Crowdsourced Clean up: A Conversation with Litterati Founder, Jeff Kirschner

ImageBy Heidi Quigley, Special Projects Associate, Grossman Marketing Group

According to the “Keep America Beautiful” organization, over 51 billion pieces of trash are littered on U.S. roadways each year.  In a recent post, we discussed the growth of social media tools that help create awareness of the environment and how to improve it.  One tool we mentioned was Litterati, a global photo gallery of litter that allows users to share their findings and engage with brands. We recently had the chance to interview Litterati’s founder, Jeff Kirschner, to learn more about the project and the impact it has had thus far, as well as their future plans for growth.

Kirschner explained that he founded Litterati in an effort to reduce litter rates.  Litterati is an online resource that allows users to photograph litter with Instagram and share their findings with friends using the hash tag “#Litterati.” They are then encouraged to discard the litter properly.

In our interview, Kirschner shed some light on the world of litter. He told us that the majority of Litterati contributors range from 18 to 34 years old and are primarily a tech-savvy audience. As Litterati has grown, he has noticed a significant change in his purchase choices, his family’s behaviors, and also in his local environment’s level of awareness. The enjoyment and creativity of this “digital landfill” allows for users to create their own caption for their photos.  “People are literally titling their captions as if they are titling a piece of artwork, while others are more black and white. Notably, other than the photographs, everything on the website is black and white in-order to mimic the black and white origin of this issue—there is something that clearly does not belong there, so we must put it where it belongs,” Kirschner explained.

Litterati is about bringing people together that may not know each other, but are contributing to the same objective. For example, Kirschner mentioned two people who picked up cigarette butts within miles of one another.  These people did not know each other, but they picked up litter and tagged “#Litterati” within minutes of each other.

One of Litterati’s long-term goals is connecting large quantities of people who have the same universal goal of a cleaner environment. Kirschner said, “When dealing with a global issue such as litter, it can be overwhelming to people who are looking to find a solution.  However, if one person knows that there is another person close by doing the same thing, fifty other people in the same city, hundreds in the same state, and thousands in the same country, then suddenly people realize that they are not alone.  Although this problem is huge and daunting, it actually can be fixed if we all play a part.”

Kirschner also discussed the response he has seen from big brands.  He told us that companies such as Whole Foods and Starbucks are looking to integrate corporate sustainability into their many promotions. He reported that Whole Foods recently teamed up with Litterati users. During this promotion, each person who picked up and discarded an item of trash properly was rewarded with a free coffee.  In the future, there will be more potential opportunities for Litterati to collaborate on another promotion with Whole Foods.

Kirschner said, “Can you imagine if Marlboro or Newport recognized that their cigarette butts are everywhere and said that they were going to build a team to start block-by-block to pick them up?  Just the P.R. alone would be good for a company like that.”

According to the statistics that can be found on the Litterati website, cigarette butts are the most littered item. Kirschner stated, “Smokers have a natural tendency to throw them out on the ground and, in some ways, this has become an accepted behavior.  After recognizing the fact that this has been happening for many years and that there are many cigarettes in each pack, it comes as no surprise that this is the most highly littered item.”

The main idea of Litterati according to Kirschner is, “Individually we can make a difference. Together we can create an impact.”

5 Key Sustainability Updates for 2013

ImageBy Heidi Quigley, Special Projects Associate, Grossman Marketing Group

Although there has been a prolonged period of silence on “Sustainable Ink,” Grossman Marketing Group (GMG) has been anything but quiet.  We have continued to grow and develop as a company, maintaining our focus on environmental responsibility. In fact, our new Special Projects Associate, Heidi Quigley, who will be helping with this blog, just graduated from college with a minor in environmental studies. In collaboration with Heidi, we have come across several interesting articles recently and thought it would be beneficial to share them below:

E-waste is increasingly becoming an issue in this country, and many households are unsure of how to dispose of old computers, phones and other products. If you are looking for a responsible way to rid yourself of old electronics, The New York Times suggests contributing them to a recycling program.  In addition, people are welcome to bring in used electronics to most Best Buy and Staples locations.  You can even trade in old equipment for resale using Gazelle or Amazon. GMG has “The Big Green Box” in many locations around our offices so employees can easily drop these off at work, removing a barrier to recycling.

While some people are looking to recycle their used gadgets, social media tools are helping people create awareness of the environment and ways to improve it.  One interesting tool we have seen recently is Litterati, a, photo gallery of litter that allows users to share their findings and engage with brands.  Here’s a great video overview of the company.

Last month, President Obama announced his commitment to the environment through his Climate Action Plan. This proposal aims to reduce greenhouse gases, prepare the United States for the impact of climate change, and help other countries contribute to a cleaner future.

In addition to the Climate Action Plan, the Obama administration is in the process of deciding whether the Keystone XL Pipeline should move forward. The level of impact on the environment from the pipeline must be determined before any decision can be made.

As green marketing and eco-labels have proliferated, consumer confusion about environmental claims has grown exponentially.  In fact, according to the EcoLabel Index, there are more than 400 “green labels” in existence, with the numbers constantly rising.  Late last year, the F.T.C. unveiled the latest version of their Green Guides, new guidelines that all companies interested in marketing products as “eco-friendly” must comply with.  According to our friends at Cone Communications, the “new Green Guides seek to address persistent consumer confusion, cautioning marketers against making broad environmental claims like ‘eco-friendly’ or ‘green’ that are difficult to substantiate.”

We hope these are helpful for you – we will continue to share interesting content and observations related to the environment, green business and green marketing in the weeks and months to come.  Thanks for reading!

Some Good Year-End Sustainability Reading

As we approach the end of a very busy 2011, I’ve been seeing a lot of interesting year-end articles that I’ve been saving to read later.  I thought it would be helpful to include a selection of them for you in one place:

  1. “A Manifesto for Sustainable Capitalism,” by Al Gore and David Blood, published in the Wall Street Journal on December 14, 2011.  They define sustainable capitalism as “a framework that seeks to maximize long-term economic value by reforming markets to address real needs while integrating environmental, social and governance (ESG) metrics throughout the decision-making process.”  They explain that research shows that “embracing sustainable capitalism yields four kinds of important benefits for companies:

    • Developing sustainable products and services can increase a company’s profits, enhance its brand, and improve its competitive positioning, as the market increasingly rewards this behavior.

    • Sustainable capitalism can also help companies save money by reducing waste and increasing energy efficiency in the supply chain, and by improving human-capital practices so that retention rates rise and the costs of training new employees decline.

    • Third, focusing on ESG metrics allows companies to achieve higher compliance standards and better manage risk since they have a more holistic understanding of the material issues affecting their business.

    • Researchers (including Rob Bauer and Daniel Hann of Maastricht University, and Beiting Cheng, Ioannis Ioannou and George Serafeim of Harvard) have found that sustainable businesses realize financial benefits such as lower cost of debt and lower capital constraints.”

  2. GreenBiz.com’s “Our 12 Best Stories of 2011,” includes a wide range of articles, including “Soap and Glory: A Peek Behind Method’s Methods,” “The Story Behind Google’s Huge Appetite for Energy,” “5 Myths About Sustainability Executives,” and “The Future (and Past) of the ‘Office of the Future.'”
  3. Most Read Paper and Packaging Stories of 2011 from our friends at Environmental Leader. There’s been a lot of chatter and innovation around the lifecycle of packaging and the need for manufacturers to be responsible for the the stewardship of their products from beginning to disposal.  It’s been an issue close to my heart for many years – along these lines, I was recently asked to become a charter member of the Product Stewardship Institute Advisory Council. This organization has played a critical role in bringing government, industry, and other stakeholders together to jointly develop solutions to difficult waste management problems for many years and I’m honored to be part of such a great group.  To learn more about the council, here’s a link to a PDF press release.
  4. 10 Predictions for Cleantech and Sustainability in 2012 from GreenBiz.com.  It covers renewable energy, green marketing, transportation, and energy efficiency topics among others.
  5. Lastly, I’m excited to share some positive news on Cape Wind.  This plan to build offshore wind turbines in Nantucket Sound has long been delayed by lawsuits and controversy.  This week, Massachusetts’ highest court gave the project the “green light” according to the Boston Globe.  Cape Wind CEO said he hopes project construction will start in about a year.  Here’s a link to the Boston Globe article.

I want to wish everyone a happy, healthy and productive 2012.  Thanks for reading!

News roundup – it’s about the wind

As I have written in the past, renewable energy is critical to our nation’s future – not only from a carbon emissions perspective but also for national security reasons.

My firm’s adoption of and support for renewable energy (we offset 100% of our energy with Green-e certified wind power through Renewable Choice, the firm that both Whole Foods and Burt’s Bees work with to offset their energy usage) has enabled us to offer products and services to our clients that have helped them support the environment, without adding any extra cost to their respective bottom lines.  Because my firm made the commitment more than two years ago to absorb the additional cost of these wind power credits, we have been able to grow our business in turbulent times and attract new and progressive clients.

I am pleased to share two exciting news pieces:

  1. A PDF of an article published last month by the American Marketing Association’s Marketing News magazine (a live link is not yet available).  The staff collected a range of good and bad marketing campaigns from 2008 and asked various marketing professionals to chime in.  They asked me to comment on the marketing of T. Boone Pickens’ wind power initiative (which is now on hold due to economic concerns) – the news brief is on page 1 of the attachment.
  2. An article in The Somerville News (a newspaper in my company’s home market) about recent successes my family firm has had as a result of our green initiatives (one correction I need to make is that the reporter spoke with my brother, David, but refers to him as Steve, who is my father and president of the company).

In this increasingly difficult business climate, I can certainly attest to the importance of corporate sustainability and social responsibility programs as a means of differentiation from one’s competition (not to mention the right thing to do!).  Although organizations are looking harder for lower prices than they have ever done before, they are also very much interested in working with a partner who they respect and can learn from.  If your company does not have sustainability initiatives in place now, I implore you to start thinking about them.  Not only can they help you generate interest from prospective clients, but they can also help you save money (on energy, water, etc) – which is now more important than ever.

Renewable energy and the economic slowdown

wind-turbine-abstract-080815Ever since the economy really began to weaken and gas prices approached $3/gallon and then $2/gallon, there has been much commentary on businesses making cutbacks and slowing their implementation of sustainability efforts.  I have written that this time of economic crisis will separate the companies that are truly committed to good environmental stewardship from those that were only interested in making green efforts while the economy was strong.

During the presidential campaign, both candidates made renewable energy investments central pieces of their legislative agendas, employing images of wind turbines and solar panels in their TV ads and stump speeches.  However, since the credit crisis exploded and energy prices plummeted, even a pioneer like T. Booke Pickens, who spent tens of millions of dollars over the last few months advocating for public support of wind power, has delayed his landmark project.  The New York Times ran a story on Tuesday, 11/24, about how the “economic slump and plunging prices of coal and oil are upending plans to wean businesses and consumers from fossil fuel.”

My hope is that the U.S. Government, under the leadership of President Barack Obama, does not give up on its efforts to wean our country off oil, most of which comes from foreign sources.  I was encouraged by a message that Obama recorded last week for the Governors’ Global Climate Summit.

In his message, Obama states, “Climate change and our dependence on foreign oil, if left unaddressed, will continue to weaken our economy and threaten our national security.”  He goes on to say that his goal is to reduce the United States’ emissions of greenhouse gases by 80% by 2050.  He also committed to investing $15b each year on alternative energy, which he said will not only help to reduce our use of oil, but will also help create up to 5 million new jobs.  Regardless of the accuracy of the jobs figure, I hope that the U.S. sticks to this plan, and does not use low gas prices and a difficult economy as an excuse for inaction.  We should look towards Brazil as an example of how a country makes energy independence a goal and sticks to that plan, regardless of the economic circumstances.  Here’s a great story from the Wall Street Journal in 2006 which summarizes Brazil’s sugar ethanol industry development.  I remember reading this in an airport almost three years ago and was able to find a free link on Yale’s website – I found the piece so interesting, and wanted to share it with you.

The moral of the story for me is that we have learned our lesson from our addiction to oil – from the recent price spikes, as well as the fact that it supports dangerous regimes that hate America (not to mention the negative environmental impact of fossil fuels), and we need to make a change.  It will cost a lot of money and require sacrifice, but it is one of the greatest issues of our time and must be addressed.

Supply constraints hamper green product adoption


Earlier this week, a major health care client of my firm asked for some help with an upcoming community event, during which they hoped to distribute eco-friendly shopping bags to the 1000 expected attendees.

This client had previously given away these bags – see image attached to this article. Made from non-woven polypropylene, they are produced with recycled materials and are 100% recyclable. We reached out to the manufacturer that had originally provided them and were told that they were currently out of stock and could not guarantee delivery by the early June event date.

We then called several other best-in-class providers of environmentally-friendly products and were told that they were “wiped out by Earth Day” and that they were “hoping” that their next overseas shipment would arrive by late May. With this unreliable information in hand, I was forced to call my client and explain that we would likely have to look at alternatives for the event.

One oft-cited reason for companies not implementing green initiatives, especially throughout their marketing activities, is the perception that they will drive costs up. In fact, my firm recently surveyed a subset of our clients who have indicated interest in being “greener” and a startling 94% of respondents said that their main hesitation toward “greening” their business practices, and specifically their marketing collateral, is cost. Our in-the-field work has demonstrated that this is a misperception and that there are creative ways to reduce an organization’s carbon footprint without adding much, if any, cost. There may even be ways to save money!

However, these supply issues, which I experienced first hand yesterday, and the inability of product providers to provide better information or hope that they can be solved, are certainly another reason why organizations are not adopting environmentally-friendly business practices more rapidly. The inefficient supply chains of green product providers are significantly hurting adoption rates, and leading companies to take the paths of least resistance and relying upon the tried and true – and often “ungreen” – practices of the past. This must change.

One major barrier to success from creatives is that they often come up with great ideas but fail to execute (to read more on this, please see the fascinating work that Behance has done). A similar issue is facing “green” product providers: when they advertise the potential benefits of their innovative products, but fail to provide them in a timely fashion, they are holding the movement back and giving major corporate buyers the excuse to go back to their ways of the past. My hope is that over the next several months and years, green product providers can work to solve these supply chain issues. I know the demand is there.