Saturday, December 03, 2005

A Helping Hand

A few weeks ago, a very interesting email arrived via the site. It was from a charitable 'business' in India that have a simple proposition: essentially they turn discarded carrier bags into rather stylish bags of a rather more permanent variety, essentially by weaving them.

Much as with our relationship with local social enterprise EnviroAbility , the premise looks sound. They have a workforce on tap who needs work, has the appropriate skillset and in conducting their business essentially take 'waste' materials and turn them into something that can be reused. How is that!

Their problem seems to be getting access to the raw materials (carrier bags) out from the UK to India, and of course getting the finished product (fashion bags) back for sale here.

It has so far proven an enlightening and enjoyable experience, and I am determined to do all I can to help make this work if at all possible. I see it as what was set up to do.

However the level of commitment required in doing the necessary level of research and making the possible connections is not something we can afford to commit at present, despite my belief that a success in making this happen will be a worthy vindication of our intentions and abilities.

Unfortunately this has all coincided with our site redesign and a bunch of other tasks we have been set by OLOV (Our Ladies of Vision) to basically focus our efforts to income generation as a matter of priority. It makes sense. No money means we can't help oursleves, much less anyone else.

So I have, with regret, had to tell them that while we will do our best as a little 'as 'n when' side project, they really shouldn't rely on us to be their only source of UK assistance. It wouldn't be fair to do this project less than the justice it deserves.

As we have no axe to grind other than helping, I here share a summary of what I have suggested to them to date. I'm thinking of making our ongoing efforts a sort of 'Project in Progress' that those who are interested can follow as we try our best, so that you can share in our successes and learn from our mistakes. I can also extend their exposure beyond this blog to the diRE:ctory, category pages (we have one on carrier bags!), editorial, etc.

They approached us for our possible connections to councils, and we do have some that we can and will for sure pursue.

However, it was my feeling that councils may not be the primary route, if only becuase I am not to sure if they actually collect carrier bags in any volume.

Obviously those who do are such supermarkets as operate a collection facility. Thing is, I don't know what happens to them, and hence am hoping to find out when I get time (or get told). My personal view is that the supermarkets who seem to have rated most highly in ENV/RE: initiatives we've read about lately would be most receptive. So I'm thinking Marks and Sparks, Waitrose and possibly Boots. We'll certainly give 'em a go. Wonder if they'll take our call?

Another avenue to consider is recyclers, but here I suspect we may run into that age old problem of targets. Anything we come up with that takes reuse chunks out of recycling volumes may not be greeted too well. But the %ages will not be significant, and the PR value of a charity aspect may serve to outweigh the downsides.

Speaking of charity, that is another route. I have often seen signs in charity shops seeking 'old' carriers for their re-use. That would suggest low volumes, but it is worth a thought if made part of a campaign. I fear a certain amount of turf-guarding may negate this route, as we have found some charity initiatives to have fallen foul of this reason before. A pity, as they would surely have the logistics of getting a container out and back to such areas sorted, surely?

And we have also started to be aware of certain cautions that various public and private organisations will apply to such ventures, perhaps highlighted by this email that arrived the other day:

We would like to draw your attention to an investigative documentary being screened by the BBC on Monday 5th of December. It concerns allegations that materials separated for recycling by facilities receiving waste from a number of local authorities, including London Boroughs, are being illegally dumped on third world countries. The programme is called Real Stories and is on BBC 1 at 7.30 pm.

Worth a gander, I'd say. But such issues don't make life easy, do they? Especially such as this one, where we are bascially just trying to see if we can make what seems like a great idea (our unwanted carrier bags get made into something that we take back and in so doing help empower poorer workers in another country, with everyone looking a bit better and making a little bit in the process - I guess that excludes us, but if we do make it happen it may serve to bring our efforts under some useful radars in big business, the media and even the public) come to pass.

It also shows how nothing is ever quite as simple as it may first seem.

We know no more about this venture than they have told us, and we can glean from their site. But it seems worthy.

Here's the URL:

And if I'm up to the task I've attached a picture they sent of the process and the result. I'd buy 'em!

If you do have an idea or can offer a helping hand to move this along, with or without our input, get in touch: We do have some more info we'll try and post on site soon... when we have time.

Or I'm sure they would be happy to hear from you direct. Just tell them where you heard about it!

Ok, I've tried to be good. Now it's payback time!

This follows on from the last blog, which I maintain is about positives despite my also having a bit of a 'vent'.

This... is pure... eyebrow twitching.

On more than one occasion, we have been told that because we're 'commercial' (we take ads to fund our merry ways) we cannot be featured (we report, but we also like to be reported on) in various 'non-commercial' (which does seem to cover a multitude of si...tes) media outlets. 

The definitions can get a bit hard to grasp. In my 'Cross of Ross' guise I once took to task a major publically-funded - and highly precious of its responsibilities editorially - broadcaster. It was for a news item that seemed to consist of 15 minutes on the joys of plastic surgery vacations, devoted solely to one exotic 'venue', their pricelist & gushing testimonials included (plus some gory T&A), with no analysis of the competition or any pros and cons. I suspect they did not reply because I opined this was more a blatant funded jolly for the production team and ratings grabbing filler for the editorial, than any attempt at objective news.

And elsewhere we have already found ourselves denied coverage on more than one occasion despite being free to use, yet seen others gain coverage when their - admittedly ENV/RE: - products or services do actually involve the audience in costs.

Anyway, who said life was fair? 

So I could not help but be tickled by a piece, nutritionist-endorsed even, complete with price details, by a major online feed (slooow news day guys? Or a relative starting the business?) about a portable, temperature-controlled butter dish, called...[no way do I share this !!!], which keeps butter at... 'the optimal spreadable temperature of 18.5 C'.

Let me get this straight. A thing you plug in, 24/7, to keep the butter spreadable, when all you need do is take it out the fridge 5 minutes, and it gets national media coverage? Wish I could show the grab it took to you. But then that would be promoting this thing, now wouldn't it?

But you know the best bit? The banner ads around this were all for renewable energy, carbon footprints and such.  

Delicious. The irony, that is.

Positively frustrating

It's interesting that in sport it is the top performers and victories that get the headlines and the kudos. 

But in most other areas of news there seems more attention paid to the 'losers' or the bad stories. Negative trumps positive most of the time. Especially in the world of 'ENV/RE:' (Or environment/all-the-'re's'. I see potential in this play on the word envy, which is also associated with the colour green, though it is with negative connotations. Watch this space. You may be in at the birth of a catchword. Or not). 

At, we really think that it is possible to make for an interesting and valuable site experience by pushing the positives, perhaps with a few eye-twitches to spice the entertainment mix, mainly restricted to this blog, directed at those who may be straying from the path of righteousness.

However, it's not always easy championing the good. And a lot of folk do make it hard. 

Recently we discovered, after much excavating, a pretty neat line in products being brought out by a major high street retailer. So we got in touch, and ended up with a most helpful chap who shared what he knew. Trouble is, we'd learned about all this from the industry media, and as the contact given he was more on the technical side of things. Anyway, to make the piece more consumer-friendly he did suggest we get some pictures from the others involved, including a major govt-funded (that's your and my money, by the way) non-profit organisation, who we were told would also give us the skinny on a few other big brands doing neat stuff. 

We have yet to hear back. We have also yet to get a reply from this company's PR or marketing folk, despite asking to to be contacted so we could make the most of this and any other initiatives on our pages.

What little we did get IS on the site, because we wanted to SHOUT IT FROM THE ROOFTOPS! 

Here is a range you can opt to buy not just because of the product, but the packs are also a plus, planet-saving wise. If you care about such things, it's your call to go that route. Or not. But at least you know about it. Only I'm prepared to bet that via most media avenues you don't. Yet here we were... are... ready, willing and able to bring it straight to the consumer. FREE.

Yes, putting on my editorial hat I admit that here I am being coy about naming names. Well, we are not in the business... yet... of making grumpy the folk we'd like, and to make life easier need, to work with. I very much doubt they read this blog, but if I did get specific they'd get told and get nasty. It's such a shame that we live in a culture so averse to constructive critiques.

But watch this space; if you get ignored too often then you just have to follow your own path.

And this is a blog, so I can at least vent a wee bit of frustration. And opine that if we can't do it with some folk, we will just have to do it despite them. Odd rationalising that last sentence with the fact that we're trying to help sell a brand's own products and assist in promoting officially-supported improvements to consumers' environmental purchasing.