I needed bag, and was charged 5p for this paper bag:
... which I needed to carry these goods:
... and this receipt in case anything isn't up to scratch:
This got me thinking about why it's acceptable for brands to 'punish' consumers in some ways as opposed to other ways. Why are they highlighting the issue of the bag, but choosing to ignore the packaging for the products and the enormous size of that receipt?
The carrier bag thing is something I've been banging on about for ages. My MA project was based around ethicality and packaging and how small brands could join together to form something much bigger and be more ethical in the process. I was quite happy that I managed to get some publicity to garner opinions:
When the 'I'm not a plastic bag' thing kicked off a few years ago, I was quite vocal to friends about my concerns for the way the project was actioned. Not against the principle, but the way in which it was actioned. I called We Are What We Do to discuss the project and that was interesting. (I was interested in whether they wanted to start a new fashion trend (which is what happened) and whether they were carrying out any post-purchase research to see if people's opinions/ lifestyle choices had changed due to the bag.)
So, here I am back at the desk looking at Holland & Barrett's "Plan-it Green" scheme (see what they've done there?). There's a few things here that I find interesting:
- By 2012, we aim to make all consumer packaging on our products recyclable
- We have introduced an electronic communication system with all of our stores. This will convert 90% of our internal communications from paper to electronic form, resulting in a massive saving in paper usage.
- All of the packaging we use for transportation purposes is re-used or recycled. In addition, we will continue to remove all unnecessary packaging from our products.
(Words made bold by me - not Holland & Barrett.)
You see, I admire Holland & Barrett for their stance - so far. They're obviously not taking the "Plan-it Green" scheme lightly. But I want more.
If you go into a Holland & Barrett store, you'll notice that the majority of the goods seem to be 3rd party products. (I've emailed H&B asking for clarification. On their contact page here you can ring people to buy stuff, but not to inquire about the Plan-it Green scheme.)
So, they're making quite an easy choice IMO to reduce their own packaging - it's something they have 100% control over, but I want them to impact the other brands they stock.
"Whoa there Mark!" I hear you say... "Why don't you contact the Maximuscles, the Body Fortresses and the Met-Rx's directly and have a go at them?" I'll tell you why in one sentence:
They make a profit out of those 3rd party brands. Making things better ethically is everyone's responsibility and we should put each other under pressure to make things a little bit better.
And that goes from individuals like me (I preach a good game, but I do lots of stuff that's unethical), to small brands, to nationwide retail stores, to governments. We all need to pressure each other.
If we don't continue to do that we'll revert to Ethi-fundamentalists and forget all about Ethi-realists.
Ethi-Realists were part of something Rory, Charlie and I presented to Nike Considered a few years back now. We were talking about how people were making small choices in everyday life to make things better. It was at the same time as the Anya Hindmarch love in, and it was right at the time. But now it needs to evolve.
Ethi-Realists now need to add another string to their bow. They need to pressure others. If we all pressure others then we'll be thinking ethically more, and we'll also be on the receiving end of some of that pressure.
So, what can Holland & Barrett do to be that little bit better?
Well, for starters, I'd think about that receipt. Does it really need to be that big? Does it need to be physical at all?
Secondly, I'd like to see them put their suppliers under a bit of pressure. They may already do this, but I can't see it on their site.
Paying 5p for a bag is a highly visible way of a brand being more ethical.
Putting pressure on each other to be more ethical is not as visible.
Ethicality needs to be both visible and invisible and we need to pressure each other to achieve it.