Most consumers cringe at the thought of waste piling up in landfills or despoiling the curb. A big opportunity awaits businesses who can help consumers prevent the waste in the first place, and use less water and energy, too.
With zero-waste being the goal, there is a lot of opportunity for future-looking businesses to profit by helping consumers save money, time, space, and better their lives by scraping less food waste into the trash, cutting down on watts, printing double-sided, or using water more sparingly.
Similar to its counterpart, factory-oriented "pollution prevention," household waste prevention can lead to exciting new products while creating happier and more loyal consumers, and generating lots of free publicity (for the latter, just ask Patagonia about the reaction to their sensation-causing Black Friday ad, Don't Buy this Jacket).
It's also about heirloom products that evoke sentimental value -- "stories." Likely crafted from high quality materials, they're the products that everyone wants to keep forever --- the family silver, Rolex watches, Montblanc pens, even Le Creuset pots and pans and Lego toys.
2. USE IT UP. Especially in tough times (and who knows when they'll be over?), today's consumers are looking to use every consumable product right down to its last drop or morsel. They are squeezing that tube of Crest, slicing the Clinique skin cream tube in half, and turning the Palmolive bottle upside down to get those last languorous drops down to the cap where they can be easily accessed.
Check out this WSJ article on this newly-detected consumer behavior to see if you can identify your consumers and come up with ways to help them use your products to the max.
3. FIX IT UP. This is about repairing, refilling, and upgrading so products (and their embodied energy and materials) are not thrown away or even recycled before their time. Getting too many calls from consumers refusing to have to throw away products for lack of an accessible repair center? Fix-It Collectives are sprouting up around the country. How repairable is your product? It's also about expressing one's creativity through repurposing and upcycling, suddenly the rave among crafty consumers.
4. SHARE. Also known as "collaborative consumption," the rise of social media is sparking a major trend in peer-to-peer lending, leasing, swapping and renting, as well as selling directly to others on ebay.com and Craigslist.org. Consider the phenomenon that is Zipcar (recently purchased by Avis), Airbnb.com, and Carpooling.com (now in 45 countries).
Design for obsolescence is on track to become obsolete! Power-tool lending libraries are turning the design paradigm upside down: for instance, instead of designing power drills to last their typical six-hour lifespan (e.g., the average time one consumer will use it - no kidding!), they now should be designed to fit the needs of multiple ones.
5. RESPECT FOOD. With 40 percent of all food that's farmed in America going to waste before it gets to the table, this is about preserving, conserving, and storing food. It suggests opportunities to help consumers use high quality/low resource storage techniques such as Debbie Meyers produce storage bags (sold by HSN) and for lightweight, collapsible doggie bags in which diners can take home the second half of their fries and burger.
6. SAVE WATTS AND DROPS. Is Tom's of Maine toothpaste really "green" if consumers don't turn off the tap when they brush? Are Energy Star-rated lightbulbs really energy-efficient when burning in an empty room?
Opportunities abound for new products that can help consumers minimize the use of resources consumed while owning products e.g., water, energy, materials, and other resources like paper, ink, and toner. To get a gauge on this opportunity, think about the water-saving, energy-saving gadgets you've brought recently, and refer to this article about what I call "responsible consumption."
7. LIVE SMALL AND SMART. This is about living smaller, and also nearer to work, shopping, and other daily activities to eliminate carbon-counting and time-wasting transportation.
Living in a home with just enough space for one's family and possessions helps cut down on energy needed for heat and air conditioning -- and opens up opportunities for double duty furniture (like the kind Graham Hill uses in his LifeEdited.com apartment) and all the space-saving closet and home office furnishings on display at the Container Store.
Want to know more? Check out the "Tiny Apartment" exhibit showcasing the homes for the slew of new NYC residents expected in years to come.
8. RECYCLE AND COMPOST. Representing the last step in the 3R's triad, when a product can no longer be used for its primary or even upcycled purpose, it should be recycled or composted in order to sidestep the landfill.
Thanks to recycling and composting, San Francisco now diverts a record 80 percent of all waste generated from landfills, making it the Greenest City in America, and creating the potential for ten times more jobs and new compostable products and packages than landfilling would bring.
Jacquie Ottman is an expert advisor on green marketing and eco-innovation to corporate sustainability leaders and US government eco-labeling programs. A waste-hater since age four, she recently launched WeHatetoWaste.com, a consumer initiative of her firm, the New York City-based, J. Ottman Consulting. She is the author of the highly acclaimed, The New Rules of Green Marketing: Strategies, Tools and Inspiration for Sustainable Branding (Berrett-Koehler, 2011). It was named by Cambridge University (UK) as a top 40 sustainability book.