May 31, 2011

Eat the chips, not the bag please

Were they caught unawares? I suppose they were. A 11% fall in Sales would never have shown up in the pre-launch research. Frito Lay was certainly in the dark. Or they got carried away by the green proposition. It happens often. But, after a year and a half, they have come over and above it. The compostable Sun Chips bag which was once a green marketing fiasco is today a successful category pioneer.

Green marketing is not dead. Its here to stay. But, to say the least, green marketers must be thick skinned. Failure may be the first logical step as proven by many pioneers. Like how BCIL, the ZED builder from Bangalore struggled and fought all odds to find takers for their green homes! To put on a strong face even as initial attempts fail, and to go on the path of research and trials tirelessly is a true leader's trait.

About a year and a half ago, Frito Lay introduced their Sun Chips in Compostable bags. Well, it sounds unbelievable to eat Chips from a bag that can very well be part of your garden compost! But, it is a reality today. The first bags that were introduced were way too noisy for the average chip-consumer to accept. You Tube swarmed with funny videos of the Sun Chips bag. Sales dipped. Company withdrew the Compostable bags.

A year and a half later, they made a come back. With less noisy bags. And their website says that they listened to the consumer feedback. Well and good. Sales went up. Customers are happy.

I was amused to see the video of the Sun Chips bag decomposing.Must be pretty exaggerated, but here is the link:

Why should Frito Lay shed so much sweat over a Chips bag?  I think its just the most obvious step for a Company that churns out thousands of Chips packets by the hour. They may have garnered so much press coverage with the launch of the bags. That's what Google says. Well, they also got a lot of bad publicity in the bargain, but as someone said, any publicity is good publicity!

While Frito Lay basks in the glory of the compostable bag, I am trying to convince myself that it is indeed an attempt to reduce their carbon footprint. I am not for a second blind to the damage a company like Frito Lay does to the environment with its many plants across the globe. But, just like their California plant which runs on Solar Energy, I fervently hope the Compostable bag is just the beginning of many more to come.

Cancer the No.1 killer in China

I don't know if I can ever be like Alex. I remember how he wrote to me once that he hates development that is against the environment. We were discussing about industrialization and its after effects. That was in reply to my mail which was all about the once-beautiful tree-lined roads in Bangalore.Wide roads or narrow roads lined with shady trees? The Government does give options to choose from!

I am happy to drive on a wide road. Especially during peak hours, as I find my way through the hustle and bustle of the City, I thank the Government for its attempts to ease traffic. That is why I say I can't be like Alex. Who has kept to his beliefs, who has stood by his convictions for more than decades now. He is well into his retirement and has never owned a car to date! Wherever he goes to, he uses only public transport. Recently he was in Bangalore, Madurai, Trivandrum and Alleppey. Spent 10 days in toto and traveled only by Public transport.

To my knowledge what the Government does in Bangalore (and in many other Cities as well) is to say the least, very myopic.They widen the roads. Whatever comes in the way is mercilessly chopped. They build flyovers. Build and rebuild highways. And, then, once traffic becomes intense on the highways, they build flyovers over them and call them elevated highways.

I remember how Air, the cycling movement started by an enterprising Bangalorean struggled to reach the Government to influence them to think about cycling lanes. Air and its members tried their best to influence policy making. We cycled often and with key people like CEOs of reputed companies, got written about and spoken about in mainstream media. This was 10 years back. And look where we are now. Nowhere.

Talk about Industrialization and we end up in China. A marketer-friend of mine once went to China to identify vendors for her Company's road-navigation device. She came back and said she almost fainted seeing the condition of sweat shops in China. They did seem like really down the value chain, deep down!

Is China myopic about development? About industrialization? We are not talking about road widening here. We are talking about Cancer in China. With 25% of deaths attributed to Cancer, that too lung cancer, can China continue to aid and abet its coal-fired power plants and numerous factories that spew the most poisonous gases?

"By pursuing economic growth above all else, China is sacrificing the health of its people, ultimately risking future prosperity." This is just an excerpt from China's own Earth Policy Institute. The usual plagues of poverty- infectious diseases and infant mortality have given way to diseases of the affluent cities- they go on to say.

I am forced to agree with Alex and his tribe. As China continues its march towards Industrialization, what we realize is that the No. 1 killer in China is also the No. 1 contributor to global warming. Burning Coal. We come back to the same old belief that what is not good for our bodies is not good for the environment either. 

May 24, 2011

How about a ride on Dandelions?

I nearly picturized it. It must be beautiful. To drive a Car made from Dandelions! What a perfect timing to talk about this ubiquitious weed than these days of Spring. Dandelions here, Dandelions there and Dandelions everywhere. But who thought of putting them to better use than the mundane.

I have stepped on a few Dandelion heads. Not intentionally. But, by mistake. I have plucked the flowers. And played with my son; blowing the withering heads. But, never did I think about making a Car with them. May be, a bouquet of flowers at best. I am not an automobile manufacturer. Definitely not an automobile company feeling guilty about its Carbon footprint. Or trying to score brownie points with the larger masses. Or, to give them the benefit of doubt, a company genuinely trying to reduce its Carbon footprint.

Ford has been at it for awhile now. Delving deep into the Dandelion weeds to see if they qualify as plastic modifiers which can be employed in car manufacture. Have you ever stepped on a Dandelion root? Well, if you do, you will see a milky white substance similar to rubber which could be put to better use. Of course, it has to meet certain durability standards as well.

Sounds gimmicky? It did initially. But then I went on to read about their  soy foam seat cushions, wheat straw-filled plastic, recycled resins for underbody systems, recycled yarns on seat covers and natural-fiber plastic for interior components!

As long as they are not taking away (some one's) food to create their cars, I feel enough reason to cheer about. That is some amount of change. On one side, they churn out gas guzzlers (we can talk enough about fuel efficiency, but, at the end of the day, gas guzzlers remain gas guzzlers. However, I do admit that compared to what kind of cars we had say 5 or 10 years ago, now they are a lot better in terms of their environmental impact.), but on the other side, they are trying to be sustainable.

Fear of new legislation may be the necessity to invent, but, at the end of the day, something is better than nothing. We all demand cars and better cars and the best in class. So, they exist. Why not change the very fundamentals of that existense?

May 19, 2011

Use only what you need

"I walk around in my house without putting the lights on till the last rays of the Sun bid farewell ....I know the exact place of things, I don't need the light even in the night to locate something." Yet another influencer-friend of mine. Someone who NEVER preaches, but ALWAYS practises sensible green thinking. And has been practising for the past few decades.

While visiting another friend of mine, I couldn't but notice the contrast I saw there. The family lives in a palatial mansion, if I could call it so. A really beautiful house. What I liked the most is the abundance of natural light in the house. You can practically live without lights in that house; well, only if you choose to. All the rooms have huge windows; so huge, if you open them you can practically walk in and out of them! The roof is really tall, which makes the rooms airy and leaves you with a very 'breathe-easy' feeling.

But until I left the house, I was overcome by guilt and grief. I felt suffocated through and through.

I am no rebel when I stay in someone else's house. I try to go by their laws. If I stay long enough, I try my influence-tactics. But, only if they show an inclination.

As soon as my friend is up, she puts many lights on. Including a beautiful chandelier that adorns the dining space. That is 6 CFLs. I kept opening the blinds just to let the natural light in. They stay in a well-lit part of the world that is so blessed with the Sun. But, to this day, I cannot understand why we put thick blinds and then cover them up with at least 2-3 layers of expensive curtains. All this, just to block the sunlight from coming in! The whole house is so well-set that if you move a curtain here or there, it looks like the order of the house is disturbed. It gives you a feeling that you have put an unwanted blotch on a beautiful painting.

I notice the huge chandelier in the living room is on; another 8 bulbs that is. Then, 2 in the kitchen..and then I lost count. I noticed six tall windows in the living room. It opens to the beautiful backyard. Once I opened all the blinds and stood in awe looking at the greenery outside. The peaches and apples dancing in the breeze. I almost thought they were making faces at us! As if asking;' What are you guys doing in there when its so beautiful out here?'

The TV is literally on all the time, but no one watches in particular. And every one the least bothered.
Yes, we are not bothered at all. But, we do bother about the vagaries and vicissitudes of weather these days.

'It was never like this. Why is it getting so hot by the day?'

'It has never rained like this in NY. We have no idea when its going to end.'

Back home, when I speak to people in India, they talk about the number of airconditioners that neighbours are buying. And with a sigh, they say, ' if its so hot in April, what will May be?'

'Just can't step out. The Sun is very harsh'

We have everything at our disposal. Including the will to display some basic discretion. Why do we consume more than we actually need? We may get a huge pay check at the end of the month that will easily pay off our power bills. But, can we at least exercise a little bit of caution? We love to play the moral police. Can we police our own morality here, a bit? The morality of our consumption. I hope the day comes sooner when we count consumption as one of the building blocks of morality.

May 5, 2011

What happened to those Easter eggs?

They looked so artificial, but, colourful and convenient. I saw my friend buy them in dozens although she did not need so many. Can't help it, it comes in standard number packs. So, what if I don't need so many? Though it looked synthetic, I tried to appreciate them keeping their reusability in mind. I found them easy to use and reuse. Not many hassles.

The kids loved to take their Easter eggs to School for the Easter egg hunt. Mom filled them with goodies. Tiny cars, mini trucks, candies and jelly beans. True; we live in a world of abundance. After some years, probably, kids won't appreciate a bit; things that we value a lot. In a class of 15, all 15 get 15 Easter eggs to School. So, each of them goes home with 15 Easter eggs and 15 Easter gifts!! As they came home from School, they eagerly opened the first few Eggs and then threw the rest hither thither.
The egg halves were strewn all over the living room. The gifts were too frivolous for them to even take note. They happily popped in the candies and jelly beans. Blame them for their hyper-hours thereafter! That's the new in-thing these days - 'sugar-high'.

I wondered what would happen to all those colourful eggs. There were about 30 eggs in total from the two kids and then the remaining unused (nothing happens to the eggs during usage. they are as good as new) ones. What if they found their way to the trash bin? They did, indeed.

I can't expect my friend to be like my mother or mother-in-law who simply can't throw anything into the trash bin. Their reusability fundas and resourcefulness have left lasting impressions on my mind. They are a different generation all together. I remember how much I had to cajole my mother-in-law to trash at least a few from her 're-usables collection' as I was cleaning the kitchen cabinets and storage spaces just before a marriage in the family! My respect for them only grows as I look around and see abundance and callousness get married right in front of my eyes. Its really an unholy one.

There are kids who don't even know what Easter eggs are. Forget about the Easter bunny and the Easter gifts. And here we are spoiling our kids. But then, what can I do about these Easter eggs? Its the School's directive to send them.

As I saw the bright Easter eggs in the trash, I realized they would never go back to the Earth. Easter eggs symbolise a new start, a new life, just like how life emerges out of cracked chicken eggs. But, here, our Easter eggs will always remain in the Earth, like unlucky souls for whom deliverance is a far cry, an illusion...