I recently tried to explain to an elderly relative what my step-daughter’s interest in ‘sustainable fashion’ meant. Turning mouldy carrots into silk and banana skins into linen (or bottle tops into handbags as Mrs. Clegg demonstrates) to make clothes that Marks and Spencer believe would be bought by their customers was the most concrete I could make it. He pressed me to explain why girls wanted clothes made out of mouldy carrots or banana skins so I tried, probably unsuccessfully, to explain that the girls probably didn’t care. They just wanted clothes to be fashionable and affordable. But M&S did care because of (no) Plan B which promised that what they sold would be as environmentally friendly as possible and that’s all that mattered.
But it did get me thinking about the role of retailers and, more specifically the notion of Choice Architecture. About 6 months ago I was stirred into action by an article in the Evening Standard saying that London’s recycling record is right down at the bottom of the league table of European cities. Worse than Bucharest. Like most people I have an uneasy relationship with re-cycling and sustainability in general. I want to be good, I really do but re-cycling in small houses with small kitchens in a big city is hard work. (I read recently about a family who managed to recycle so much that they only threw out one bag of rubbish a year! Clearly lunatics.)
I would guess most London kitchens do not have room for a compost bin or the six different bins required to sort every different type of container. And I would also guess that the maximum bin space is determined by the built in kitchen units supplied by the likes of Magnet which are only about two feet square. Which comfortably holds one rubbish bin but not two. Surely there is a compartmentalised one on the market that would fit this space. The internet says yes, lots, but I’m always nervous of getting the measurements wrong and have no ability to judge size so I went to my local Homebase certain they would have one. I found piles of single bins in the kitchen bin department – some cheap and plastic, others metal and chic by Brabantia but not one compartmentalised bin. So I asked someone and was directed to another part of the store entirely labelled ‘Environmentally friendly products’ (everything very rough and rustic) where indeed, I did find a compartmentalised bin that would fit into my space.
But think about it. Re-cycling should be the norm: if you are looking for a bin, you should be able to find a (smartly designed) compartmentalised one in the kitchen equipment section. If you really only want a single bin, you should have to search for it. (Perhaps in a department labelled ‘Wasteful, Selfish Purchases’). Campaigns should be targeted much more towards manufacturers and retailers. Brabantia shouldn’t be making so many different styles of single bins but should be designing stylish compartmentalised ones. This is Choice Architecture at its simplest. You should be nudged into making the right purchase by the selection available and geography of the retailer. So painless and satisfying for the buyer. Read more in Nick Southgate’s article in this issue of Market Leader: How to be a Choice Architect.