Saving our planet; one bag at a time

March 31, 2008

America’s first plastic-bag-free community completes one plastic-bag-free year!

Filed under: Environment — Kaajal @ 4:56 pm

America's first plastic-bag-free community

Leaf Rapids, Manitoba, just completed its first year as North America’s first plastic bag free community. In this story from the Vancouver Sun, read about how a small town of just 550 residents achieved its path breaking status. Sure you can get a plastic bag in Leaf Rapids, but it will cost you a 3 cent tax.

I really wish more governments would adopt this simple method to rid the world of this scourge. A small tax will make people not want any more plastic bags. Think it could happen only in a small town? The whole country of Ireland did it, and plastic bag usage dropped 94% in just one year.

Community marks a year without plastic bags
Lindsey Wiebe, Canwest News Service
Monday, March 31, 2008

A year after theirs became the first community in North America to ban single-use plastic bags, some people in Leaf Rapids say bringing reusable tote bags on shopping trips has become part of everyday life.

“Actually, it’s better than I thought it was going to be,” admitted Ken Seymour, manager of the Fields Store.

Seymour said at first he feared people would cling to plastic, and said there was some initial complaining from disgruntled shoppers.

“They just mellowed right out, and everybody accepts it,” he said of the town’s approximately 550 residents. “The people from out of town actually think it’s a good idea.”

The community about 975 kilometres north of Winnipeg promoted the ban as a way of cutting down on the hundreds of bags stuck in tree branches and blowing around.

Leaf Rapids bought 1,000 reusable bags in May 2006, donated five to each home in town, and passed a bylaw that charged a three-cent levy for people who opted for the plastic bags.

A new bylaw to ban the single-use bags entirely went into effect April 2, 2007, making Leaf Rapids the first community in North America to implement a total ban.

“It’s a noticeable difference now in our landfill site,” said Mayor Ed Charrier. “Everybody’s taken it very well.”

Charrier has become a figurehead for the bag-free movement. He’s been invited to speak at environmental conferences in Alberta and British Columbia, and is scheduled for another engagement in Winnipeg in mid-April.

“In reality, we passed the bylaw for Leaf Rapids, just thinking of our own esthetics and such, and trying to do our part,” he said. “I just never believed it would ever take off like this.

Scotland’s first plastic-bag-free community

Filed under: Environment — Kaajal @ 4:28 pm

Scotland's first plastic-bag-free community

Selkirk city plans to become Scotland’s first plastic-bag-free community. In this article on the Business.Scotland.Com website, read about how they were inspired by Modbury’s success. Here’s the article:

Historic first in the bag as town declares war on plastic

As a town steeped in its common riding traditions, the Royal and Ancient Burgh of Selkirk has tended to concentrate on reliving its past.

It proudly proclaims itself as being the venue where William Wallace was declared Guardian of Scotland and on the second Friday of June the streets reverberate with the sound of 500 horses inspecting the boundaries as part of the annual festival celebrations.

Change is not something readily accepted by the 6,000 inhabitants of the Borders town.

But as from today, Selkirk traders are looking to the future and creating their own piece of history by becoming Scotland’s first plastic bag-free town.

They are following in the footsteps of Modbury in Devon, which became Britain’s first plastic bag-free town in May 2007 and is the forerunner for the environmentally friendly initiative.

As the Modbury website notes, several Scottish towns and cities – Banchory, Dunoon, Taynuilt, Dundee, North Berwick, Edinburgh, Falkirk, St Andrews and Ullapool – are all taking steps to shed the plastic bags.

But Selkirk claims to be Scotland’s first when traders stop distributing plastic bags today in preparation for the official launch on Friday, when free fair-trade, recycled, cotton shopping bags – in the town colours of blue and scarlet – will be distributed to shoppers in the town’s market square.

Volunteer organisers are reporting a positive response to the campaign with only four premises of the town’s 108 shops and businesses deciding not to participate.

Another 12 shops have pledged their full support and will provide environmentally friendly alternatives once their current stock of plastic bags runs out.

But with 96 per cent of the town’s traders committed to having a plastic bag-free town, it meets the Modbury criteria set at 75 per cent.

Campaign organiser Jenna Agate and her small committee have worked tirelessly over the past ten months, convincing traders to sign up, but they have hit stumbling blocks along the way.

Gordon Newlands, who runs Halliwell’s butchers in Market Place, said: “I support the campaign in principle, but there are 65,000 reasons why I cannot go along with it at the moment.

“That is the number of plastic bags I currently have in stock and it is going to take about five years to get rid of them. There are a few shops in a similar position.”

Perhaps tongue-in-cheek, Mr Newlands placed an advert in the local newspaper last week offering £50 meat vouchers for the furthest travelled Halliwell’s carrier bag (photographic evidence required) and also the most unusual place in Britain for one of his bags to be pictured. He insists it is a move to try and relieve his mounting stock, but the timing of his enterprise is regarded by many as more than coincidental.

Undeterred, Mrs Agate, 56, a choreographer and artist with her own studio in the town, is pressing on, to put Selkirk on the eco-friendly map.

The mother of two said: “Selkirk and its traders and shoppers should be rightly proud of this moment. We are becoming the first plastic bag-free town in Scotland.

“Selkirk is leading the way in our effort to respect the environment and look after our countryside. In our small way, we are making a difference. I am really proud of my town. Plastic bags are dreadful for the environment because they are everywhere. We owe it to our children and grandchildren to do something about it now before it is too late.

“I read recently how a dead whale was washed up on the island of Mull and 23 plastic bags were found inside it.”

Her efforts have already won praise at national level, with the environment minister Michael Russell paying a visit to Selkirk to see how the campaign was progressing.

He said: “One of our ten environment pledges was for people to move away from plastic bags. So I fully recognise the importance of what they are trying to do here.

“I just wanted to meet them and pass on my congratulations because they are moving in the right direction. It is certainly the right thing to do and I am sure a lot of people will be watching what is happening in Selkirk and hopefully follow suit.”

Anna Hinnigan, who is helping Mrs Agate with the campaign, said: “I run a fabric firm in Selkirk and went along to a meeting of the Selkirk Chamber of Trade, where she was outlining her aims.

“I am no eco-warrior, but what she said was totally right. For instance, why do strawberries come in plastic cartons when they could easily be in paper bags? There is just so much waste when it comes to packaging. Some traders have not yet signed up to the pledge to stop distributing plastic bags for various reasons, but we hope to talk them round. (Make them read this blog of mine!!! They might change their mind and cooperate)

“There are also others who have been very supportive, but say they have to get rid of their stock first, which is understandable. But overall the response has been very encouraging and is Selkirk’s own small contribution to what is a very important issue.

“We want Selkirk and the Borders to retain their natural beauty without being overrun by plastic bags blowing about in the wind.”

The large cotton bags to be distributed to Souters – the nickname of Selkirk residents after the town’s traditional shoe cobblers – on 4 April come from Cornwall.

They are made in India and printed with vegetable dye, with the Selkirk design being the subject of a competition among local primary school children.

More about Selkirk:

Selkirk is derived from the Auld Scots words ’sheil’ and ‘kirk’ which means ‘the church in the forest’. Selkirk was the location and ancient seat in the Ettrick Forest for Scottish Kings and was given Royal status in the twelfth century.

A town on the edge of the Ettrick Forest, which once had its own castle and, for a short period in the twelfth century, an Abbey, although this was later moved to Kelso. The town was given vast tracts of burgh ground by the Scottish Kings, some of which are still owned by the town, administered by Scottish Borders Council; the Marches had to be defended against encroachment by neighbours.

During the middle ages, there was a large cottage industry in the town including spinning and weaving of cloth. The large mill buildings housed the town’s tweed industry following the Industrial Revolution, although the tweed industry today has virtually disappeared completely from the town.

The twin valleys of Ettrick and Yarrow provide some of the most stunning landscapes in the Scottish Borders; St Mary’s Loch, the largest stretch of water in Southern Scotland, is only 18 miles away from the town. The two valleys accommodate a wide range of activities encompassing cycling, walking, fishing and horse-riding.


March 27, 2008

The awesome branding potential of a reusable cloth bag

Filed under: Branding, Environment — Kaajal @ 6:33 pm

The branding potential of a reusable bag

Perception is reality. Not because people are shallow but because we, as humans, get so many inputs being thrown at us that we develop the ability to form decision making judgements on minimal input.

So when people see a company’s logo on a plastic bag, they conclude that here is a company that, knowing how harmful those awful things are, chooses to be unconcerned about our planet’s future.

But, when people see a company’s logo on a reusable cloth bag, their opinion of that company goes up because they see them as responsible members of society.

It’s that simple. Use this simple knowledge to benefit your business.

It doesn’t matter what the reusable fabric is. It could be a natural fabric such as cotton or jute or it could even be from manmade fibres such as polyester or polypropylene. What matters is that it is reusable.

Each one of these bags substitutes the use of plastic bags. One such bag could substitute as many as 500 to 1500 plastic bags. So, if your company gives away maybe 1000 bags, you could be saving the earth from having to deal with the burden of a million plastic bags.

That’s a real contribution to society.

Considering how little such bags cost, especially when you import them directly from us in India, reusable fabric bags are a powerful and potent medium to earn goodwill and trust and respect for your brand.

Look at our vast range of cotton bags, canvas bags, jute bags, polypropylene bags and polyester bags and pick one to enhance your brand.

Results guaranteed!


Learning from the masters - in this case, Google.

Filed under: Branding, Environment, Happy customers — Kaajal @ 3:08 pm

At Norquest we're learning all the time

I just read this fascinating article “9 rules of innovation from Google”. The most awesome statement there was “…believing that we can build a successful business without compromising our standards and values.” We all want to be good guys and those of us who have discovered that you can be a good guy and make loads of money are the really fortunate few.

March 11, 2008 - 9 rules of innovation from Google

1. Innovation, not instant perfection

“There are two different types of programmers. Some like to code for months or even years, and hope they will have built the perfect product. That’s castle building. Companies work this way, too. Apple is great at it. If you get it right and you’ve built just the perfect thing, you get this worldwide ‘Wow!’ The problem is, if you get it wrong, you get a thud, a thud in which you’ve spent, like, five years and 100 people on something the market doesn’t want.”

“Others prefer to have something working at the end of the day, something to refine and improve the next day. That’s what we do: our ‘launch early and often’ strategy. The hardest part about indoctrinating people into our culture is when engineers show me a prototype and I’m like, ‘Great, let’s go!’ They’ll say, ‘Oh, no, it’s not ready.

It’s not up to Google standards. This doesn’t look like a Google product yet.’ They want to castle-build and do all these other features and make it all perfect.”

“I tell them, ‘The Googly thing is to launch it early on Google Labs and then iterate, learning what the market wants–and making it great.’ The beauty of experimenting in this way is that you never get too far from what the market wants. The market pulls you back.”

2. Ideas come from everywhere

“We have this great internal list where people post new ideas and everyone can go on and see them. It’s like a voting pool where you can say how good or bad you think an idea is. Those comments lead to new ideas.”

3. A license to pursue your dreams

“Since around 2000, we let engineers spend 20% of their time working on whatever they want, and we trust that they’ll build interesting things. After September 11, one of our researchers, Krishna Bharat, would go to 10 or 15 news sites each day looking for information about the case. And he thought, Why don’t I write a program to do this? So Krishna, who’s an expert in artificial intelligence, used a Web crawler to cluster articles.”

“He later emailed it around the company. My office mate and I got it, and we were like, ‘This isn’t just a cool little tool for Krishna. We could add more sources and build this into a great product.’ That’s how Google News came about. Krishna did not intend to build a product, but he accidentally gave us the idea for one.”

“We let engineers spend 20% of their time working on whatever they want, and we trust that they’ll build interesting things.”

4. Morph projects don’t kill them

“Eric [Schmidt, CEO] made this observation to me once, which I think is accurate: Any project that is good enough to make it to Labs probably has a kernel of something interesting in there somewhere, even if the market doesn’t respond to it. It’s our job to take the product and morph it into something that the market needs.”

5. Share as much information as you can

“People are blown away by the information you can get on MOMA, our intranet. Because there is so much information shared across the company, employees have insight into what’s happening with the business and what’s important.”

“We also have people do things like Snippets. Every Monday, all the employees write an email that has five to seven bullet points on what you did the previous week. Being a search company, we take all the emails and make a giant Web page and index them.”

“If you’re wondering, ‘Who’s working on maps?’ you can find out. It allows us to share what we know across the whole company, and it reduces duplication.”

6. Users, users, users

“I used to call this ‘Users, Not Money.’ We believe that if we focus on the users, the money will come. In a truly virtual business, if you’re successful, you’ll be working at something that’s so necessary people will pay for it in subscription form. Or you’ll have so many users that advertisers will pay to sponsor the site.”

7. Data is apolitical

“When I meet people who run design at other organizations, they’re always like, ‘Design is one of the most political areas of the company. This designer likes green and that one likes purple, and whose design gets picked? The one who buddies up to the boss.’

Some companies think of design as an art. We think of design as a science. It doesn’t matter who is the favorite or how much you like this aesthetic versus that aesthetic. It all comes down to data. Run a 1% test [on 1% of the audience] and whichever design does best against the user-happiness metrics over a two-week period is the one we launch. We have a very academic environment where we’re looking at data all the time.

We probably have somewhere between 50 and 100 experiments running on live traffic, everything from the default number of results to underlined links to how big an arrow should be. We’re trying all those different things.”

8. Creativity loves constraints

“This is one of my favorites. People think of creativity as this sort of unbridled thing, but engineers thrive on constraints. They love to think their way out of that little box: ‘We know you said it was impossible, but we’re going to do this, this, and that to get us there.’”

9. You’re brilliant? We’re hiring

“When I was a grad student at Stanford, I saw that phrase on a flyer for another company in the basement of the computer-science building. It made me stop dead in my tracks and laugh out loud.”

“A couple of months later, I’m working at Google, and the engineers were asked to write job ads for engineers. We had a contest. I put, ‘You’re brilliant? We’re hiring. Come work at Google,’ and got eight times the click rate that anyone else got.

“Google now has a thousand times as many people as when I started, which is just staggering to me. What’s remarkable, though, is what hasn’t changed–the types of people who work here and the types of things that they like to work on. It’s almost identical to the first 20 or so of us at Google.”

“There is this amazing element to the culture of wanting to work on big problems that matter, wanting to do great things for the world, believing that we can build a successful business without compromising our standards and values.”

“If I’m an entrepreneur and I want to start a Web site, I need a billing system. Oh, there’s Google Checkout. I need a mapping function. Oh, there’s Google Maps. Okay, I need to monetize. There’s Google AdSense, right? I need a user name and password-authentication system. There’s Google Accounts.”

“This is just way easier than going out and trying to create all of that from scratch. That’s how we’re going to stay innovative. We’re going to continue to attract entrepreneurs who say, ‘I found an idea, and I can go to Google and have a demo in a month and be launched in six.’”

March 20, 2008

What they didn’t teach us at B-School - the common sense of ethics

Filed under: Branding, Happy customers — Kaajal @ 6:04 pm

Ethics can be taught

I just read a blog by an old friend named Ajit Balakrishnan where he, in his position as Chairman of the Indian Institute of Management, Calcutta said he was impressed when a Professor suggested adding ethics to the course content

Someone argued that ethics can’t be taught. This, in my opinion, is pure nonsense.

Let’s try and define ethics. Some definitions go this way: Ethical motive: motivation based on ideas of right and wrong; Ethics: the philosophical study of moral values and rules. Ethics: the branch of philosophy concerned with evaluating human action. Some distinguish ethics, what is right or wrong based on reason, from morals, what is considered right or wrong behaviour based on social custom.

I have a much simpler definition, not of ethics, but of ethical behaviour. Quite simply I consider ethical behaviour as behaving exactly how you’d like the world to behave towards you.

For me, this cuts across almost everything. You’d like the world to smile at you, be kind to you when you are feeling down, be considerate of you. Well, that’s what the world will appreciate from you also.

It’s really as simple as that.

Issue based thinking can get confusing. That product hasn’t come out just right – how high should our quality standards be, how much rejection can we afford? That question isn’t the one we should be asking. What we need to ask is would I be happy to receive that product?

I prefer to look at the big picture. If we as a company can behave towards our stakeholders exactly as we’d like them to behave towards us, we’ll do all right.

Its sad that business schools don’t bring the subject up for intense discussion. There will be a sociopathic few who believe that they can behave badly and never be caught. But even those guys when exposed to enough empirical data about the downfall of companies who’ve been self-obsessed to the detriment of their stakeholders will know that it all catches up with you eventually. In the process of a discussion, they will also come to discover what others think.

In our increasingly cynical world, and particularly in India, people assume that to succeed in business you have to cut corners and do shady things, and I cannot deny that there is enough grossly visible evidence of shady people having succeeded.

But there are many of us who managed to make good without ever compromising our conscience and it helps for kids to know about that also.

Good sense tells you to behave in a manner that will earn you approval and goodwill and will make your stakeholders want to continue to do business with you (try us out and be brutal in telling me whether we behaved the way you would have liked us to or not).

So, at the end of the day, ethical behaviour is just simply sensible behaviour.

Ethics can be taught. Not through pontification, but through stories, examples and role playing. And it is certainly worth making the effort to do so.

March 5, 2008

Businesses: Note how green positioning catches on

Filed under: Branding, Environment, Uncategorized — Kaajal @ 3:55 pm

Green marketing is here to stay

Unilever, in pursuance of a greener footprint, re-engineered their washing liquid Omo into a much more concentrated version that requires half the size of packaging the earlier version required. They called the new version Omo Small and Mighty.

Bingo! A new generic product category was born and there is now a multitude of brands launching a Small and Mighty version. This trend is here to stay.

Moral of the story: Green marketing is a smart thing to do. But consumers have become vary of greenwashing – making green claims that are just hot air. So, you have to put your money where your mouth is and show how you are really and meaningfully going greener.

One easy way to do this is to put your brand name on one of our reusable cloth bags. That becomes a walking billboard for your brand and tangible and visible proof of your green credentials.

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