These Come From Trees Sticker

These Come From Trees Sticker
This is the sticker we're hoping can save a couple hundred thousand trees a year. Amazing how the right message at the right time can make the difference.

Quick Facts about "These Come From Trees"

Monday, March 26, 2007

These Come From Trees in the Enterprise

Like referred to in an earlier post, I started a new position at VMware recently. Well, given the fact that VMware's virtualization products help enterprises consolidate their server farms, which is a huge energy saver, in that each server probably costs about $500 in power to run a year, I figured that the company might be open to some "green" innovation of a less technologically advanced sort.

So I set up a meeting with Wally Hong, VMware's head of real estate and facilities, to brief him on the These Come From Trees project, and see if there was a place for the project in the VMware mix.

Well, the meeting went great. VMware's in the process of building a new campus too, called "Promontory" which Wally shared with me has a goal of being a truly green campus. So I figured that was a great opportunity. It's unclear what is happening at Promontory in terms of paper towel dispensers. If the bathrooms had yet to be outfitted, I encouraged Wally to use the sensor-activated paper towel dispensers, in that the "time out" they have keeps people from being able to pull a bunch of towels in quick succession. However, if they had already outfitted the bathrooms with "old school" dispensers (like in VMware's current building stock), I encouraged him to consider the stickers as a useful retrofit.

I told him about the idea behind the project, inspired by watching people eat at In N Out (mildly creepy, yes), and how it had evolved, and the preliminary results we got from testing at a local coffee shop.

I also encouraged him to pay attention the next time he was in the bathroom at how many paper towels are used per wash. My non-scientific observations have resulted in the same rough average of three towels per washer at VMware as at movie theaters, coffee shops, and restaurants. I have a feeling it really has to do with the ease with which C-fold paper towels can be pulled from the dispenser.

Anyway, we ended the meeting with me giving Wally some stickers, and him saying he would pass along the idea to his report who is in charge of facilities. So we'll see what happens next. I'll be sure to post about it here.

There's a big opportunity, to be sure. Based on what I saw, three paper towels a trip to the restroom, and maybe three trips a day per person, times 250 work days in a year, times 2500 people is 6 million paper towels a year. Wow!

A "pack" of C-fold towels has 175 sheets in it, so we're talking 35k "packs" per year. There are 20 packs in a case, so 1700 cases. Assuming we see a similar reduction of 15% to what we saw in our pilot test, that's 270 cases VMware could save a year.

Each case weighs 20 pounds, so that's around 5k pounds of paper towels. Good lord, that's 2.5 TONS! And based on our rule of thumb that you get 150 pounds of paper out of a tree, VMware could save 35 trees-worth of paper a year by deploying "These Come From Trees" stickers in their restrooms. Pretty cool.

And this is just one company with 2500 employees. If we get some traction at VMware, look out Cisco, Oracle, eBay, Adobe, and Google....!

Anyway, like I said, when I know more, I'll post it here.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

We're open source now!

The "These Come From Trees" project has now had its first meaningful open source experience. Witness, our new sticker.

To explain this process, a little story. Not too long ago I was at a speaking event at Citizen Agency in San Francisco, an internet company consultancy with a specialty in community. The event happened to be a speaking workshop, organized by Tara Hunt, and given by Lura Dolas. And though the speaking workshop was great, another really interesting thing I came away with was this discussion I had with Chris Messina, another Citizen Agent, about trademarks versus "community marks."

Chris was one of the founders of "BarCamp," which initially started out as a one-off "un-conference" in which the attendees set the agenda on the first day, and where the attendees are also the presenters, in contrast to the typicaly conference model of a series of single speakers presenting slide decks to large audiences.

Chris and I were talking about how when a trademark is freed, either through a Creative Commons license, which we have on the TCFT slogan, or through being designated a community mark, while the original creator loses some control over it, and as such would have more difficulty capturing part of the value created by their idea for themselves, this downside can often be made up for by a variety of things that can help spread the idea that much faster and make it that much better.

These Come From Trees now has its very own example of this. The original "These Come From Trees" sticker was heavy on research and thought, but admittedly light on graphic design. This is largely because Pete is good at research, good at thinking things through, but not all that great on Adobe Illustrator.

Furthermore, Pete's a big fan of fast prototyping, and iterating a design over time to get better as it interacts with the market. Well, the first instantiation of the "These Come From Trees" sticker worked well enough to prove its value in the pilot test, so we went with it.

Well, the other day, out of the blue, we received this email:

Hi Pete,

I came across your blog the other day, brilliant idea. Really like it.

Coincidentally, it’s a case of right time right place for an idea I’d had too. I’ve recently started a blog called Brand Boggler, and one of the ideas I’ve had is something called “Random Acts of Designess”, where designers do random acts of design for an unsuspecting cause they’d like to help.

More importantly though, I wanted to help you, so have done some work on your sticker for you to improve it’s standout and message – self explanatory really. I hope you don’t think this rude, and if you don’t like what I’ve done then no problem, just ignore it. If you do like it, I can easily send you the artwork or make some amendments, whatever you like really.

You can find out more about me and my blog here:
Hope you like the sticker, and look forward to hearing from you.

Guy Paterson

Guy had gone and re-factored our design. He had take what was an amateur attempt, and recognized the value in it, and put his own talent into making it look at good as it should.

It wasn't yet perfect, for example, Guy's from Australia, so he had changed the part that talks about how much paper can be saved a year into metric! But it certainly was a step up from the previous incarnation. So Guy and I continued to iterate the design he had come up with until it got to the point where it adhered to all the requirements we had come up with for the product.

At this point, we've ordered some new stickers, a small batch of 500 of this new design, to make sure that they look as good in sticker format as they do on the screen.

The big takeaway has been how fortunate we are to have licensed this project with a Creative Commons license, because it has let people all across the world interact more meaningfully with the project, and in this one case, have a big input into where it is going.

Now, with this sort of professional design, it makes it all the more acceptable for a large organization to deploy these all across their bathrooms, copiers, and printers. In fact, one of my tasks this weekend is to craft an email to the head of VMware's facilities department to see about getting together to get an officially sanctioned implementation going at the six or so VMware building locations throughout Palo Alto--servicing some 2000 employees, day in, day out.

Should be fun!

Sunday, March 11, 2007

TCFT in your Inbox!

Thanks to a product by the company FeedBlitz, you can now subscribe to have our posts show up in your email inbox, so you can keep up to date on the project!

Cool, eh? It's right over there to the right. You can just pop your email in there, and you'll get our posts in your inbox, rather than having to come back here to check in.

Of course, this blog also has an RSS feed that you can use with your feedreader, but not everyone uses one of those, so we thought we'd add this!

We have some exciting news coming up this week, so we want to make sure everyone can keep up with it!

Saturday, March 10, 2007

These ALSO come from trees! Part deux

Gail comments over on Tod Brilliant's blog about how she is going to use a "These Come From Trees" sticker on her printer to help her think for a second about how important her print job is before she prints it.

Great idea! hadn't even thought about that for home printing use. I have a sticker on my paper towel dispenser at home, and some on the outer case of my laptop, but not on my printer or keyboard! I'll have to fix that immediately.

In the spirit of "delivering the message at the point of decision making" I would recommend putting one on your computer monitor or keyboard, in addition to the printer. While the one on your printer will be helpful to internalize the message more broadly, you're not looking at it at the moment you hit "print."

This is why we encourage people to put the sticker on the paper towels dispenser right where the eyes fall while pulling out towels--so the message can be delivered right at the moment that the reader can actually do something about it--like one of those digital speed limit signs with the radar gun in it, it flahes to grab your attention, shows you the speed you're doing RIGHT NOW such that you can do something about it RIGHT NOW: take your foot off the gas. Which is kinda what we're encouraging: people to take their foot off the gas for their printer, copier, or paper towel dispenser!

Good thinking Gail! Keep 'em coming everyone.

These ALSO come from trees! Part trois

I just started a new job at VMware, a big software company. I now work in a cube-land, with lots of knowledge workers typing away on their machines, and, printing stuff out on their printers, and copying lots of copies.

Well, this last week has been somewhat of an eye-opener. When I was a consultant, I used an HP deskjet printer for all my printing needs, which weren't a whole helluva lot, but not zero either. But what was important there was that it was Pete paying for those spendy little inkjet cartridges. As a result, you think twice before hitting the "Print" button on that 50 page PDF document.

That dynamic changes when you know that your workstation is mapped to a burly Toshiba copier that can print that 50 page report in the flash of an eye--all on someone else's dime...

The other day, my friend Erin, who also works at VMware noticed a stack of "These Come From Trees" stickers on my desk, and pointed out, "Hey, we should put those on the copiers too." I thought it was a really good point, and bore looking into.

I'm a little conflicted about it, because this project was initially aimed at what I like to call "unintentional waste" of paper resources, like with napkins at fast food restaurants, and paper towels in public restrooms. That is, where people accidentally use too much, just because they're not really paying attention. The goal of this project has never been to tell people to not use resources that they feel they need. That might be someone else's project, like projects that work to get people to stop driving SUVs, or what have you, but it's beyond the aim of this project.

I'm not 100% sure if this idea of discouraging "unintentional waste" applies to business copying and printing to the same extent. I mean, a lot of the stuff that gets printed is very important, and helps the company make money--if it didn't, they wouldn't have printers and copiers.

And whereas I could sit and watch nearly every group of people at In N Out throw out multiple clean napkins, or sit in the bathroom (hidden in a stall!), listening to how many paper towels were pulled per hand-wash (they make a "shoonk! shoonk! shoonk!" sound as they are yanked out of the holder! It ended up averaging like three and a half towels--most people used two, three, or four but occasionally you'd here someone, literally, pulling ten in succession. It was fascinating--but this is for a separate post), it's harder to know the size of the opportunity for reduction in a business printing / copying context.

But at the same time I have to feel that a lot of the time big ol' powerpoint decks get printed out, placed on a conference table "just in case" attendees, who have been emailed that same deck, want a paper copy right there because they didn't bring their laptop. Or big ol' PDF reports getting printed out for "reading later" but ultimately just get dumped. So while I know the opportunity for reduction is non-zero, I don't know how big it is. Haven't done the homework yet.

Also, I wonder to what extent this would have an impact? I tested the initial "These Come From Trees" sticker in a coffee shop bathroom, measuring impact on paper towels. But this is different. Maybe I should do a test at VMware and report back.

What do you guys think? I suppose this is kinda the goal of this being an community driven, "open source" guerrilla public service announcment. Ultimately, it relies on the judgment of those using the sticker to be wise about where to deploy them to get the point across, but without damaging the cause. I'm sure if we all just make sure to be thoughtful about it, we'll make the right move.

Friday, March 2, 2007

Cognitive Dissonance, and how not to be Gored

Having watched the incipient (and likely planned) backlash against Al Gore for his family's own electricity usage in the face of his work on Inconvenient Truth , got me thinking about how important it is for the "whole package" of a given product / service to "hang" together in the right way.

This is true with "These Come From Trees" as well, and I thank my buddy Noah, whose RA I was in college, for pointing this out in a message he sent me from the TCFT Facebook group. Noah's a journalist, so he spends a lot of time thinking about words and communicating. To quote him:

"If I were trying to really clarify the message though, I'd print recycled stickers. "

Totally good point right? After some research, custom-printed recycled stickers don't really exist as far as I could tell. Secondly, if they did exist, they would like come at a cost premium. Don't know how much, but as a fairly niche product, it would probably be appreciable.

This might be problematic, because we want to make sure that the costs of the stickers are as supportable as possible, such that as many people as possible are willing to buy them. Their inexpensiveness helps make the message more pervasive, which is the point. The more stickers out there, the more "costless waste reduction."

But Noah's point leads to a broader point, which is: the performance has to match the expectation, and this means anticipating questions like that, and dealing with them.

So, I've been trying to make sure that the "whole product" here jives with the intent. But I've been having a hard time. So many people have ordered stickers, which is awesome, that we've been scrambling to get all the infrastructure in place to get those orders out.

When I went to Office Depot yesterday, I specifically set out to find small footprint, recycled envelopes in which to send the stickers to people who got them. But mirabilis dictu, they didn't have any. Not a single one. Amazing huh?

We had to get some envelopes to start sending out stickers, so the first batch isn't recycled. However, going forward, we're going to make sure that all components of the project adhere to this guideline, as long as it doesn't impede the larger goals of the project (for example, not going to be making handmade stickers out of scraps of old envelopes--defeats the goals of the project).

Our next batch of envelopes will be coming from here.

Thanks for the food for thought, Noah, and everyone else who has been commenting.