Packaging: A Conspiracy Among Dentists?

Regardless of what I buy lately, getting inside the package to the actual product is like breaking into Fort Knox. I recently purchased a pair of carbon fiber trekking poles from Costco. They were encased in plastic sturdy enough to survive wind, hail, sleet, snow and a 500-pound gorilla. But since I had no plans to take the poles with me while still inside the packaging, what was the point?

Regardless of what I buy lately, getting inside the package to the actual product is like breaking into Fort Knox.

I recently purchased a pair of carbon fiber trekking poles from Costco. They were encased in the plastic sturdy enough to survive wind, hail, sleet, snow and a 500-pound gorilla. But since I had no plans to take the poles with me while still inside the packaging, what was the point?

It honestly took me about five minutes to get to the actual poles because it required heavy-duty shears (buried inside our gardening shed), and all of my strength just to cut through the plastic shell. I nearly damaged the poles (not to mention my fingernails) while trying to pry the clam shell pieces a part. Who designs this stuff? And more importantly, why?

These same plastic clamshells are used to encase all sorts of products, equally protected from the hazards of the modern world. I was in an airport a while ago, wasting time between flights by browsing products at the smart phone accessories counter, and every single item was hanging in one of these plastic prisons.

It would be logical to assume that the plastic protects the product from being damaged during shipment, but did that industrial designer ever give one moment’s consideration to the consumer and how they’re going to access the product post-purchase? Who among us travels with scissors or knives (especially in an airport)? And that’s when my conspiracy theory started.

Have you ever gone “old school” and purchased a music CD? Forget trying to listen to the CD in your car on the way home, as there is simply no way to rip open the package—period. The plastic wrap is on so tight there’s nothing to use as leverage to start the “cutting” process.

I’ve tried using my car key, a small screwdriver designed for sunglasses screws, a pen, a sharp stick and, of course, the final resort—my teeth (sorry Dr. Pelfini!). And even then, I’ve repeatedly broken/damaged the CD case while trying to get it open, so it can’t be re-used for storage.

I’ve used my teeth to try and rip open small packages of nuts on the airplane (those little “slits” are a joke for fingers), and am often rewarded with the bag slicing open, but my 10 precious peanuts are scattered across the laps of my seat mates.

I know I’m not alone in this practice: I’ve watched a guy rip off the paper that encases a straw with his teeth and then spit out the torn off end, and a Mom open the plastic bag covering a toy from a fast-food joint with her teeth while her toddler had a melt down.

But it was a recent jar of peanut butter that stopped me cold. After unscrewing the lid, the paper covering that came between me and my craving didn’t have one obvious way to peel it off other than stabbing at it with a sharp knife. While I was lucky enough to be in my own kitchen at the time, I thought about all those kids out there trying to make their first sandwiches, weeping in frustration.

Since packaging is one of the “Five P’s of Marketing,” I’d like to suggest to marketers everywhere that they re-examine their current packaging from a consumer point of view. If opening your product requires knives, scissors and the strength of 10-men, you may want to take a step back and rethink your packaging options.

‘Go Green, Go Paperless?’ FTC Issues Green Guides—and Lack of Substantiation Gets Targeted

Marketers who have been counting the days, months, even years, for the FTC to finalize its latest version of the “Green Guides” for making environmental marketing claims must wait no more. The revised guides are 36 pages slim and break new ground in six areas: 1) certifications and seals of approval, 2) carbon offsets, 3) “free-of” claims, 4) “non-toxic” claims, 5) “made with renewable energy” claims, and 6) “made with renewable materials” claims. The Guides also clarify previous guidance on terms such as “compostable.”

Marketers who have been counting the days, months, even years, for the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to finalize its latest version of the “Green Guides” (formally, Guides for the Use of Environmental Marketing Claims) for making environmental marketing claims must wait no more. (The Guides were established in 1992, and they most recently were updated in 1998.)

The revised guides are 36 pages slim: http://www.ftc.gov/os/2012/10/greenguides.pdf

Perhaps it was the 5,000 public comments—340 of them unique—that the FTC received. Perhaps it was the upcoming Election and the pressure building to put the claims guidance in the public domain, particularly since the public comment period closed nearly two years ago. Needless to say, the Guides are useful in that they provide both timely counsel and marketplace examples on many terms and claims, such as “recycled content,” “recyclable” and “degradable.”

The newest version of the Guides breaks new ground in six areas: 1) certifications and seals of approval, 2) carbon offsets, 3) “free-of” claims, 4) “non-toxic” claims, 5) “made with renewable energy” claims, and 6) “made with renewable materials” claims. The Guides also clarify previous guidance on terms such as “compostable,” “ozone,” “recyclable,” “recycled content,” and source reduction claims, as well as general environmental friendliness claims.

Two noteworthy items are:

  • Any unqualified claims of degradation must have it that the labeled product or packaging would degrade were it to be placed in a landfill in one year’s time—no more.
  • Any unqualified claims of environmentally friendliness or eco-friendliness are not encouraged—since very few products can meet consumer expectations in all aspects of their environmental impact. However, a qualified comment that focuses consumers on the specific advertised benefit is welcomed.

One can hope that the latter might serve to halt banks, utilities and others that make “go green, go paperless” claims that adorn so many monthly mailed statements, without any type of substantiation offered behind such questionable messaging. It would have been nice to see a clear example in the Guides regarding this specific area, given this claim’s wide use, and given the energy consumed by data centers, the growing problem of electronic waste, the rise of sustainable forestry and the predominance of responsible forest management practices in North America and Europe. Still, the FTC was clear in its direction regarding such general claims:

“Unqualified general environmental benefit claims are difficult to interpret and likely convey a wide range of meanings. In many cases, such claims likely convey that the product, package, or service has specific and far-reaching environmental benefits and may convey that the item or service has no negative environmental impact. Because it is highly unlikely that marketers can substantiate all reasonable interpretations of these claims, marketers should not make unqualified general environmental benefit claims.”

In the same light, I’m not making the claim that paper is preferable to digital. Let’s be honest: most marketers are multichannel today. Most direct mail is data-driven, and is also dependent on data centers. And a life cycle analysis of a direct mail piece and a comparable digital message has not yet been achieved, head to head, as far as I know. Not that that matters. What does matter is that marketers who make any environmental claims need to have substantiation of such claims available to consumers to inspect.

Marketers who want to read up on the new Green Guides in brief may do so here, in this handy summary the FTC has created: http://www.ftc.gov/os/2012/10/greenguidessummary.pdf

Previous commentary on “Go Green, Go Digital” from the Marketing Sustainability blog is offered here: http://targetmarketing.adweek.com/blog/making-green-claim-not-waiting-ftc-green-guides

Additionally, here’s reporting on of the revised Guides as they apply to the use of carbon offset claims: http://www.environmentalleader.com/2012/10/02/ftcs-revised-green-guides-target-carbon-offset-claims/

I welcome hearing about your observations from the newly revised Guides.

A USPS Development that Is Truly Progressive: Carbon Calculations for Your Mail

While the nation’s postal-related headlines are dominated by USPS plans to optimize (consolidate) its mail processing network and to slash costs during the next three years as it fights for financial sustainability, a less known development is a new USPS service on behalf of postal customers that is truly insightful—and free of charge—and about to launch early next year, subject to some final testing.

While the nation’s postal-related headlines are dominated by USPS plans to optimize (consolidate) its mail processing network and to slash costs during the next three years as it fights for financial sustainability, a less known development is a new USPS service on behalf of postal customers that is truly insightful—and free of charge—and about to launch early next year, subject to some final testing.

Beginning 2012, mailers will be able to secure from the USPS a “carbon impact calculation” for their mail across various USPS products and classes, with the potential to purchase carbon offsets, too. Essentially, the calculation is the amount of carbon released in the atmosphere as a result of an organization’s mail being in the domain of the USPS delivery infrastructure. The program was piloted earlier this year with business customers enrolled with the Postal Service’s Electronic Verification System (eVS) for Domestic Competitive categories and is set to be extended to PostalOne! participants and all postal products shortly.

Why is this noteworthy?

Many of the world’s leading brands and global enterprises—among them U.S. companies and household names—participate in a global transparency effort called the Carbon Disclosure Project. Many more seek to establish their carbon footprint as they participate in global carbon-trading schemes, designed to lessen greenhouse gases thought to be associated with global warming.

While the United States has yet to adopt formal national goals for carbon reduction for its part in the global economy, many brands that are either (1) global players or (2) environmentally sensitive or (3) both are already doing so in their own operations. These enterprises are acknowledging that managing carbon is a business-smart way to reduce waste and pollution and to optimize efficiency, while no doubt burnishing their own brand credentials. Sustainability isn’t a feel-good pursuit, it’s about the bottom line and intelligent materials management.

[Note: California—the U.S.’s largest state economy—has adopted carbon reduction goals as a matter of policy and practice.]

The USPS needs to be lauded here. Already, the USPS has conducted a lifecycle inventory regarding the delivery of the nation’s mail, and has adopted aggressive waste reduction and recycling goals in its own operations—all in a bid to increase efficiency and revenue. It knows, more or less, the carbon footprint of each class of mail and is ready to share such information with its customers in a true “value-add” function that is specific to each customer’s own use of the mail. Carbon calculations can be retrieved by month, by quarter and by year, or on an ad hoc reporting basis as requested by a customer.

To take advantage of the carbon calculation offer, mailers might look for an official announcement from the USPS at some point early next year, once final testing is completed on eVS and PostalOne!

By knowing the carbon footprint of their mailings, brands and companies that participate in carbon markets can derive more accurate readings of the direct mail portion of their marketing and operations activity.

Maybe then they can start tackling an even harder subject for direct marketers—how to reduce the carbon impact of their data centers and digital marketing.

Helpful Links
USPS 2010 Sustainability Report (see page 37)

Environmental Leader: Most Climate-Responsible Companies Revealed for 2011

Huffington Post: California’s Drastic Carbon Reduction Goals are Achievable, Study Says

Direct Marketing Association: USPS Releases Report on Life Cycle Inventory of the Mail

USPS Sustainability Efforts

USPS Carbon Accounting Pilot

Carbon Disclosure Project