While listening to Jason Foster founder of Replenish at the FUSE conference last week, it struck me that both Replenish and the Prius seem like small short-term solutions to the same very big issue. Let me explain.
The Replenish cleaner bottle is a wonderful response to the life cycle and reuse issues of disposable packaging in the household products category, reducing materials usage by 90%. Just like the Toyota Prius, also a wonderful response to consumption and environmental issues of the auto industry, doubling the gas mileage of the average car. With their innovations they both go a long way to reduce a user’s environmental impact.
But both are short-term solutions, optimizing today’s technology while pointing to the future . . . and a much bigger issue that will depend on a radical transformation of our retail infrastructure. Not just the consumable object itself.
This will require, in the first few decades of the 21st century, that we completely rethink the retailing and distribution methods that were perfected during the 20th century.
In the household products category this can only happen with the greater adoption of reusable and refillable containers, and a retail industry that retools to enable this in all aisles and in every store. And in the auto industry, or really the energy retailing and distribution industry, this can only happen when consumers have easy access to natural gas or hydrogen and other less toxic fuel sources, and ultimately electricity in their homes and workplaces.
So as radical as Replenish and the Prius might be, they both seem like interim, albeit useful, steps in a long trend towards new techniques of retailing and distribution. Techniques that will ultimately maximize reuse and minimize environmental impact.
For reference here are a few reports on new forms of retail infrastructure,
A UC Berkeley study on retail fuel infrastructure
An Oak Ridge National Laboratories study on alternative fuel transition
A Tennessee Department of Transportation review of alternative fuel infrastructure incentives by all states
A review by the web site INFORM on some retail refillable initiatives