Omaha, Nebraska

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Our home to share our thoughts and host an (e)discussion about the opportunities sustainability presents and how our world will be changing as a result. From savvy strategies for clients to our fleet of Schwinn 10-speeds and everything in between; we invite you to the conversation and hope that we can explore true.green. together.


The Recycling Symbol. We see it almost everyday, and almost anyone can tell you what it means. It is rare for an abstract design to gain such widespread recognition. But where did it come from?

The symbol was designed in the early 1970s when architecture and urban planning student Gary Anderson responded to a design competition by the Container Corporation of America. The contest was to design a symbol to represent recycled paper.

Anderson modified and polished a design he had used earlier for a presentation on recycling waste water, and won the competition. After winning, he saw the symbol on a bank statement once and then forgot about it until seven years later while traveling in Europe when he saw the symbol on a recycling bin. The rest is history.

You can read the full story on the Financial Times website.

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The Harvard Business Review recently published a short article summarizing some recent developments in the area of eco-labeling. Andrew Winston’s story emphasizes that we may be at a crossroads in the practice of putting labels on products to indicate how sustainable they are. First off, he notes that GM recently announced a program to provide eco-labels on some Chevrolet models while UK retail giant Tesco reversed its four-year program of putting carbon labels on its products.

The opposite actions of these two companies highlights the fact that eco-labeling, as a practice that has been exploding in the past few years, may be reaching a cooling or maturation stage as companies learn more about the investment and purpose behind such labels. Winston pinpoints a few important questions that should be asked when developing eco-labels, and companies are beginning to realize the answers to these questions means that not everything needs a label, nor should every label provide the same data to customers.

The five questions Winston lists (paraphrased here) are:

  1. Does this product even need an eco-label?
  2. What should the eco-label communicate?
  3. Is a label capable of communicating the relevant information about a product’s sustainability?
  4. How much work needs to be done to develop the information in the label?
  5. Will a customer understand or even care about the information?

As it turns out, companies are starting to learn that some low-impact products (like a pack of gum) may not be appropriate for an eco-label, while other products (like a car or television) probably benefit from eco-labels. Even then, figuring out the exact information to put on the label is difficult. Think about the information in a nutrition label, which is standardized and mandatory. Is it easy to read? Is it the right information? Do people even pay attention to them or do they affect consumer choices?

A sample nutrition facts label, with instructions from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Standards for nutrition and financial accounting have been developing for decades, or even centuries. We are still in the dawn of eco-labeling. The article points out that right now we know a lot more about the stages in products’ life cycles that have a heavy impact on the environment than we do about the size and character of that impact. The tools are likely to keep improving, and more data will certainly become available as companies invest more money in researching the sustainability aspects of their products.

Winston concludes by making the point that business to business sales are driving much of the move to improved eco-labeling. Much of the research and work that takes place is opaque to individual consumers. The outcome is that companies end up making a lot of decisions for consumers before a product even gets to the shelf. Based on our experience as a company helping organizations sustain behavioral changes among employees, I can certainly say that everything companies can do to make the decision simpler for consumers is a good thing. Of course, that is only the case assuming that companies make decisions that are truly good for the environment, because greenwashing is the enemy of true.green.

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Two weeks ago a new video from Incubate Pictures in association with the Post Carbon Institute was released that summarizes the fundamentals of energy as the underlying force for the way of life of many people in a fun, concise, albeit pessimistic, way. It has since gone viral and there are people embracing it as prophetic and others criticizing it as unrealistic. Where do you fit in that spectrum?
I’ll warn you now, it is pessimistic (just look at the title)–a bit too pessimistic in my estimation, but still a good overview of energy fundamentals and a thought-provoking discussion starter. I have given presentations very similar to this for the past five years to organizations and communities, and then we discussed what implications it has for their way of life and their community. So I can vouch for the credibility of their information.

As you watch the video, here are a few questions to think about:

  • Is this a realistic portrayal of where we are?
  • If so, what opportunities are there for us today?
  • If not, what alternative do you think is most likely?

I’d love to discuss the implications the information in this video presents for businesses, communities and individuals. I see great potential and opportunity as our energy sources and world change. The question is, how will we engage those changes?

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It’s the holiday season, which never fails to spike my environmentalist guilt complex, and now that I have a young daughter I’m particularly aware of all the good and bad that the season brings. There is the ever-present tension between decreasing needless consumption and a stagnating economy, which is a big, broad issue that I’m not particularly interested in tackling…yet.

There is no getting around the fact that the gift-giving traditions of the holiday season result in an increase in waste. And I’m not talking about the useless gifts that never get used and end up in the landfill (Is this underwater cell phone system really for me? really!? thanks…honey). I’m talking about the peripheral stuff. This story on Marketplace this morning highlighted the fact that we see a 25% increase in waste over the holidays, which equates to a million tons per week. More specifically, it means:

  • 125,000 tons of plastic packaging
  • 744 million holiday cards
  • 8,000 tons of wrapping paper*

So what’s a person to do in this time of thoughtful gift-giving? The answer is not to stop giving, but rather, give experiences rather than things. It’s not only better on the environment, it’s better for you. As GOOD reported in their Winter 2011 issue, experiential purchasers report being more satisfied with their lives, less anxious, less depressed, and in better mental and physical health.

When it comes down to it, isn’t the annual membership to your local forest and the dozens of hours you spend there putting you in a better place than the new television you’ve been eyeing? Experiences form who we are. They become engrained into our being and, at least until dementia sets in, they’re with us forever. Give your family, friends and co-workers an experiential gift this season; the planet and those lucky recipients will thank you.

Happy holidays, everyone.

 

*Omahans: Please note that the Marketplace article indicated that wrapping paper is not recyclable. However, Omaha’s city-wide program does accept wrapping paper.

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