Perspectives on greener product development and manufacturing from Sustainable Minds, our partners, customers and contributors.

A letter to the big guys: join us

By David Laituri on September 26, 2008

This is a letter to the big guys: Nike, Dell, Sony, Apple, Microsoft, Motorola and HP, to name a few – the Fortune 100, companies with scale and financial clout; companies who can drive change overnight with a single request. I’ve worked with many of you over the years, I’ve seen first-hand what you can do – and I sure could use your help.

There are just three of us at Sprout Creation at the moment, but like most start -ups, we’re idealistic, ambitious and full of enthusiasm about leading our category in sustainable product development practices. We want to change the world. Even though we’re small, we use the same factories in Asia as you do. We’ve seen your product samples in their show cases, your parts on their lines and your boxes on their loading dock. We’re always impressed by what can be accomplished with big-company resources like yours with some of these ‘average’ factories in terms of quality, fit and finish. A single project from you can really put a factory on the map, and they know it.

One of our main criteria for selecting the factories we work with is that they are actively producing products for a company of your size; we benefit considerably from all that you demand of them. Our packaging is printed along side Nintendo Wii packaging, our molder produces enclosures for Apple from time to time and our wood manufacturer has Philips as a client. These factories will do back flips to accommodate your every request – they’ll push smaller projects like ours aside, they’ll invest in new equipment and training, even build whole new facilities for you – anything to keep you, their big customer, happy and ordering from them again and again. It’s amazing, we’ve seen it happen; you have no idea how influential you are.

Our orders are quite small by comparison, and when we ask for a simple change to a less toxic material, or for the way that something is assembled or for a cleaner version of a paint, we’re usually met with blank stares, are given a polite ‘no problem’ or are ignored completely. Reducing the environmental impact of our product is a constant uphill battle for a company of our size. Our orders are simply not large enough to force the kind of changes that really need to be made. We’ve set huge goals for ourselves to produce the cleanest product on the market and have made some solid progress, but we just can’t get there by ourselves.

You, however, with your scale and your order sizes, could make huge changes with a single request. You could eliminate the use of VOC solvent-based paints, EPS foam packaging and plastic bags. You could boost the use of post-consumer and recycled content in your packaging, make soy-based printing inks a standard, change they way dissimilar materials are assembled forever and permanently drive down the cost of energy-efficient components. For instance, if each of you decided to reduce your packaging sizes just 5% by switching to pulp paper instead of EPS foam, whole FLEETS of container ships would be idled. If you request it, your factories will go out of their way to accommodate you. The big win for the environment: thousands of smaller companies like ours would also benefit.

What do you say – care to join us? We could sure use the help!

Image Credit: David Laituri