Carrie Bradshaw and Imelda Marcos are probably not the only people in the world that are strongly attached to their shoes. I’m sure many of us have a favorite pair it will break our heart to say goodbye to. So doesn’t it make sense to enable people to write an obituary to their old shoes if you ask them to recycle them?
PUMA, which just started a Bring Me Back program, thought it makes perfect sense and enables people to post their obituaries, together with a picture of the shoes on its website. PUMA’s program is similar to programs you can find with retailers like Patagonia, M&S and Nike, but the company hopes its obituary option will finally get people excited about recycling their shoes. Will it actually work? PUMA definitely hopes so.
The new program shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who has been following PUMA in the last couple of years. Initiatives like the environmental P&L, which assesses and values the environmental impacts of the company’s core operations or its Clever Little Bag that replaced traditional shoeboxes, positioned the company as a sustainable leader. “On our mission to become the most desirable and sustainable sport lifestyle company in the world, we are constantly working on solutions that aim at reducing the environmental impact that PUMA as a company leaves behind on our planet,” Franz Koch, CEO of PUMA explained. “With our Bring Me Back Program, we are pleased to target, for the first time ever, the massive amounts of waste sport lifestyle products leave behind at their end-of-life phase when consumers dispose of them and they end up on landfills or in waste incineration plants,” he added.
The program itself, which PUMA runs in cooperation with global recycling company I:CO, is quite simple – consumers bring used shoes, clothing and accessories from any manufacturer to a PUMA Store and deposit them in the designated Bring Me Back bins. The used products are then sent off to be reused or recycled. PUMA explaines that this means they are either broken down and reused to create raw materials, or they will be reused if they are still in a suitable condition, or they will be recycled into new products. In addition, and here comes the fun (or sad, depending on how strongly you’re attached to your shoes) part, people who want to say last words to their favorite pair of sneakers or other pieces of clothing, can write a short obituary and upload it with a photo on the program’s website.
So far you can find a couple of examples on the website, including “G’bye Dokken, Kiss, and Eagles of Death Metal t-shirts. I’ll never forget the years we spent together: hotter than hell. It is hard to let go; sometimes breaking the chains is the best way. But this is death by sexy, as recycling is the sexiest way,” or “So long sore feet! G’bye squished toes! I can walk a mile in my PUMA Suedes, but only ten feet in these heels. So adios painful shoes!”
This is a great approach to clothes recycling as humor is always an effective tool to engage people, especially when it comes to sensitive issues like breaking up with a beloved pair of shoes. The only question is if it provides a sufficient incentive for people to do it. PUMA doesn’t provide any monetary incentive, like M&S which is giving a £5 ($8)-off £35 ($57) discount voucher to those who bring their own clothes to an Oxfam shop. PUMA explains that what you get for your contribution is “feeling really, really good about yourself. You’re contributing to a healthier environment by properly disposing of your footwear, apparel, and accessories.” I have a feeling the company will find out that for most of people, it’s just not enough.
Nevertheless, I think that this is a worthy program, just because of the fact that it is making an effort to engage with customers. As I mentioned here before, many sport apparel companies like Nike, Adidas and PUMA make a lot of efforts to become more sustainable, but at the same time make very relatively little efforts to communicate these efforts and share them with their customers.
Even in this case, if you go to Puma’s website you won’t find any mention of the program on its homepage. The program is just starting out in Germany, but hopefully, when it rolls out to a handful of additional markets in October 2012 (with a full global roll-out slated for January 2013), Puma will give it some more exposure. After all, the obituary is an option that every true shoe lover will appreciate, even if they’re not willing to accept yet that it’s time to say goodbye to the old pair.
Raz Godelnik is the co-founder of Eco-Libris, a green company working to green up the book industry in the digital age. He is an adjunct faculty at the University of Delaware’s Department of Business Administration, CUNY and the New School, teaching courses in green business and new product development.