These days, there seems to be an abundance of green alternatives to a myriad of products. Food, cars, clothing, energy, even web hosting. And for the most part, they don't, unless you want to, trumpet their greenness. What about laptop cases? If you have a look, there's plenty of them out there: Hemp, recycled tires, even pillow cases. But what if you're well, normal, and you just want a case that you can take to work, while keeping true to your values? Up until now, you were largely out of luck. Sure, there's the new line by Targus, but it falls short, largely defining itself by what it is not, in this case, it has replaced the PVC...with what? It doesn't say.
This is where act2's GreenSmart cases come in. Rather then go this route, they made a series of conscious decisions in their choice of materials, going deeper. They did their homework, asking questions of those who would make their bags, how does this compare to the conventional choices? Does it save energy or resources? Or is it simply just not petroleum based, but equal or perhaps more consumptive of resources? After extensive research, they came to their choice: Recycled soda and water bottle based fabric. It passed this test, and beyond that, proved as strong as, an in many cases stronger then the conventional option.
That's all fine, but how does it look? Perfectly ordinary, with some nice touches throughout. And that's just the way they want it. act2's products walk a fine line, meeting the needs of the workaday user on the outside, and appealing to the greenie within us all on the inside, with a green interior with stylized recycle icons for those of us that want to tell our friends about this great little bag we got. But look carefully, and there's an inconspicuous info tab stating exactly how many bottles were used to make this bag, how much energy was saved, and how many hours you could power your laptop with that saved energy. In some cases it's as much as 136 hours.
This small touch is a brilliant one, bringing home to the consumer exactly the impact their choices are making. It's this tangibility that is missing from many sustainability minded products and practices, and would help to make these choices and behaviors more wide spread, making for a deeper impact.
The story of the people behind act2 is an interesting one. They are the evolution of an already successful company called Shoreline which, in the spring of this year, decided to commit to converting their whole line to green. Tom Larsen, one of the founders, was a Conservation of Resources major at UC Berkeley in the 80s, entering the workforce at a time when environmental priorities were being largely turned away from, at least in the business realm. A disillusioned Larsen went on and later formed Shoreline, and did well. But he always kept his radar out for how to return to what he valued.
Then when it became clear that the option to make a product that could not only reduce energy use but divert materials otherwise headed for the dump, and could create a viable product, they jumped. Not just a niche line, but a complete conversion of their products, by the end of 2008. As Larsen said,Although we could have opted to make a couple of items that were Green, like many other companies have done, that seemed to me to be considerably short of the commitment we could make. It seemed akin to making products with 20% recycled content when you could make them of 100% recycled content. We decided if the materials were available, which they are, then our commitment would need to be across the board.
And so now, 6 to 17 bottles at a time, act2 moves forward.
Paul Smith is a sustainable business innovator, the founder of GreenSmith Consulting, and an MBA in Sustainable Management from Presidio School of Management in San Francisco. His overarching talent is "bottom lining" complex ideas, in a way that is understandable and accessible to a variety of audiences, internal and external to a company.