Give more, Useless

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teef2Believe me, USELESS, I get it. I get the point you’re trying to make. Your anti-consumerism, “Use less, give more” message is not a new one. However, following it with a list of products to purchase definitely is.

I understand that you mean to be somewhat ironic. And I get how handy it is that when you combine the words “use” and “less” into one word, you end up with “useless” (somehow I suspect that’s how this whole company came about – clever name first, company second).

And sure, your cleverly designed hoodies are made of organic cotton and your cute, logoed bottles are BPA free. And I appreciate that you donate 10% of your profits to fund water and sanitation projects in the developing world. You’re better than a lot of companies out there. BUT, you’re still selling products!

So don’t tell me all about how “the U.S. has 5% of the world’s population, yet consumes 30% of the world’s resources and creates 30% of the world’s waste.” And then proceed to sell me a “Useless Gift Set” or a pair of recycled notebooks. It just undermines your message. Plus, what kind of for-profit company uses a dot org? That’s just wrong.

The closest you get on your site to actually being consistent is your “Useless Earth,” which one can buy and receive absolutely nothing in the mail “except the satisfaction of knowing you’ve helped someone in need.” Good job, that is truly useless.

Audrey is a freelance copywriter. She has worked with every kind of company, helping them to communicate their message of sustainability. Careful to never greenwash, Audrey believes that transparency in marketing is just as important as branding. And that doing well and doing good are not mutually exclusive. When she's not blogging, marketing sustainability or writing radio commercials for Chinese food, you can find Audrey rock-climbing, riding her bike around San Francisco, or looking for work (she's available for hire, call now!)

4 responses

  1. I agree. On the other hand, at least these are products that people actually can use and would be buying somewhere anyway…

  2. Good points. I think you got it right, Kristen (comment)–while these are still products, people are still going to buy at least some stuff, and buying this stuff is better than buying other people’s stuff. Useless also advocates reusing stuff and not buying new if you can keep using something you already have, “but if you’ve gotta buy stuff, buy this better stuff…”

    Audrey, you’re right. The .org thing is kinda misleading for a for-profit company. Let’s hope they’re working on getting .com instead. Looks like someone else already has “useless.com” and might be holding out for a juicy ransom. Ugh.

  3. As co-founder of USELESS I thought letting you know a bit of the thinking behind the company might help some shed light on our evil ways.

    We’re definitely not anti-consumerism – stopping people buying stuff is a tide we can’t hope to change – but we do believe in responsible consumerism. There’s nothing wrong with buying things, but what we choose to buy can make a big difference. And our goal is simply to encourage people to think about the choices they make. All USELESS products are utilitarian, well-designed, built to last, made sustainably and manufactured in the good old US of A. And there aren’t many product lines out there that can say that.

    So really we’re just trying to demonstrate a way thinking about products through the products themselves. By the way, we thought the “anti-consumerism” label might come up when we first launched and mention it in the FAQ section of the website at useless.org (in the “about us” section).

    As for the dot org comment, we did try and get the dot com but couldn’t so went for dot org instead. We had also considered going the non-profit route, but want to grow a business that does good and felt too constrained by being a not for profit.

    We love conversations like this. We don’t think we’re perfect, but nor are we cynically trying to manipulate any one. Buy our products not because they’ll save the world (they won’t), but because they are well-made and serve a useful function (yes, even the notebooks do and are made from 100% post consumer waste). Yes, 10% of profits go to fund water and sanitation projects in the developing world but we’ll only ever help a few thousand of the 2.6 billion going without, so what we can do is just a drop in the ocean. But at least we’re trying.

    Thanks for listening. All suggestions on how to make ourselves better please send them to mark@useless.org

    Mark

  4. This so interesting – it is a conflict I struggle with every day. As the owner of a for-profit online shop, I should be promoting consumerism. However, I really do believe that people should only buy things that they really need or otherwise would have bought elsewhere. I blogged about this on Blog Action Day in my post “Buying Green is an Oxymoron.” http://is.gd/4XbKx I hope you don’t see this as shameless self promotion – I truly am conflicted about this! But like Mark, we hope to help people make responsible choices.

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