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, February 26, 2007

Print-at-home problems, and Creative Commons solutions

Doc Sanchez had a great question in a comment, that deserves its own post. He said:

"Why not make the graphic downloadable? Then any schmo like me can print them off at home on a standard set of Avery labels from Staples (or wherever).

It'd only take a few minutes to set it up for easy home printing and would save everyone some money and time."

Exactly. If indeed this project is not-for-profit, and the point is solely to spread the idea as quickly and broadly as possible, why not enable print-from-home? It's a fantastic question, Doc.

The answer lies in the whole concept of win-win "costless conservation." That is, when conceiving of the product that could hit all the requirments necessary to make sure all stakeholders in this would win (paper towel users, environmental crusaders, and bathroom owners), we had to test, test, and test again to make sure the only stakeholder bearing the cost here was the paper towel producer.

We actually initially used Avery labels to do the prototype of the sticker. And the fact that we could do it, meant that anyone else could. So we were excited that this could help spread the idea quicker.

But while we were thinking through the full lifecycle of the sticker, we hit on "hey, bathrooms get cleaned. These things need to stand up to cleaning solvent. We should check that."

Well, we broke out the bottle of Simple Green, and gave the paper towel dispenser a squirt, and proceeded to wipe that sucker down. And as we wiped across the sticker, sure enough, the HP InkJet ink was no match. In fact, neither was the initial set of stickers we got from Contagious Graphics , the company that makes the stickers. We have 500 of our initial label run that we can't deploy, because their ink would smear when cleaned. The good news is, the second revision of the stickers, which are now laminated, stand up to cleaning.

However, the reason why this is important, is because the bathroom owner is just a part of this project as the label sticker. She's the one who decides whether it stays or goes. And if the ink is smeared, it ceases to provide value to that bathroom owner, and simply becomes another bit of graffiti for that poor business owner to deal with. And that is the opposite of the win-win proposition we're trying to achieve here.

So, as of now, in that we wouldn't want the "These Come From Trees" concept associated with stickers that degrade and are ugly, we aren't offering the image for download and self-print.

However, what we are doing is releasing the "These Come From Trees" design and slogan under a Creative Commons attribution license.

And we've notified Contagious Graphics that anyone can email them (paperlabels [at] contagiousgraphics [dot] com) and order the 2/19/07 proof version of the These Come From Trees graphic, in any quantity (their minimum order is 500 pcs), so long as they are laminated, and the 3" x 1.5" size.

Right now, the only reason why we're selling the labels is because not everyone may be excited about shelling out $120 for 500 stickers just yet. We're hoping that you order 20, 50, or 100 to start, and once you try it out, you realize how many you can put to work (I'm amazed when I find that I've put up 10 in a day, but it happens!), and call up Contagious Graphics on your own to get a big ol' order.

All we ask is that you post picture on Flickr, and tag them "tcft" and report back on your successes!

UPDATE: Henriette points out that I should be more specific about the Creative Commons license. The slogan and image can be used for anything non-commercial with attribution. Go forth and have fun with the slogan and image!

Welcome Seth Godin Readers

To everyone showing up thanks to the Seth Godin link, welcome to the These Come From Trees Blog!

This site is set to be the online pivot point of this project, the goal of which is to do some "costless conservation" with a viral sticker campaign that encourages people to think twice as they use paper towels and napkins.

As I said to Seth in my email, this project entails a lot of what he talks about on his blog: enthusiasm, candor, authenticity, and respect. So I'm looking forward to see what his readership has to say about it.

Check out the background of the project broken out below, and please provide comments, criticism, and feedback as they come to you! And subscribe to our RSS feed, and you can see updates and traction on the project as we post about it.

And if you think this is something you'd like to try out in your neck of the woods, stickers are for sale in the right sidebar!


Ask Versus Tell, and other marketing realities

This was touched on a bit in the previous post, but I thought it was worthwhile to expand on.

A big part of the idea behind this project was predicated on my belief that all things being equal, most people want to do the right thing. And this extends to conservation as well. As long as it's not terribly costly (like giving up your car, or riding to work in the rain), people are usually open to an environmental message.

But the question is, how is that message delivered? In our society, there are few times when someone can tell you what to do, and you're ok with it. Your parents (hi mom), you girlfriend, your boss, the police, etc.

But even then, are you really all that happy about it? "Move along sir," "clean up your room, Pete," all of these aren't exactly fun messages to hear. But you get over it, because you know that the alternative to non-compliance isn't exactly fun.

However, compare this to when someone asks you a favor. Especially when done in a friendly, considerate way. Most people have zero problem doing a small something if asked nicely about it. "Can you watch my bag while I'm in the bathroom?" "Excuse me, would you mind moving over one seat, so my friend and I can sit next to each other in this film?" and so on.

So, it was based on this thinking that the "These Come From Trees" message was adopted. The idea was that people didn't need to TOLD. That's why that sign in SFO airport was annoying enough to be that I took a picture of it with my cameraphone.

Or this sign that was in the men's bathroom at the Stanford Book Store (the fact that it was in the men's room is another topic). "Thank you for your cooperation."? That's a little harsh sounding. Sounds like the IRS or LAPD talking. How about "Thanks for your help in keeping the bathroom nice for everyone"?

In situations where we're the customer, we typically expect a little more deference. When you call tech support, they don't tell you "I need you to wait while I get rid of this other person" they say "Could you hold please?" or "Sir, I'll be right with you in a moment while I take her order." That's the right kind of tone to make someone receptive to your message.

Even with the "These Come From Trees" message, I really wrestled with whether or not "Remember..." should precede the message. I was very concerned that it could be construed as pedantic, and make it less likely for someone to consume, subscribe to, and execute on the message. And in this case, the difference between a pedantic message, and a respectful one could mean a tree's worth of paper over the life of the sticker.

Ultimately I went with it, because the message "These Come From Trees" without the "Remember" sounds like a statement, as opposed to an implicit request, and this message is, after all a request.

But still, it's important to think about how to ask nicely.

Friday, February 23, 2007

The Right Message at the Right Time

Because I'm a recovering grammar nazi, and all around writing wonk, I kinda nerd out on effective versus ineffective communication. It's one of the things that makes me laugh, and enjoy life that much more.

For example, on the theme of bathrooms, those signs posted above sinks or paper towel dispenser that say "Washing your hands is good for your health, and required by law for employees". Those signs crack me up, because they're great signs, in the totally WRONG PLACE.

In that I'm a guy, I'll look at this from the male user's perspective: the decision of whether or not to wash your hands--the very decision that sign is trying to influence--isn't made at the sink! If you're at the sink, guess what, you've already been convinced! It's called preaching to the choir. If the sign-posters really wanted to affect hand sanitation, they'd post those signs over each urinal and the backs of stall doors, where I have nothing else to read! The advertisers have certainly already figured it out....

Anyway, so that's an example of BAD textual communication. Right message, wrong context. But what makes me even happier than the giggles out of seeing bad examples of communication is finding really GOOD ones.

And I had a feeling that the right message in the right context could be helpful reducing "costless" paper waste (more on "costless" in another post) that I had been paying attention to lately.

As such I figured that the message had a couple requirements:

1.It needed to be friendly. No one likes to be lectured. In the situations where I saw this message being deployed, the relationship is between a customer and service provider, and most customers don't like to be lectured. Further, because this was likely going to be a guerrilla message--not sanctioned, at least initially--by the "bathroom owner" the message needed to be costless to him too, and not insult his customers. That picture was taken at SFO, where even the bathroom signs display the dictatorial tone only possible by a government agency or other massive monopolist. Ick.

2. It needed to be portable. The collective action issue of having to convince, say, the VP of Operation for Starbucks, or whatever, was too much for a side project like this. Also, going to Kimberly Clark or Georgia Pacific (paper manufacturers) was going to be a non-starter--you think they want to see their sales fall? No. So this message would likely need to be added to a paper dispenser by a viral agent--you, me, whoever. That means that it had to be smallish, so you could carry it around and stick them on appropriate. This pointed towards stickers. Just as portable as graffiti, but nicer looking. Which leads us to...

3. It needed to look nice. Because these messages were going to be hosted in a venue that was "owned" by someone who wasn't the message transmitter (the good samaritan who posted the sticker), there was a duty on our part to make sure that the message didn't create problems. Again, we were shooting for joint value here: the only results for the bathroom owner should be that his paper towel costs fall, and he gets to feel like he's doing his part to help conserve resources. As such, we figured that a nice, well-designed sticker, with nice colors would be the right way of going about this.

4. It needed to be memorable. We needed the message itself to be "sticky", to add to its propensity to stay with the reader even after he left the place where he read it. So we shot for something that had a rhyme to it.

5. It needed a viral call to action. We already pointed out two audiences that the message needed to serve: 1. People using paper products and 2. the bathroom/venue "owner." But there was a third audience too: people who would be interested in helping with this project on their own, beyond using one less paper towel. This meant that we needed a viral call to action on the sticker. Something that told people why this was important, that their help was requested, and what their next step was if they chose to do so.

Ultimately, what we came up with is what you see above. We settled on a paper roll label as the most cost effective and portable medium to use, which would allow a well-designed, visually appealing message, in a mass-produce-able format. Vinyl stickers are too costly $.25-$.50 each just to buy, and are hard to get off (if someone really wants to remove the sticker, we don't want to make it terrible for them to do so).

We decided on the "These come from trees" message in that it evoked the value we wanted communicated to the viewer: using less of these helps save big, leafy, natural things. Its internal rhyme was nice, and had nice alliteration too. It hints at why the user might want to think about how much paper they're consuming, but it doesn't TELL them in a nasty "USE ONLY WHAT YOU NEED, YOU'RE A BAD PERSON IF YOU USE PAPER" fashion. I'd seen messages like that, and they're just gross. This was trying to be helpful, and non-judgmental. Kinda like a friend warning you just before you step in a puddle.

As for the viral call to action, we figured there was no better way than to leverage the memorable "These come from trees" than to buy the domain, and use that as the pivot point for this project.

Hence, as you can see, it's a blog, with pictures from people who have stuck stickers and snapped pics of them, and more. It also provided the venue whereby people could buy stickers to help promote the message. $.20 per sticker, each of which saves a tree's worth of a paper a year (more on that statistic later).

So that was the design process behind the These Come From Trees sticker. We're still evaluating to make sure it's the best way for everyone involved (paper users, sticker stickers, and venue owners) to get the message out, and we're always open to comments!

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

These ALSO come from trees!

In the previous post, I touched a bit on how this whole project was set in motion. But once I had been awakened to pervasiveness of what I saw as unintentional, and costlessly avoidable, waste, I was really curious: where else is this happening? Where else are we accidentally, unintentionally wasting paper, but for the want of a helpful hint?

The answer was that far away from really. Just around the bend really.

Have you ever been washing your hands in a public bathroom, and when you're all done, it's time to dry them? Well, you sidle on over to the paper towel dispenser, and proceed to dispense paper towels to get your hands as dry as possible as quickly as possible. No one likes that icky cold water feeling, so usually this means pulling three, four, five paper towels. I've even seen someone pull out a good dozen or so, I guess each one picking up a eye-dropper of water. If we're talking about one of those roll dispensers with the spring-powered lever, you whale on that thing a good four or five times to get a nice paper towel shawl.

And I'm not saying this is what OTHER, unconscientious people were doing. No, this is EXACTLY what I was doing. I found myself doing it too, using three, four or more paper towels to dry my hands. I had never really considered it. But then when I thought about it, how much paper towel was I really "using" of those three? Because In N Out had helpfully awakened me to the These Come From Trees concept, I took a closer look.

What I realized was, of those two, or three, or four paper towels, I probably ended up using only about 30% of each. That is, rather than using up all the "dry"--to use a really bad coinage--in just one towel, I was using up just a little bit of the "dry" usually the "dry" right in the middle of the towel, in like three or four towels. Of course,along with this, meant that I was throwing away three 70% dry towels. Yikes. How many people use this bathroom a day? How many in a year? Oh goodness. That's a big number...

"But come on, Pete!" I thought to myself. "Surely you get something out of those extra paper towels!" I decided to do an experiment. Rather than doing the typical "pull three towels and rub" move, I would pull one, and see how it worked.

I was really conscious of seeing if this actually affected my experience, because everyone knows that hand-dryers are more environmentally friendly and all that, but at the end of the day, they suck because they take like a minute to use. I don't want to sit around in the bathroom for an extra sixty seconds! Come on! So I was very aware of whether or not using only one towel had a meaningful effect on my hand drying experience.

The amazing thing was, it didn't. Really. One towel, which then got like totally wet, did more or less the same job at three or four. It didn't take longer. My hands weren't colder. Nothing. So then I thought "I'll splurge" and tested using two. At this point, my hands were REALLY dry, really fast. So then I tried three. At that point, i couldn't even tell the difference between two and three towels. Not to mention four.

Based on all this testing, I concluded that I had found another instance where a lot of users, completely unknowingly, and for god knows what reason, where totally overusing a resource, and for no additional benefit. And the flip of that was that they could reduce that use, WITHOUT any cost. No performance hit. No nothing. Just pure, tree-saving goodness.

I had found something else that came from trees! But there I was again: what to do about it?

Monday, February 19, 2007

These Come From Trees Elevator Pitch

If you're here, you may have heard about this on the web, seen a sticker in a coffee shop / restaurant near you, or just might be a friend or family member of our dear Pete.

So, for those who don't know, the These Come From Trees concept was originated while having lunch at In N Out, that bastion of tasty burgers. The way that In N Out works, you order your food, wait for it to be made, grab it when your order is called, and then head on over to the ketchup and napkin dispensing island. Well, the thing is, because the ketchup and the napkins are centrally located, and you don't want to have to get back up to get more, you typically end up taking more than you really need.

Now, usually that sort of thing would just go without saying. But when I was at In N Out, looking around, I couldn't help but notice the napkins. Everywhere. Stacks of napkins on people's tables, out of which one or two would get used during the course of the meal. But here's the catch: when people are done, they don't leave the napkins. I think anyone would agree that the idea of using some random napkins on your table when you sit down would be rather, um, icky. So most of the people, as I watched, did the conscientious thing to reset the table to its base state for the next group, which means scooping up that stack of unused napkins, putting them on the tray with the other trash, and into the garbage they go!

This was amazing to me. Here we all were, me too, going about our business, not really thinking about the impact of our actions because, in this case, the resource was "free" to use.

Further, this wasn't an example of someone calling into question whether the use or misuse of a resource was "justified." This wasn't the same as someone saying "Wow, you shouldn't drive that Hummer, because you have no use for it" or making some other value judgment. Any reasonable person, when asked "should unused paper goods be thrown into the trash" would probably look at you sideways before saying, "Duh, no Pete."

That's what was amazing about this situation. If actually made to think of about these actions, everyone would be in agreement. I think if you asked anyone in there dumping napkin after napkin into the trash if they cared about conservation and the wise use of resources, we'd all say "yes." Of course we would. It was just that the thought process to intervene wasn't immediate, and internalized. But maybe there was a way that it could be.

I was truly curious how pervasive this problem was, and if there was a way we could all just "snap out of it" at the moment of consumption, and somehow reduce our waste. As I started noodling on it, I resolved to research how extended this problem was, and put my mind towards seeing if there were any good ways to deal with it.

Hello World!

This is the first post of the new These Come From Trees blog.

This blog, which will probably be replaced by a more customizable site in the near future, is the online home of the "These Come From Trees" project, an experiment in viral guerilla marketing, both online and offline, in the service of reduced consumer waste.

We welcome comments, praise, and constructive criticisms all. Thanks for stopping by.