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Is there a compelling green story for consumers?

May 3, 2012

Right off the top I want to applaud Groovystuff founder Chris Bruning and the folks at the Illinois Institute of Technology, Sawbridge Studios and Horigan Urban Forest Products for their design competitions.

I think it's great that the up and coming generation of furniture designers have these competitions, and a little green inspiration, to participate in. It gives the product a great story, a little something extra for the consumer to buy into.

For our overall industry, my question is: What is our compelling reason to buy green furniture? What companies have a compelling message?

I bought a Prius V in January. My wife and I wanted a station wagon since we were having a baby. There's not a ton of wagons like the Ford my parents used to haul us around during the 1980s.

The Prius V has a lot of room, but it's also got a compelling cost savings story. I get on average 45 miles to the gallon now (55.9 mpg is my best from Burlington to Winston-Salem).

That's a compelling story. And it's a story that I can watch play out every day on my dashboard.

BPA-free baby bottles have another compelling story. BPA is a synthetic estrogen commonly used in plastics. Nobody seems to know whether it causes a slew of health defects - lower sperm count, disruption of brain function and increased risk of heart disease, among them.

My wife and I don't eat a lot of canned food, a common source of BPA leaching to whatever is inside. I'm on the verge of rejecting all but the most necessary receipts, because they are very often coated in BPA, and could be one of the most common sources of exposure.

That's a compelling story.

But what makes a compelling story? The above cases use conservation and concern for one's well being. What's our story? What's our case for buying green product?

Is it logging, is it low VOCs in finishes, is it some kind of dirty laundry we don't talk about? Do we have a benchmark of how green furniture compares to the not so green stuff?

If there's a major failing to our industry, it is that we do not market well. We don't think about marketing that much. I'd say if anything, our industry has gotten worse at marketing in the time since I've been at Furniture/Today.

Where's the romance - the essence of marketing?

We complain about losing dollars to televisions and iPods and iPads - but we don't romance the consumer with a sliver of the confidence they do.

Don't get me wrong, we have a lot of folks that I think do a good job, or are at least trying. And I think they've reaped or are reaping the benefits.

In my time here I've watched companies dismantle their marketing programs, companies that were building something - retailers and suppliers combined.

I understand those are among the first departments cut during tough economic times, but I would say cutting them was much to those companies' detriment, with resultant confusion to the consumer.

Do you think the designers at Toyota worry that the Prius won't be marketed well?

Marketing is like hot pepper sauce - a little bit goes a long way and you can't always see it in the food.

But how do you market a product that often doesn't even have the name of the supplier on it? If we had a compelling green story, where would responsibility for marketing it lie?

How does an industry that is pretty inept at marketing grab a green consumer and tell them a product story? Can we even do that? Do we even know what that story is to tell - and how to tell it fast?

Couple other things to note. Dodge is coming back out with the Dart and it's going to get a respectable 41 miles per gallon, so I've read. I had a 72 Dodge Dart Swinger in college, pea green, and I loved it. I'll note here I'm only 31.

Good for you Dodge.