I had a conversation with a newer green apparel company founder recently that really irked me. Not necessarily about them specifically, but the choices they and other green businesses make. And I wanted to get your input on it.
I bought a shirt from them online, and when it arrived, the black ink design was largely swallowed by the dark brown recycled fabric shirt. I suggested they consider white or light blue ink to contrast better. Their response: Any other colors at this point wouldn’t be as environmentally friendly. They were firmly committed to the greenest option. I can respect that. And yet to me, that means neglecting the overall quality of the product.
I returned the shirt, and got another, this one made from recycled plastic. They later told me the ink will fade, noticeably, in the first few washings. This time the reasoning was that the ink met an obscure sustainable clothing standard, and they were working out finding an ink that bound better to this type of fabric.
My first suggestion was that they leverage their firm stand on being highly sustainable, and educate the public about the standard they were adhering to. Their response: We’re not actually certified by that standard, it costs too much, and we have to be careful associating our products with that standard.
This makes no sense. Holding firm to a standard that you can’t claim to have met, that nobody is familiar with, while not knowing if your customers share your fervor, is ridiculous. They should have waited until their product could both meet this self set sustainability standard and offer an equivalent experience to its non green counterparts. Or, just started with a less green but better overall product, being transparent about where they need to improve, enrolling their customers and fans in the process.
Coincidentally, this week Tom Szaky of Terracycle wrote a rather provocative piece on the post Sunchips compostable bag debacle, and his thoughts match mine when he said,
“Green companies need to hear this: Being green is not an excuse to put out an inferior product. Absolutely, aim for the highest sustainability possible in your products. But do not neglect quality, experience, or enjoyment. If you do, you lose, with everybody but the most dedicated green people.”
Putting out products that confirm people’s negative preconceptions about green product quality is a disservice to all other green businesses that pay attention to all aspects of customer experience with their product.
Readers: What’s your take on this? Where can we as green businesses learn from others? What’s important to focus on in 2011, in your opinion?
Image credit: Kalavinka
Paul Smith is a sustainable business innovator, the founder of GreenSmith Consulting, blogs weekly on green start ups of note at Triple Pundit and has an MBA in Sustainable Management from Presidio Graduate School in San Francisco. He creates interest in, conversations about, and business for green (and greening) companies, via social media marketing.