Sunday, December 30, 2007

And the Winner Is......

With 2007 coming to a rapid close, it seemed prudent to review where we've been, see how far we've come and give a grand prize to the idea, theme, thing, issue, concept, creation, thought, situation, circumstance or entity that changed for the better and moved the farthest from January through December. This year the grand prize goes to [drumroll] the world's attitude on the environment. There actually was no close second. It takes many years of effort at multiple levels for the man on the street to finally agitate for change, and this year was the tipping point as far as the environment was concerned. While humanity still has a LONG way to go in adjusting its behavior to that required for a sustainable future, it had a wake-up call in 2007 that could not be ignored.

As the collective consciousness changes, so finally does the corporate consciousness. The WSJ reports in an article entitled "Best of Ads, Worst of Ads" that:

"Green is the new black. Madison Avenue tried to curry favor with consumers this year by coloring products and brands with an environmental tint. A long list of companies such as General Electric Co., Chevron Corp., and Home Depot Inc. all jumped on the ecofriendly bandwagon. One Toyota Motor Corp. ad featured a Prius being created from straw, twigs and other natural elements. The gasoline-hybrid care is built up and then fades back into nature" (12-27-07, p. B1.)

So, it was not just this Observer who noticed the new, bold trend over the last year in advertisements. The next sentence is telling, however, "Despite the energy spent on ecofriendly marketing messages, very few stood out. . ." and none made the cut for the best or worst ads of the year in the opinion of the newspaper. I would beg to differ.

In many of the previous blogs, I've mentioned environmental ads that have been large (full-page), obviously very expensive, and have gotten to the heart of several pressing environmental concerns. While many might say, "OK, but where's the beef?" I would counter that the ads show a good start in the right direction in letting consumers know about corporate intent or sometimes actual innovative products. (The next few years will show whether corporate intent turns to action. It's one of those "stay tuned" situations of which Observers are so fond.)

Two such ecofriendly ads were carried in the January 2008 issue of NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC. A German company Allianz, who specializes in insurance, asset management and banking, ran a full-page ad asking the reader to chose from the following: "The more dangerous thing on the planet is a) a pack of wolves b) a herd of cows." Of course, the answer is "b." I wondered what that quirky question had to do with insurance and banking, and it soon let me know:

"Livestock is one of the largest sources of the world's greenhouse gases. Having global expertise in Risk Management, our experts at Allianz are working on ways to reduce the negative effects of climate change on people and businesses. . ."

Hum, seemed like a bit of a stretch but it was obviously eye-catching.

On the other hand, an ecofriendly ad in SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN sported a stylized daisy made from plastic bags:

"Environmentally friendly plastic bags are a beautiful thing. Ecoflex, one of the latest breakthroughs from BASF, is a biodegradable plastic that can be used in bags and packaging. It's shelf stable for one full year then completely decomposes in compost within a few weeks. Innovation is popping up everywhere."

This one was informative and touted a necessary product that can be used right now. It struck me as amazing that a huge chemical conglomerate like BASF would spend so much to let consumers know about innovation in plastic bags, such a mundane product, but loading up landfills by the ton. My hat goes off to BASF not only for the new product but for letting us know about it; both are enlightened changes.

In another SCIEM ad was something really trendsetting, a non-spark spark plug. According to this ad about the Pulstar pulse plug:

"Spark plugs have changed little over the last 100 years. . .Pulstar pulse plugs generate more than 10 times the power of any spark plug available today. This visibly robust spark ignites fuel differently, allowing for a more complete burn than is possible with spark plugs. More efficient ignition yields improved engine performance and fuel economy" (p. 19.)

The logo for this company includes the words "A spark of genius, Pulstar pulse plug." This proves again that environmental innovation can go beyond the obvious and into the mundane fueled by a true spark of genius.

Although I am ending the year on an environmental note, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC is starting off 2008 with 2 of its 8 lead articles on recycling. The articles cover "High-Tech Trash" which the world is drowning in to "Why Recycle?" at all. Both were highly informative and directed toward john-q-public in an easily readable format. The first article on high-tech trash says that an enlightened trend in Europe just getting a foothold in the U.S. is the mass recycling of high-tech trash. If the cell phone, computers and the like are recycled at all, the parts and pieces are usually shipped to undeveloped countries with more lax environmental laws than the developed countries have. However, a company in Tampa, Florida is trying to change that unidirectional flow of high-tech trash into the maws of its giant shredder. David, as it's called, eventually separates the parts into bins that can be sold for scrap. Surprising to me:

"The most valuable product, shredded circuit boards, is shipped to a state-of-the-art smelter in Belgium specializing in precious metal recycling. . .a four-foot-square box of the stuff can be worth as much as $10,000."

The article goes on to say that in Europe, recycling of high-tech equipment is common, but in the U.S. only three companies have taken up the banner. "It wouldn't take many more machines [like the one in Tampa] to process the entire country's output of high-tech trash" (p. 80.) The EPA is exploring a certification process that would make sending trash away less profitable, thus improving the odds the trash stays home for recycling. WSJ also covered the recycling of e-trash in a recent article so the momentum is building in the U.S. Stay tuned!

Be sure to check out In a beautifully illustrated double spread ad of lighted prehistoric cave art, the informative text explains:

"TALKING EXPLORES HISTORY. DOING REWRITES IT. IBM and National Geographic have teamed up on a Genographic Project--a five-year study that uses sophisticated computer analysis of DNA contributed by over 200,000 people to map how mankind has populated the globe and uncover the genetic roots we all share. Start seeing the bigger picture at [the website noted above.]"

Now here's an enlightened team that may prove that we are all literally related in a "brotherhood of man," to quote a wise man who lived a couple thousand years ago. This research could have far-reaching implications as more people accept the inescapable truth that we are connected with every being on the planet.

And finally, a sultry photo of two young lovers in front of a twilight skyline of Shanghai topped a blurb in NG on unprecedented change in China:

"The country's breakneck economic growth is spinning off new opportunities. The proportion of 18- to 24-year-olds enrolled in college has doubled in less than a decade. And the government encourages individual ambition as long as it doesn't run afoul of the central plan. But there are few role models for young people to emulate. A 25-year-old can't follow in the footsteps of a 45-year-old: The paths that the older person took are no longer on the map" (p. 14.)

Through the eyes of this Observer, I see that education is often the path to freedom and the rate of increase of young adults enrolled in college is encouraging as is the fact that they have no path to follow but a new one. What possibilities this making-new by an educated populace might provide for a giant country being reborn in a new age.

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