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Ideas: New Sustainable Retail Experience

Posted on February 8, 2008

My friend Matt Jaunich just watched The Story of Stuff and wrote up a quick response to it in the form of an idea for a new retail experience.

Here is the idea he brings into the fold in his own words:

Imagine a new retail experience, where negative externalities from consumption are minimized, and mitigated by labeling and pricing. For example, instead of individually packaged 1/2 and one gallon milk containers, there could be big milk dispensers, where you can fill up your own plastic milk container over and over and over again. Ditto with cereal dispensers, where you use the same packaging week after week, and any other individually packaged product, for that matter.

Also, the carbon emissions from the production and transportation of products from the factories to the store are estimated, printed on the packaging, and a carbon offset is calculated into the purchase price.

The first piece of this idea is very interesting. I hadn’t thought of something like this before. What form would it take?

Would it be a new retail store/chain that operates this way or would it be more of a product that one could sell to the likes of Wal-Mart and other large chains?

Building and distributing the dispensers could be a very interesting company. Building the stores themselves could be interesting as well although you would be in direct competition with the big box guys and most likely have a higher price point. To get it to work you would probably need to locate in cities and in upper class suburbs (i.e. take the Whole Foods approach).

The second piece of Matt’s idea is something I have actually thought a lot about but have yet to write about on this site and that is creating tags for products that have a carbon emissions listing on them.

Of course gathering accurate data on that wouldn’t be easy due to a lot of products visiting multiple production facilities and getting shipped far and wide before entering the the store and ultimately the consumers hands. However, it isn’t impossible.

I think the business that could form around the carbon emissions idea looks like this:

You have a data gathering business that becomes a standards board in a sense. Companies then pay this business to tag their items with the proper carbon emissions info.

Perhaps to start the info could be more like the “whole grain” ratings in that there are simply a few “grades” (excellent source of whole grain, good source of whole grain, etc.). These handful of ratings work well and are great marketing pieces for the companies who get “certified” which means they would probably actually pay you to essentially regulate them.

What do all of you think?

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4 Comments so far
  1. Evan February 8, 2008 9:58 pm

    The first thing I thought of when reading this was something like “ew, all those germs from everyone putting their grubby containers under there.” Seems like you might emit just as much carbon in disinfecting the big dispensers!

  2. Chris Brogan... February 9, 2008 8:09 am

    The problem would come with food regulations. Bringing in an old milk bottle and filling the next bottle would mean a great spot for bacteria transfer. It’s not insurmountable, but it would require some kind of mitigation.

    The premise is just, but the execution in a litigious society would be complex, I offer.

    Hello from snowy Boston. : )

  3. Robert Tolmach February 9, 2008 12:30 pm

    Every health food store in the country has bins that allow you to fill your own bag with granola, brown rice, grains, etc.

  4. Eric Olson February 9, 2008 8:40 pm

    @ Chris: I do see your point on the health issues. As you said, it isn’t insurmountable but it is a big road block.

    @ Robert: This is true but I think the issue is that the people that go to health food stores are already “in the know.” The idea would be to take the ideas health food stores have had for a long time and get them out to places like Wal-Mart in order to help get the general public involved.