Here Comes The Sun

Going into this course, I knew a bit about sustainability marketing. After a term of learning about the ins and outs of the subject, particularly marketing products and adopting sustainable behaviors, I’ve gained a better understanding of what a sustainable society might look like. It’s most definitely an ideal that is long ways away (and to some, maybe not possible).

I’m not sure if my views on businesses have changed. If a company has incorporated sustainability into their business model, and it “fits”, and compliments their values/practices, that’s awesome. I’d look at that company, and say “kudos”. I still don’t necessarily think they have to, because ultimately, it comes down to the consumer. Sure, businesses can implement programs to make it easier for us to be sustainable, but we, as consumers, need to take ownership, and do our part, be it big or small, in this consumption process. It’s so easy to blame and villain-ize the big brand names in the world and whatnot, but something about this is a bit like calling the kettle black. We can’t blame companies for forcing consumption on us, because it the end, we’re the decision makes in this cycle, and we have the ability to not support brands that don’t align with our moral/environmental “code”.

In terms of my own “growth”, I’m definitely more inclined to seek out sustainable options, and be critical of those that clearly aren’t good for the environment. Just the other day, I was at West Elm Market, a pretty trendy retail store for kitchen, garden, and house ware, and I saw a small bag of soil, packaged in a plastic pouch. I thought to myself (and said out loud), “Wow, this is completely unsustainable!” The bag literally held no more than a couple handfuls of soil. It was definitely made/marketed to appeal to “green” consumers; apparently the soil is made from recycled materials…from Brooklyn. Okay. Why not just compost?

On the other hand, I still definitely find it challenging to adopt sustainable behaviors, and integrate these things into my daily life. Yes, of course I recycle, take short showers, and turn off the lights when they’re not needed. But I also can’t see myself using my car less (I would use it less to save money on gas, not necessarily because of the carbon emissions), or buying carbon offsets after I purchase an airline ticket.

So my views on sustainability are definitely along this lines of “do what you can/what fits in easily with your lifestyle”. I know that way of thinking in itself is not sustainable, but it’s good to start of somewhere, and make incremental improvements. I’d say I’ve always had this view, more or less, so I guess they’ve remained the same. But I think taking this course has exposed me to certain ways of thinking that are likely to affect my views in the future (if they haven’t already done so). Like I said before, it all comes down to the choices we make, and I know that after taking this course, I’m in a position where I can make more informed choices, and consider the environmental impact of such choices. So I’d say it was a success. Thanks for reading!

30. March 2013 by obernard
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Turn Your Lights Down Low

One of my classmates recently blogged about the lack of local festivities held for Earth Hour here in Vancouver. The event had taken place last week, on March 23. To be honest, I had completely forgotten about the event, despite participating for the past couple of years (maybe because it was on the same day as our Grad dinner…oh, priorities). After reading my classmate’s blog post, I found an article that said the City of Vancouver was named this year’s Earth Hour capital of the world! Isn’t that ironic? I wonder if this title holds any real value, considering the popularity of Earth Hour seems to have died off in recent years (at least in the opinion of two, busy students taking COMM 486F!).

Photo Credit: Vancity Buzz

Well I dug a little deeper, and found this news release from BC Hydro. Apparently, this year’s Earth Hour produced strong results, with British Columbians saving 136 megawatt hours of electricity, and reduced the provincial electricity load by 1.95% during the hour, which is the equivalent of turning off more than 10 million LED bulbs. Impressive! I retract my skepticism!

Ultimately, this all boils down to marketing sustainable behaviour  something we’ve talked about throughout the term. One interesting fact about this year’s Earth Hour is that Vancouver was actually “outperformed” by Vancouver Island communities, namely Comox and Courtney. How is that possible? Vancouver- you’re the Earth Hour capital! Well, arguably, it’s easier (though I say that with minor hesitation) to round up the troops, so to say, in these smaller communities, and get that public commitment necessary for altering behaviour  compared to the metropolitan that is Vancouver.

Here’s another idea to marinade over: Could the lack of Earth Hour festivities be seen as having other, more positive, implications? Maybe we’ve actually integrated energy saving practices into our everyday lives more than before (AKA, we’re turning our lights down low before and after Earth Hour). That’s quite a stretch, but it’s definitely worth mentioning. The whole point of Earth Hour is to not only turn off those lights for 60 minutes one Spring evening, but be mindful of energy consumption every other day of the year. BC Hydro does a great job marketing sustainable behaviours with the different elements of their integrated marketing communications (video, print, online, offline, etc.).

28. March 2013 by obernard
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A Sustainable Bridge Over Troubled Waters

Narissa recently wrote about the prevalence of water in different products, including paint and soft drinks, as well as the idea of reducing the environmental impact of transporting goods that contain a lot of water. She does a great job with challenging the conventional make-up of everyday products. While there are clear, valid arguments in her post, some of the ideas may be somewhat unrealistic. There’s something about moving towards powder-based products that seems both archaic (but not in a farm-to-table kind of way, but rather, a “green” spin on Kool-Aid/Tang) and current/modern (protein shakes ftw!), which presents an interesting dichotomy for consumers. It may also open the doors for a range of companies to claim that their products are more sustainable, given the form that they’re in, without articulating the environmental effect of the particular ingredients/how they are harvested.

Alternatively, to reduce the environmental impact of transporting water-heavy products, maybe companies need to adopt improved supply-chain management operations. Shipping less frequently, but in larger amounts, along the lines of a Just-In-Time system would reduce carbon emissions and (possibly) transportation costs. Efficiency and sustainability; what a happy combo!

This next part of my post is somewhat related, as it talks about water, but it also presents some conflicting notions on sustainability.

In an earlier blog post from this term, I wrote about the Triple Bottom Line concept. While researching different bottled water companies, I came across the brand, People Water. This is a for-profit, cause-based business, committed to alleviating the global water crisis. They do this through their Drop-For-Drop initiative. Think TOMS, but with bottled water, and well-drilling initiatives in impoverished nations with limited access to clean water.


After perusing through their website, what I found interesting was their clear articulation of subscribing to a Double Bottom Line concept, which considers Profit and People/Social elements.  They don’t necessarily ignore the Planet pillar of the triple bottom line concept (even claiming to use mostly eco-friendly plastic water bottles…), but their not fully embracing it either (which is probably best, given the nature of the product). Without a doubt, this company has developed amazing integrated marketing communications; just look at that bottle! On the other hand of course, the whole concept of bottled water is not particularly sustainable (yet the practice of providing clean water to everyone is…).

So what do you think? Is 2/3 good enough with regards to the triple bottom line? Is People Water just another example of a for-profit capitalizing on socially-minded consumers? Is the title of this post as lame as I intended it to be?

13. March 2013 by obernard
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“Seriously Good” Ice Cream

Earnest Ice Cream

Photo Cred: Stephen Hui


Let me introduce you to the newest ice cream to hit the Vancouver market by storm: Earnest Ice Cream! What makes this ice cream different? Well for starters, it’s locally made in Vancouver, which reduces the environmental costs and carbon emissions related to product transportation. Earnest Ice Cream proprietors, Ben and Erica, also use local ingredients whenever possible, which inspires their seasonal flavor offerings. The other unique feature of their ice cream is the packaging. Single pints are packed into re-usable glass mason jars. Upon purchase, customers pay $9 for a pint, plus a $1 deposit for the jar. Once customers finish their ice cream, they can return the jar in exchange for their initial deposit, or save up 10 jars, and get a free pint of ice cream. Earnest can then sterilize and re-use the returned jars to package their next batch of ice cream. This is a great example of a small business initiating a Take-Back Pricing Strategy. Theirs works just like the deposit fees associated with bottled beverages. Of course, customers may find it more convenient or beneficial to find an alternative use for the empty mason jars, which would be considered just as sustainable. After all, nothing screams trendier in 2013 than a glass mason jar! If you prefer your ice cream in sandwich form, you’re in luck, because they sell those too during farmer’s markets! The ice cream sandwiches are packaged in biodegradable paper, and are served right from the cooler of Earnest’s ice cream tricycle. Now that’s old school with a twist!

I wonder how many customers buy Earnest with the company’s local and sustainability factors in mind? Their product is pretty on trend right now, joining other local standouts with similar values such as Cartems Donuterie (who happens to be their kitchen co-resident at Woodland Smokehouse Commissary, and was founded by a UBC alum). Some consumers may be drawn to such products based merely on the popularity, hopping on the “eat-local” bandwagon, without truly knowing the resources that justify a $9 jar of ice cream (conspicuous consumption anyone?). Of course, there are some consumers (like me) who would splurge a couple of times, because this stuff is delicious! Now what about you? Would you buy it?

05. March 2013 by obernard
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Zero-Mile Diet?

I’m sure we’re all familiar with the “100-mile diet” concept, where the local concept of food is embraced by sourcing ingredients from suppliers and producers within 100 miles (more or less). There’s no doubt that Vancouver restaurants have adopted this mindset when it comes to featuring locally sourced ingredients on their menu. But what about the Zero Mile Diet? I came across this new concept (or at least one interpretation of it) when I read this article in the Vancouver Sun (online mind you—how sustainable!)

The article introduces Urban Stream Innovation, a Vancouver-based sustainable tech firm that has designed a prototype composter and vertical growing system. The prototype is designed to eliminate kitchen waste, while producing quality herbs and greens through a micro-farming system. So for example, a restaurant will hand off their “waste”, like vegetable scraps and old coffee grounds, to Urban Stream, who will then turn that waste into a nutritious solution that goes towards growing an abundant crop of greens, which the restaurant can purchase at a fair price. Talk about cradle-to-cradle reform!

For some skeptics, this may seem a bit too small scale at first glance, but at least it’s a step in the right direction. Urban Stream is one solution to the city’s upcoming composting reforms. You see, food waste will be banned from Vancouver landfills by 2015, which, when you think about it, is going to cause massive problems for the city’s thousands of restaurants.

Furthermore, Urban Stream not only gives restaurant access to local greens (and in the future, possibly a wider range of produce), but it also diverts a significant portion of waste away from paid-for disposal services. As a result, there is an opportunity for major savings in terms of disposing waste (with optimists in the article stating they’d like to work the cost of waste disposal down to $0 altogether). This really reinforces the concept of the triple bottom line, and makes a case for sustainability as an attractive/necessary component to a company’s cost structure, particularly in the food industry. The cost savings element also creates an incentive for restaurants to adopt such sustainable behaviour. Once more restaurants, particularly the popular chains in the city, take part in similar composting programs, the behaviour will be considered a social norm in the industry.

So, you can add Urban Stream to the growing list of Vancouver-based startups trying to give solutions for other businesses to go green!

25. February 2013 by obernard
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TOMS: A Step In the Wrong Direction?


During the first week or so of this class, we watched a great video about TOMS Shoes, highlighting the essentials of their buy one, give one campaign. Interestingly, I read an article last term as part of the required readings for SOCI 430B: Perspectives on Global Citizenship, which questioned the sustainability and effectiveness of this particular campaign.

Essentially, the article, written by Kelsey Zimmerman, makes note that the charity element of the campaign, in which a pair of shoes is given to someone in need in a third world country, doesn’t necessarily alleviate the heart of the matter: poverty. Is the act of giving a pair of shoes to an impoverished person going to fix poverty? Probably not. What’s the alternative then? Well, instead of giving a pair of shoes away, TOMS should invest in employing workers in these third world nations, that way, workers can make a decent wage, and improve their quality of life. Interesting. This actually makes sense. However, part of me doesn’t want to believe him, because I’ve grown to appreciate the mission of the TOMS brand. TOMS must employ local workers in these countries right? Well they do, in China, which wasn’t at the top of my list of countries in need of an economic boost.

Kelsey mentions another footwear business, SoleRebels, which is based in Ethiopia, employs locals, and pays 300% more than similar employers in the country. All of the materials used to make the footwear is sourced locally (within a 60 mile radius of the city).

Ultimately, Kelsey doesn’t just say “TOMS is bad.” He actually commends them for doing things that no other for-profit business would ever think of doing. Instead, he makes suggestions as to what could be improved in the business model, and encourages consumers to seek more information about their purchases. I totally agree with the latter. If we, as consumers, are going to pride ourselves in making sustainable choices, and mindfully purchase products that have a story, we need to take the necessary steps to ensure that we know the nitty gritty details of the story we are telling.

26. January 2013 by obernard
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Food For Thought

Have you ever been to a restaurant in Vancouver and seen this symbol on the menu?

Well, this symbol indicates that the restaurant uses Ocean Wise seafood. The Vancouver Aquarium initiated the Ocean Wise program to educate consumers about sustainable seafood, and works in conjunction with restaurants and food suppliers to make environment-minded decisions with regards to menu planning and sourcing.

This got me thinking about Vancouver’s deep affinity for sustainable and locally sourced food. When it comes to food-related purchasing decisions, consumers are more mindful about where their food is actually coming from, with the general belief that local=good. To meet this concern, most restaurants will make an effort to indicate when their products are sustainable and locally sourced, as it often increases the customer’s willingness to spend. It’s not uncommon to find the name of the farm certain protein was raised on, prefacing particular menu items (eg: “Fraser Valley” Duck, “Pemberton Meadows” Beef) to have a greater appeal to consumers who appreciate some sort of narrative with their main course.

Is this type of information important? Definitely. We need to know where our food comes from, and come to terms with the reality that most foods aren’t cultivated the way we think they are ( just watch this). With this type of information, we are able to make more informed decisions about what we’re eating. Is it necessary though? Some would argue that it is, while others, understandably, care more about flavor and value than sustainability. So the next time you go out for dinner, keep an eye out for local/sustainable choices! Hopefully you don’t sit next to these guys


19. January 2013 by obernard
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Ten Tree Apparel

A few weeks ago I watched an episode of Dragon’s Den that featured Ten Tree Apparel, a new, yet extremely successful company that has incorporated sustainability into their business model. The Regina-based company, which was started by three recent university graduates, has addressed the growing environmental concern of deforestation. In conjunction with WeForest, Ten Tree plants 10 trees for every apparel item sold. Trees are planted across Canada, as well as in foreign countries such as Ethiopia, Haiti, and the Philippines, to match existing species of local forests.

Watch: Ten Tree on Dragon’s Den

This pitch particularly stood out for me because it showed the conflicting opinions of the dragons/investors with regards to business and sustainability. Typically, the dragons and presenting business owners argue over the valuation of a business, or the equity at stake. In this case, we see the extremely successul dragons debating over the sustainable business model and profit margins driven up by local sourcing. On one hand, Kevin O’Leary articulates somewhat of an archaic, profit-focused opinion on the business, akin to insights from Milton Friedman. He’s hard-pressed to think that sustainability is anything but a mere trend in today’s market that will eventually fade. On the other hand, the remaining dragons, particularly Arlene Dickinson, advocate the importance of sustainability in forward-thinking businesses, keeping in mind the three aspects of the triple bottom line discussed in class (People, Planet, Profit). They are keen on supporting these types of businesses that act as stewards in the interest of the environment. This dialogue is a great example of how sustainability and marketing are related, and touches on a consumer’s growing willingness to spend on sustainable products. Watching this pitch definitely reminded me of similar successful BOGO companies like TOMS and WeWOOD. Ultimately, Ten Tree made a deal with dragons Bruce Croxon and Arlene, who is often considered the marketing maven of Dragon’s Den.


12. January 2013 by obernard
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