Monday, February 8, 2010

the dirty secret

Adam Lowry is kicking butt and taking names! Make sure you take some time to read this very intriguing article from (have you hugged a tree today? No? Well go! Hug! Ah, didn't that make you feel all sorts of better! Yes, I knew it would.) In it he discusses in detail laundry's dirty secret: overdosing! (No, not that kind of overdosing!)

"Laundry's Dirty Secret: The Overdose Dilemma |
by Adam Lowry, method

I blog here about design as intention, which is to say that if you broaden your design intention to include social and environmental factors, your designs can become transformational. Examining typical laundry packaging from this design perspective provides interesting insight. If you ask what is the intention of the design of a typical laundry package, the answer is clear: Big detergent jugs are designed to get us to use more. They are a symbol of bigger-is-better wastefulness. The laundry jug is the SUV of consumer products--it's antiquated, wasteful, and costly, but supremely profitable for its makers.

In last Wednesday's Wall Street Journal, Ellen Byron wrote an article called "The Great American Soap Overdose," in which she examined America's addiction to using too much laundry detergent and the various reactions of the "we're on your side" laundry detergent manufacturers.

The piece examines why dosing of laundry detergent is so confusing; why the fill lines are hard to read, and why the caps are oversized. Detergent manufacturers are quick to point out that they, too, are against overdosing and its' negative effects, and that they are constantly looking for ways to curb it.

I'm not buying it.

This rhetoric is symbolic of a greater ideological battle in sustainable business today. It is a fight between those that want to appear green as they protect the ignorance-is-bliss status quo that serves their business interest, and those that are truly willing to put their money where their mouth is and innovate better, greener solutions that help people live more sustainably.

You might ask, why is this important? Isn't it just laundry detergent? When you consider that 1,100 loads of laundry are started every second in America, that means over 500 million pounds of laundry detergent go down the drain and into our waterways every year.

The main arguments that detergent manufacturers give for why dosing is so confusing are that they haven't yet found a way to make it clearer, and that consumers want control. According to the article, large manufacturers don't want to boost sales by confusing consumers, because they don't want their customers disappointed in how the product makes their clothes look and washing machines wear.

These arguments warrant a critical eye.

If detergent manufacturers were really that concerned about the negative effects of using too much, then why wouldn't they limit the size of the cap to the amount you need for a heavy load? That's what Method did when we launched our 3x laundry detergent in 2004. Furthermore, given the huge volume of laundry detergent sold every year, "right-sizing" the cap would save manufacturers millions in plastic cost and create an enormous sustainability benefit. But they don't. Still today, the volume of the cap is often more than double what you need, and the 'natural' brands are as guilty as all the rest..."

Head on over and read the rest!

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