One way to effectively market while being friendly to the environment is to facilitate the market in used goods. When I was a kid my father used to make me bang nails out of junked wood and straighten them on an oak workbench to store them in empty coffee cans for future use. Strangely, this made my father one of the "greenest" people I know, despite the fact that he does not believe even the U.S. Navy's data on melting of the polar ice cap and he thinks climate science is a liberal plot. Nevertheless, his frugality made him an accidental environmentalist! In fact, promoting the used market may be one of the best things we can do to be green, while simultaneously keeping an ongoing relationship with customers.
As Matt Power pointed out in a his May 19, 2008 article Don't Buy That New Prius! Test-Drive a Used Car Instead it takes 113 million BTUs of power to create a new Prius. Personally, I'm bothered by my propensity to buy new gadgets and join the billions of us who are creating a Niagra Falls sized waterfall of toxic waste as we dispose of these devices. The Boston Globe reported on a number of new companies which are facilitating the used market for technology -- especially iPhones more aggressively. There are also the folks from Flipswap whose Greenphone site gives you some trade-in value for your device (my BlackBerry 8100 brought just under $16), and they will plant a tree.
More broadly, eBay is starting to promote the environmental benefits to buying used and the big guys like Costco and Wal-Mart are starting to have trade in centers. Of course the big kahuna in this domain is Amazon. When they decided to facilitate the used book business, they made a huge strategic coup -- because they were willing to manage any demand -- not just new demand. They must have figured not only how to make money on the used book business, but more importantly, they wanted to funnel new and used book information. By facilitating the used market, they had access to the entire market -- not only the customers interested in new things. This creates a deep understanding of the entire demand curve and all its price points.
Consequently, whereeever possible, I think it is in the interest of companies to facilitate the used market in their products and services. It not only helps customers, it gives the producer an ongoing relationship with the individual buyers and users of the product or service, and illuminates the price/value curve across the entire market. What do you think?
- Wal-Mart's New Information Advantage (My HBR Blog Post on WalMart and used.)
- The impact of electronic marketplaces on product prices: an empirical study of AUCNET (An academic paper on an early Japanese electronic auto auction.)