By Peter Fossick
(Originally published on Friday, Feb. 15, 2008 in The Chronicle)
Good, environmentally conscious design makes good business sense. To be competitive, businesses must be efficient. Every wasteful act in the extraction and production process is a poor business decision.
Do the products we use today really represent the pinnacle of human genius if they are made using methods that cause pollution? The answer is no.
We need a new paradigm in business. We need to redefine the concept of the free market so all the costs of the manufacture and use of a product, throughout its entire life, are accounted for in dollars. We need new, efficient manufacturing systems using innovative products that not only have no negative impact on the environment but have a restorative effect too. Above all, these systems have to be more competitive in terms of profits than the polluting systems they replace.
The post-industrial economies in the developed Northern hemisphere have swept their dirt under the carpet by relocating their manufacturing to emerging markets such as China, India, Mexico, Vietnam and similar countries. We rely on these countries to produce the appliances and consumer goods we have in our homes, but we do not see the impact the manufacture of these products has on the environment.
The solution to this problem lies in micro markets. In his book “The Long Tail,” Chris Anderson described the phenomenon of small, micro, niche markets, in which specialized customer needs represent 50 percent of new e-commerce business turnover. Amazon.com is a great example. A significant proportion of Amazon’s turnover is very specialized reading material. Companies such as e-Bay, Nike, Toyota, Dell and many others have all recognized the importance of being customer-centric, specializing and offering choices.
This business model requires that companies can cope with large and complex inventory and know what customers like and want. However, the concept of mass-customized products and services that are made-to-order, just-in-time and above all made locally (within 250 to 500 miles) has proven to be best for both business and the environment.
Japanese car manufacturers have started to do this, developing manufacturing plants that are flexible, are located geographically close to their markets and create products that are highly customized. Another example is the Mercedes Smart Car. The customer becomes a co-designer and, in so doing, begins to engage with the product and brand in a way that is great for business.
Being situated locally also means that businesses have to respect the environments in which their customers live and where their children play. Conducting business in their own backyards, so to speak, will drive companies to find innovative ways to reduce waste, emissions, toxicity, energy and material dumping.
Companies must learn to innovate and make money, too. And that’s good for jobs, the economy and the environment. It’s just good business.