Where Stuff's From, And Where It Goes

by Brian Haven
@ 1:10 AM

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» Design Thinking
» Research



I'm in the process of interviewing people for my upcoming Forrester report on corporate social responsibility. One of my interview participants pointed me to this great video by Annie Leonard called The Story Of Stuff. This 20 minute video illustrates the life cycle of the things we use every day. Annie, with a great illustrated animation hovering behind her, explains the stages of this process as extraction (obtaining the natural resources), production (using energy to convert those materials into products), distribution (transporting those products to retail locations and the sale of said products), consumption (our use of the products), and disposal (discarding the product when it is no longer useful or wanted).

One of the most sobering observations from this video is a quote from retail analyst Victor Lebow shortly after World War II The Story Of Stuff[The Story Of Stuff, the life cycle of the products we use and what's wrong with the system.] (and echoed by Eisenhower's Council of Economic Advisor Chairman). The country was trying to figure out how to help society recover from the long war.

Lebow said:

Our enormously productive economy . . . demands that we make consumption our way of life, that we convert the buying and use of goods into rituals, that we seek our spiritual satisfaction, our ego satisfaction, in consumption . . . we need things consumed, burned up, replaced and discarded at an ever-accelerating rate.
(Leonard cites Alan Durning — How Much Is Enough?)

And here we are. There's nothing we can do to change the past, but I firmly believe that the the answer to our materials and energy problems lie in an innovation and product development solution. The more design thinking companies can foster, the faster we can get to a solution. As Christine Arena so elequently addresses in her book, The High Purpose Company, companies like GE and DuPont are dumping lots of money into R&D and are coming up with some very compelling solutions. I suppose the key question is can companies dispense with the 'green' bullshit and incremental efforts and really think about solutions anchored to the context of the companies core competencies. Let's all hope they can, but it will take some significant cultural shifts.


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