Rural System, Inc.
 Sustained rural lands; sustained profits




Green Products
The Rural System View

In 1991Colin Isaacs, writing in The Canadian Green Marketing Handbook, said "Green marketing is not about making money: it is about making money and protecting the environment at the same time. Most Canadian business people know how to make money, few know how to protect the environment."

While generally supportive of the concept, Rural System staff try to be more precise by suggesting that if it is to be used, "green products" can quickly have negative connotations and can lead to unfortunate ends. If it is to be used, in spite of the risks, then it should mature to mean

marketing products that have no significant impacts of the environment or other elements of the environment, and beyond "protecting" the environment it should include initiating, restoring, managing, and enhancing it.
Green marketing should include services as well as products.

... but both products and services miss the mark for the needs are to think about and discuss expected system costs and benefits.

The concept of certified forestry and certified forest products is clearly a part of the "green" movement. It has all of the words about sustainability but the emphasis is on products and in our view must include profits over the longrun also. Nature is very slow-going, at least by current human scale standards. Growth rates in plants of 1-3% per year cannot satisfy for very long the business needs for growth rates greater than that (just to meet bank savings account rates). Growth rates of timber at 5-6 percent seem ok but not when risk is added and expected returns are seen at about 1-3%

Since 1991 many businesses have learned a lot, but much still needs to be done in green product and service development to ensure progress in protecting health and the environment.

It is always inappropriate to say that green products are "good for the environment." This phrase gives meaning to the statement that "responsible consumerism is an oxymoron." But green products can help meet the needs of the present while not compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. The perfect green product meets an essential human need and neither depletes nor pollutes the Earth's resources. Nothing is perfect and nothing overcomes the Second Law of Thermodynamics (in all processes, some of the energy involved irreversibly loses its ability to do work ) but some things come much closer to zero ecological impact than others.

There is consumer scepticism about the green claims emerging. Others suggest, apparently correctly, that most consumers will not pay one cent more for a greener product than a similar one, even though they tell pollsters that they are prepared to pay from five to ten percent more for a greener product. Green products may also have fallen from profile because consumers have come to realize that the environmental equation is complex, that it is not enough to "buy recycled," and that a myriad of apparently competing environmental messages makes it impossible for the average shopper to know what to do.

In practical terms, green products are best seen as a small step forward in overcoming environmental problems, but they may become the access to stored energy ... the money needed to manage and restore the environment as well as sustain ownership of lands under protection.

Preliminary criteria for green products, a list we may develop further that will include services (preferring, however, to concentrate on the total system of initiation, management,restoration, production, evaluation and response, and preparing for the future):

  1. The product itself is less damaging to the environment than other products which achieve the same purpose.
  2. The manufacture, disposal of the product, and other steps in its life-cycle are less damaging to the environment than that of similar products.
  3. The product encourages more environmentally responsible behaviour in its users or among manufacturers, distributors, transporters, etc.
  4. The product is a catalyst, technology, system or other item which, by its use, helps to achieve any of the above.
  5. They must have an element of necessity in the sense that they meet human needs and are not entirely frivolous and non-essential.
  6. They must not contain or be associated with persistent toxic chemicals or other things which seriously impact the environment or human health in a negative way.
  7. They must meet certain performance standards; in other cases, it may be more important for consumers to modify their expectations of performance. For example, the recent municipal bans on pesticides may result in an acceptance of dandelions in the lawn.

Similar criteria apply to services such as hotels, house cleaning, dry cleaning, etc.

Rather than emphasizing characteristics of a product or service, at least for people who can comprehend, the needs are for selling integrated systems that perform well because of the design, structures, processes, feedback and feedforward that achieve human objectives over the long run. Any element, alone, can be criticized and shown to be harmful or not-green. (e.g., excessive pure water). Only in designed systems can an act of acquisition or start-up, product, or service take on useful meaning for the next 150 years.

Stimulated by a note from THE GALLON ENVIRONMENT LETTER, Canadian Institute for Business and the Environment, Fisherville, Ontario, Canada, ggallon@ecolog.com

R.H. Giles, 2003
Perhaps you will share ideas with me
about some of the topic(s) above at

RHGiles@RuralSystem.com.

Maybe we can work together
... for the good of us all
... for a long time.

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