The term “pop up shop” has become common currency these days, but it hasn’t generally meant a store that actually pops up. Until now, that is. BizBox is as its name says: A business space in a box. This self contained, towable, solar powered space can be brought to its destination by your average consumer level truck, then it pops open and expands outward to reveal a functioning space, flexible for a variety of uses. In these uncertain economic times, having a business space that does not require the commitment of a lease or up-front build out costs is extremely appealing since it reduces risk. BizBox may have the perfect timing.
While yellow leaves to most of us signify the changing of the seasons, to the Mlabri hill tribe of Thailand they mean a complete change in their lives. Yellow Leaf Hammocks are a vehicle to change their health, environment, and financial independence.
These resilient people were able to create their own livelihood via these high quality hammocks, making over six times their typical income, which was derived primarily from slash and burn farming of their land.
Joe Demin went to go learn about this tribe, and was surprised that, despite the substantial change in income potential, enough to employ their former employers, they were still practicing this devastating form of agriculture. It turned out that this lucrative hammock making was a seasonal operation and business slowed dramatically when the rainy season washed away the tourists.
Bicycling has seen an unprecedented rise in popularity, support, and accessibility these days, worldwide. To be sure part of this can be credited to the faltering global economy. In the US, there’s also been a willingness on the part of both federal and state government (questionably motivated Republican threats aside) to make an investment in infrastructure, to make biking safer and therefore more broadly used.
What needs to happen now is to make the bikes themselves more compelling to people. Here are three bike-related projects to encourage everyone to get out and ride:
Wind power, on paper, sounds like a good idea. No emissions generated. High potential for energy generation, when optimally located. No dependence on foreign oil.
And yet, wind power often gets hit with a number of doubts and concerns: first, theres the fact that the wind does not always blow. Will it be a source of noise pollution, due to the hum of the turbines as it turns? Does it need to be placed just so, to be effective? Does it need to be so huge? What about the birds, will the turbines be responsible for their death?
These are all legitimate concerns, and not unexpected, given people are used to power generation happening elsewhere, or when it’s local, being a silent set of solar panels. But that doesn’t mean wind power shouldn’t be pursued as an option. As early as 2008, Helix Wind was working on an urban scale, business friendly vertical wind option. Now comes Wind Energy Corporation that has clearly done its homework, presenting wind as a win/win for businesses and communities.
In a time where organic clothing has expanded far beyond hippie boutiques and shoppers in Target don’t bat an eye at seeing it offered there, it is not a big leap to consider that clothing may one day actually be good for you. Two Square Meter has done just that, with a line of clothing that it claims is nourishing to your skin. You read that right!
Using yarn that contains fibers derived from milk protein or seaweed fibers, each said to have skin nourishing properties, the act of wearing a sweater can be both warming to the body and beneficial to the skin. Clothing companies have previously made body benefit claims, such as the recent trend of touting SPF, but this is a step further. Athleticwear has long served both a functional and fashion purpose, wicking away moisture, moderating temperature, etc, but as far as I know, never has such been the case for purely fashion oriented clothing.
With the clearly entrenched trend of green, organic, locally sourced food making inroads even in the largest of chain stores, the impact is clear. And yet, there’s a missing piece to this: Where the food is actually made.
Food processing facilities are often quite energy intensive, and for food businesses entering the market, it can be prohibitively expensive to procure a professional facility to prepare you food. Sure, there are emerging models such as Portland’s Kitchen Cru that serve as a community kitchen and culinary incubator, but it’s more geared towards restaurants.
A solution to both is opening in Salem, Oregon shortly.
In this turbulent global economy, sometimes the best path forward is looking backward – to brands that have been well loved in the past. They clearly had people’s attention at one point, and there’s potentially less legwork needed to resurrect them vs. starting from scratch, attempting to grab mind and heartshare among the harried masses.
But how do you do it? There’s usually a reason that brand went away. Is its past glory irretrievable, and a waste of time and energy to attempt a resurrection? Fast Company recently detailed the efforts of instant coffee brand Brim, whose current owner said, “The longer a brand is dead, the more flexibility you have to relaunch it in a new way.” They intend to fortify it with nutraceuticals, a la Smart Water. In a time where previously unlikely attributes meshed together are increasingly commonplace, this could work.
One company has come up with a way to both draw massive buzz while generating income from recycling its past assets: Panam.
In recent years, much has been made of the energy savings and emissions reduction associated with switching to CFLs. What if every moment the sun was out you could go completely without electric lighting?
Daylighting is an often touted solution. In my case, having skylights in our office meant hiding from it as the sun was directly overhead to avoid sunburn, squinting into my computer at other times due to glare, and unworkably low lights in the winter.
Other options such as the light tubes have improved upon simple skylights. Light tubes reflect light that lands on a roof down a tube and into whatever space, even on another floor, that needs illumination. Yet here again, when the sun is not shining on it, the lighting quality degrades.
Ciralight has come up with a brilliant solution: SunTracker. The product uses skylights with a series of mirrors, oriented by GPS, to maintain lighting throughout the day, coupled with solar power to run them.
For all the talk of emerging renewable energy technology, there has thus far been precious little movement in most of the world in terms of people getting their power directly from renewable energy sources. Options like PGE’s Green Source, and Bullfrog Power are good, but they are both indirect routes to greater renewable energy inclusion. Energy use, still based largely on legacy fossil fuel options, is offset by renewable energy projects elsewhere. And they each add cost to your existing energy bill, which to many who are not so green committed is a deal breaker.
It’s finally happening. Circumstances, public opinion and political will have aligned to create massive increases in biking infrastructure and bike sharing across the world. Bike businesses are seeing massive, sustained increases in demand, despite the troubled economic times.
I must admit that with all the rosy reporting on global bike sharing companies and city schemes, I’ve wondered how actual people – potential users of such sophisticated systems – were reacting to them. That goes double for the US, where people often behave in ways contrary to the rest of the world. Especially those less accustomed to the idea of biking.
The bicycling mecca of Portland, Oregon may seem an unlikely place for such insight, but there it was, in a piece BikePortland wrote about last week’s demonstration of two potential bike share systems, B-Cycle and Bixi:
“I like riding bikes,” said one well-dressed professional prior to a test ride, “but I don’t want to own one. It just seems like such a hassle.”
Recycling is not the most exciting topic. Gather your cans and newspapers, take them to the curb once a week. End of story, right? Beyond the occasional thought of e-cycling when we retire old gear, and the grade school upcycling buzz of TerraCycle, recycling’s not a front of mind consideration for most people. This summer in London, a crew of people and 150 dead refrigerators aimed to change that.
Films On Fridges took a commodity item that we take for granted, then either kick to the curb (literally), banish to the basement, or if our community supports it, get recycled, and put it to a wholly different use: The walls, fixtures and decor of a pop up movie theater. The refrigerators were sourced from Sims Recycling Solutions, donated for the summer with the understanding it would help build a bigger conversation about what can be recycled, rather then discarded by default, presumed to be a lost cause.
This isn’t without precedent.
PR. Two letters that can spark a volatile emotional reaction in many people. And judging from a recent article in the Guardian detailing its psychologically manipulative roots in Sigmund Freud’s nephew, Edward Bernays, they can’t be blamed. Bernays first used public relations during World War I to sell the idea that the purpose of the war was ‘bringing democracy to all of Europe.’ The campaign was tremendously effective, which made Bernays realize that public opinion could be shifted by appealing to the unconscious. PR and other practices spearheaded by Bernays can be credited for creating the modern day consumer, one that is based not on practical needs but emotional gratification.
As Bernays put it, “If we understand the mechanism and motives of the group mind, is it not possible to control and regiment the masses according to our will without their knowing about it?”
The question is, can the very same set of tools that have been used for arguably damaging behaviors and choices, be effectively used towards sustainable, healthy choices in individuals, businesses, and government? Or is it the case of the wolf guarding the hen house?
In the past year or so, there’s been a lot of buzz about the power of storytelling for businesses. Sometimes it feels more like excitement around talking about it than actually doing it. A recent piece here had the intriguing suggestion that when it comes to telling your sustainability story, the messier the better. In a nutshell, don’t just show off the shiny finish to your journey. Let people in on what’s going on along the way. Where are you facing challenges?
Yesterday I encountered what is in my experience the best example to date of how to strike the delicate balance of vulnerable, informative and promotional: AHA!, out of Vancouver, Washington is a firm whose focus is helping companies tell their stories, with a recent emphasis on CSR reports.
In a business space increasingly full of companies trying to get your attention in numbingly similar ways, AHA! deftly talks about their work while demonstrating it, telling its own story about their journey to becoming a more sustainable company. In doing so AHA! walks the sustainable talk they help their clients express.
But clever words on a page are only part of what makes this sustainability story excel:
As a blogger and social media focused PR person for numerous companies, I spend a lot of my time swimming in the tweets, statuses, shares, +1s and thumbs. I’ve a low tolerance for social media used poorly. There are plenty of examples out there, and it’s clear that a lot of companies are simply trying to transpose how they’ve engaged with their customers previously onto this arena. It doesn’t work.
Noah Brier’s recent piece on Ad Age, “Want to Tweet? First, Teach Your Brand to Speak” hit it perfectly: Act less like brands, and more like people. Especially in the sustainable business realm, people don’t want to be treated like cattle, endlessly herded to deals.
What do you think happens when you toss a plastic drink bottle in the recycle bin? Another gets made from it? Sadly, that hasn’t historically been true. If that plastic is repurposed it is more likely to end up as a fleece jacket or piece of treated lumber than a new bottle. But, bottle to bottle might be on the way. PepsiCo just announced that their Canadian division will be the first to create a bottle entirely made from recycled PET plastic. 7UP will be the first brand to use the EcoGreen bottle.
The expected impact is substantial. According to a study by the Association of Post Consumer Recycling, PepsiCo’s expected 6 million pound reduction in use of virgin plastic annually will result in a 30% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and at least a 55% reduction in energy use, compared to current production levels.
While it’s certainly encouraging to see an effort of such massive scale and impact being rolled out, PepsiCo’s effort seems a bit schizophrenic.