of their products already, and communicating that to their customers. Other brands are directly or indirectly (through government programs) working on take-back programs so that more and more products can be adequately recycled or safely disposed of.
Today’s green products are gaining momentum and market share due to their improved footprint and impact at the front end. But as those products make their way through their use cycle, consumer awareness of the end-game will increase. Brands will do well to think through that element of the lifecycle now.