Monday, July 25, 2011

Eco-Friendly Traverse Trip - The garbage

Following up on my last post on how eco-friendly a road trip can be vs flying, today I want to talk garbage.  I know not a sexy topic, but we keep adding to our landfills and a lot of it is unnecessary. 

What makes garbage on road trips?
  • food (and particularly fast food) containers
  • pop cans, water bottles, coffee cups, juice boxes (of which there will be NONE on our trip
  • paper goods like - kleenex, wet-wipes, napkins and paper towels
  • paper and plastic bags
Food - Now I'm travelling with a couple of Food Revolution folks, so we won't be eating much fast food. We'll be buying food in grocery stores (we have all the Trader Joe's on our route mapped out), and doing a bit of quick mixing in our hotel rooms at night.  We will have a plug-in cooler to keep things cold.  Karen is all over it.  She will be using re-usable containers and plates/cutlery that she has in a picnic kit.   I've been looking at some options that would reduce our use of plastic, like metal containers, but in the end it might be better to use something we already have vs buying new of any type.  We will be avoiding plastic wrap, foil and plastic bags. 

For other snacks we are trying to buy some of the things we like to snack on in bulk.  So yes, there will be Hawkins Cheezie garbage, but at least it will be one big bag and not a bunch of small ones.  And I'll be bringing some Hippie Chips along too.  We might even put some of these snacks into re-usable containers to make them easier to pack.  Or that might be just a bit too much like my mother-in-law.

Drink Containers - This is likely the easiest option as our Traverse has LOTS of cup holders, so we can each bring a re-usable water container and coffee mug.  I'm going to fill our 10L camping water container and bring it along for the back of the vehicle, so we can refill our bottles and keep them in cooler if we like our water cold.  The only thing left is pop-cans. I think there is only only person who drinks pop in our car and she recently gave up her Coke Zero habit - glad she did that well in advance of the trip or it could have gotten ugly. :)

Front seat cup holders

Door cup holders

Back seat cup holders

Paper goods - This one is probably the hardest.  I can't imagine going on a road trip without wet wipes.  But Nicole and I are both former cloth diaper parents and she suggested we use a cloth wipe trick. I have a large pile of small face clothes, and Nicole has some other cloth wipes.  We'll bring them along with a little spray bottle of water, and a wet bag to store the dirty ones.  Then when the inevitable Hawkins Cheezies accident happens we are prepared.  I'm also going to bring some cloth napkins. We can rinse everything out in the hotel at night (I'll bring my portable laundry line too).  For the car I have a great organizer that hangs on the back of the seats, which includes a cup holder to hold our spray bottle.

I have never been able to bring myself to use a hanky, and allergies are bad this year, so I think some kleenex will be inevitable.  I'll try to keep them in a wet bag that can be deposited into a compost bin, if we find any along the road (like at Trader Joe's).

Bags - I'll bring along several cloth shopping bags. And I just picked up a great new collapsible box from Safeway.   I actually picked up two - one is square and perfect for stashing all my car computer stuff nice and neat in one place.  And the other is a rectangle and will be great for car snacks.  They both have a stiff bottom and sides so they won't fall over and get sloppy in the car. When empty, we fold them down and stash under a seat.
Garbage vs Recycling - I have a couple of small flexible recycling type bags, which can be used for garbage and recycling (and to keep our Traverse nice and tidy).  We'll keep the recyclable food packaging and any paper items. We should be able to find a place to put it - likely in our hotel blue bin.  But I don't think anyone wants to keep food scraps in the car for composting.  I expect we will be able to compost at Trader Joe's when we stop. Otherwise we'll be depositing those in the garbage bins when we stop, along with any other garbage that happens to make it into our car.
Isn't everyone excited to see my photos along the trip of how much garbage we have or have not collected. I know I am. 

Anyone have any other eco-friendly road trip tips?

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Eco-Friendly Traverse Trip

I love summer road trips. And now that we have actually had a few days of summer weather it feels like we should be heading on our summer trips.  I'll be heading on my big road #TraverseTrip to San Diego in just two weeks. It will be a great road trip with 3 blogging girlfriends Karen, Nicole and Alexis to Blogher '11 - no juice boxes allowed.   We've had a few interesting reactions to our road trip... mostly words I can't repeat here about how long a drive it will be. 

Yes, it will be a long drive! But there are some real environmental benefits to driving - besides being a great road trip adventure with my girlfriends.  So besides discussing fashion and shopping along the road on Fashion Forward 40, I'm also going to see how we keep our road trip as environmentally friendly as possible.

Lets start with the biggie.  Driving compared to flying.  For those that don't love numbers I do apologize as the next part gets a bit like Grade 5 math. 

A few facts/assumptions:
  • Number of travellers - 4
  • Vehicle - Chevrolet Traverse which gets a fantastic 8.4 L/100 km highway fuel consumption rating.  For the sake of simplicity we used the highway rating for our calculations, but we know our actual consumption will vary, especially when we consider LA traffic.  I'll track fuel consumption and do a final assessment at the end of our trip.
  • Driving Distance - Assumed direct drive from downtown Vancouver to downtown San Diego.  I'll track our mileage and give a final assessment at the end of our trip.
  • Flight - Assumed direct flights from YVR to SAN.

A direct flight from Vancouver YVR to San Diego SAN return is 3,792 km (you can search distance between airports here  Thanks to my friends at Climate Smart, who helped me with the math, I know that a return flight equates to 1.13 tonnes CO2 equivalent.   When flying each passenger is assessed a portion of the total carbon for the flight, so we must multiply that number by the 4 passengers  Total 4.52  tonnes CO2 equivalent.


Driving from downtown Vancouver to downtown San Diego and back again is 4,494 km.   With our Traverse highway fuel consumption, we should use 377.5 litres of gas which equals 1.0 tonnes CO2 equivalent.  Since that is the total vehicle calculation, I don't need to multiple by the number of occupants. Total 1.0 tonnes CO2 equivalent.

That means we save 3.52 tonnes CO2 equivalent driving vs flying.  Which means driving is 22% of what flying would be.  Or in real terms that means:

CO2 emissions from 133 propane cylinders used for home barbeques
Photo credit - Tomswift46 via Flickr Creative Commons


Greenhouse gas emissions avoided by recycling 1.1 tons of waste instead of sending it to the landfill
Photo credit -  D'Arcy Norman via Flickr Creative Commons

Annual greenhouse gas emissions from .626 passenger vehicles - which would be like only driving your car 4.5 months of the year.

Other Considerations

So if we are taking an eco-road trip what else do we need to consider?   Well garbage is a big one. And use of disposable products is another.  I'll have more on our plans to reduce our garbage next week.

Would you consider driving instead of flying for a vacation to help reduce your carbon footprint?

Resources...  and

Disclosure: GM is providing us with a loaner Chevrolet Traverse and paying for our hotels and gas to travel to San Diego and back.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Back Alleys and Sunshine

In the grey Vancouver winter my neighbourhood is quiet. We stay inside.  We use our backyards to access our vehicles in the garages that line the back alley.  We sneak out back to take out/bring  in the garbage.  We think of the back alley spaces as a means to an end.  Then the rain stops and the sun starts to shine. And the beauty of our neighbourhood and our back alleys becomes clear.  

I love the...
  • laughter of kids playing street hockey and the calling of "cars" in multiple languages
  • back yards of the Vancouver Specials, which are really just drive ways, lined on either side with thin patches of gardens planted full of tomatoes, peas and carrots
  • conversations with neighbours over the back fence
  • sound of multiple lawn mowers almost creating a symphony together
  • way kids don't see race, culture or religion, but instead see a friend to ride bikes with, even if they can't pronounce each other's names
  • water washing down the alley from cars being washed
  • laundry that appears almost by magic on the line the instant the sun peaks out for an hour
  • smiles and hellos as you walk along the alley
  • kids knocking on the gate asking if my son wants to play
  • sound of children yelling, screaming, crying and laughing
  • that the sense of neighbourhood and community is not lost
I love the back alleys of South East Vancouver.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Loyal Customers - true loyalists or just too lazy to change

Last week I attended a lovely event put on by Microsoft and the folks at Hotmail.  I found myself sitting in a room of 20 women or so and feeling embarrassed to say "My name is Tracey and I've had a Hotmail account since early 1997."  I was the only person in the room, who didn't work for Hotmail, that had kept their Hotmail account since the beginning.  I was proud of my dedication to hotmail, even through the rough spam heavy years (although truth be told nothing will ever beat the spam-fest that my Telus email account has become).  I stayed through the rise of gmail. In essence I stayed through the lean years when everyone else abandoned ship.

And that loyalty has paid off.  Hotmail began a real shift in the last few years.  They realize they took a lot of things for granted and dropped a few balls.  And increased functionality in their product has been great.  So over the past 2 years instead of choosing to open new accounts on other platforms I added to my existing hotmail world.  I did have a gmail account for my other blog for a while.  But it is now lives in my hotmail, along with my other 3 email accounts that all come into my hotmail hub.  So instead of having to come back to hotmail, I'm still there.  My loyalty has paid off with a better product.  And I right where I want to be.   Even if it makes me the only geek in the room.

But lets be honest.  Did I stay with Hotmail because of a strong sense of loyalty?  Did they give me fantastic customer service that I would never dream of leaving?  Did they offer me discounts or loyalty offers?  NO. 
I stayed because, really I didn't want to change my email account.  Yup, I was too lazy to change to something else. 

Apparently this is true in many aspects of my life. If it ain't broke I don't go out of my way to fix it.  I present the following as evidence:
  • Same bank since 1986.  Yes, I've added other banking products at other banks/credit unions. But my main account is still with the same bank.  Why? Well to me all the major banks come with their pros and cons. So why switch unless I really need to.  I always figured I'd change when I bought a house and had to figure out a mortgage (but I live in Vancouver and lets be frank a house isn't going to happen soon).
  • Same hairdresser since 1999.  Now I love my hairdresser and she continues to deliver a great product. She doesn't offer me price discounts.  But I feel she takes care of me.  I feel she appreciates my business and doesn't take me for granted.  So I'm loyal.  No cheating. Not even once in 12 years.
  • Same hotmail account since 1997.
  • Same car since 1999.
  • Same Internet provider since 2000.
  • Same cell phone provider since 2001.
I think you get the picture.  I'm a creature of habit.

So does this mean these brands can assume I'm a true brand loyalist?  No (except my hairdresser who I would recommend to anyone).  It just means I haven't been given a reason to leave for someone else.   

Unfortunately many brands read my loyalty as good points for them.  And then they leave me alone.  Well, except to perhaps offer me a discount to upgrade my service (and why is it I'm always suspect of their offer to help assess my products to make it better for me... always feel it is better for them). Yet, I see many of the same company's offering new customers a great bonus to lure them over.

Here is a novel idea.  What about spending a bit of time really nurturing your existing customers to ensure they become true brand loyalists.   Instead of just lazy customers.  Hotmail is certainly an example of a business working hard to keep my business.  They took a hard look at their product (and past mistakes), made some real customer focused improvements and are now reaching out to their loyal customers.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Everything I Learnt about Voting was from Survivor

I have voted at every election since I turned 18.  I always voted for the candidate in my riding that best fit with my personal beliefs.  I figured that was the way it was done.  Then I started watching Survivor.  For 22 seasons I've watched the highs, lows, twists, alliances, cat fights, crazies, idols and of course the master of all hosts Jeff Probst.  And as I prepare to vote in our upcoming Federal Election I realize my attitude towards voting has changed. And much of that comes from Survivor. 

And while much of the voting in Survivor is against someone else, many of the theories still apply.  So what have I learnt?
  1. There is no fair way to vote.  Dr. Sean Kenniff learnt that in Season 1 with his fair alphabetical system of voting.  Almost all of his votes were throw aways and he still pissed people off.
  2. The "Rats and Snakes" speech also applies to politics.  Susan Hawk strongly felt that everyone in the game was either a rat or a snake.  Political advertising often feels like the same speech, edited by highly educated speech writers.
  3. No matter how much you like someone if they aren't in the right alliance then they don't get your vote.
  4. Sometimes you can't vote for the person you want to win, but against the person you don't want to win.
  5. Vote splitting is risky but can be used to masterful results.  Of course there are no hidden immunity idols in politics, but after a number of minority governments it feels similar.
  6. Tribal Counsel and a Candidates Debate are strikingly similar. Although the debates could really use Jeff Probst to mediate.
  7. You want to trust, but really you can't.
  8. Sometimes the tail coat rider wins.
  9. Sometimes you can come back and win it all - Redemption Island, crazy twists where people get to come back or all-star seasons.  You never know if someone is really out until the final votes are counted.  Or after Jeff Probst does a crazy transportion montage to the LA studio.
  10. Causing discord at camp can be used to your advantage. 
  11. The people who you may piss off while in office are also the ones who have to vote for you in the end.
  12. You have to vote to stay alive in the game. 
And that last one is the most important. No matter your alliances, strategies or beliefs you need to vote to stay alive in the game. 

Monday, April 18, 2011

Follow Me on Twitter

This phrase "follow me on twitter" is starting to bug me.  It all started when The Bay (@thehudsonsbayco) radio ads added "..and you can follow us on twitter".  I've tried to engage with their brand on twitter several times and have had no interaction. When I look at their twitter stream I see some interaction but they, IHO, are not truly engaging.   

"Follow me" or the FB version of "Like me"  infers a one way communication.  You follow them , they provide information. Likely the same information they have traditionally pushed out through other channels - sales, events, new product info.  It feels like the marketing department said we really HAVE to get on twitter - everyone else is there.   So they got an account.  But they have not yet developed a true strategy to engage with their "followers".   They likely have in depth strategies on how they will position themselves in all their other channels - why not twitter too?

I've tried to engage with @thehudsonsbayco and several other brands on twitter over the past few weeks. I've asked very deliberate questions.  Questions clearly directed at them, not just conversations where you flag a brand. I've asked questions that should be easy for the corporate tweeter to answer.  None  have been answered.  Now I don't expect 100% of my mentions of a brand to get answered.  But when I form a deliberate question directed to them I would hope that at least some would get an answer.  Maybe not right away. I understand that many brands do not have 24/7 coverage on social media.  But I do hope for an eventual answer. 

The other end of the spectrum is @xboxsupport. I tweeted a comment about a problem with our kinect. It wasn't a direct question.  So I wasn't expecting an answer.  10 minutes later I had a reply with a link to a potential fix to my problem. They then followed up with a DM to get my feedback on my level of service.  If you check the @xboxsupport twitter bio it clearly indicates they are there to engage. It also includes the hours the account is serviced.  Xbox clearly has a customer service strategy for their twitter interactions on this account (and they have other accounts that engage people in different ways).

Another brand that I've found a lot of fun to interact with is @canadianliving.  I tweeted something about a recipe of theirs I was trying.  They replied, pretty quickly on a Sunday, that I should post photos.  We had a little conversation about muffins.  And then I asked if the recipe could be done with whole wheat flour.  The tweeter told me she'd check with their test kitchen the next day (it was Sunday).  On Monday I had an answer and suggestions.  The next time I made that recipe I tried their suggestions and then I posted photos.  Not only was I happy with the customer service, but it increased the perception of their brand with my followers. Many of whom piped in about the muffins and the recipe. 

It takes a clear engagement and positioning strategy for twitter.  Just opening an account, telling people to follow you and then using it to push corporate announcements isn't enough today.   Yes it takes a lot of work to manage a successful brand twitter account.  But it has always taken a lot of work to build relationships with your customers. I don't understand why brands seem to think social media is going to be any different.  Their is this "get rich quick" mentality to using these free tools.  But twitter isn't a Kevin Costner movie, if you build it they will NOT necessarily come.

So don't just tell me to follow you.  Give me a reason to have a conversation with your brand.   Even the pied piper gave people a reason to follow him.

Do you favourite brands you follow in social media?   Do you have examples of brands who seem to get it?  Or those that are just hoping for people to show up.  Feel free to answer in the comments or @tjrossignol.  I respond within normal waking hours.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Buying Both a Business and a Brand

It seems logical common sense to me that when you decide to buy an existing business that you realize you are buying more than just a business.  You are buying the existing business' product/service, as well as its brand, its reputation and its relationships with its customers.  But this is apparently NOT common knowledge.  I've seen several cases recently that make me shake my head.

There are some real benefits to purchasing an existing business. They have done the initial set up for you. They have an existing (and assuming successful) product/service, clients, processes, etc.  But you need to look beyond the balance sheet to see what makes that business tick and why its customers give them their business vs their competitors.

As some of you might have heard Vancouver is a bit of a coffee city.  In fact there are 4 independent coffee shops within a 3 block radius of one of my client's offices.  And there are 3 Starbucks within an extra block walk.  Each of the independent shops has its own unique brand.  Something that differentiates them from the rest.  The three that I frequent regularly include:
  • Coffee culture place - They have the single estate roasts. Their staff compete in the regional barista competitions.  Little chit chat here, unless you are talking the merits of coffee.  They offer high quality, and really just a bit too highly priced sandwiches and goodies.
  • Caterer that could pass for your "local" if it was a pub - they love their food here and their kitchen is just as big as the coffee shop. They know my name, they know my order before I walk through the door, they know that one of my coffee cups has a lid larger than my head.  There are regulars sitting there that must have jobs, but how can they because they are always there.  I half expect a "Norm" to be called out Cheers style as people enter.
  • Funky coffee shop with unique sandwich and soup combos.  This is where I go to get my flavour shot coffees, with a tuna melt and some crazy soup.  I chat with the owners about vintage jewelry and make sure my coffee card gets stamped.  The owners are relatable and friendly.
Part of my consumer behavior is the location for each of these shops.  The "local" is close to the parking lot and gets my morning visit where I pick up my decaf mocha, a great bran muffin (developed from the owner's grandmother's recipe) and sometimes a cool and yummy salad for lunch.  Then the funky coffee shop is closer to the office and easy to pop into for my afternoon jolt, or perhaps lunch once or twice a week.  The coffee culture spot is left for the days I want an excellent Chai NOT made from some super sweet mix. Note that the coffee culture is the closest to the office. But I frequent them the least.

Now the funky coffee shop was recently sold to a new owner.   While she has kept all the products the same, she started putting her stamp on the business right away.  The obvious is the new artwork -- and a wall fireplace.  These changes are (I'm assuming) supposed to make the place more high class.  But what made its customers love this place was its funky, arty, community vibe.

Then there is the staff.  The old owners had a great balance between chatty and leaving you to your business.  And they really set that funky, art, community vibe of the place.  The new owner is not chatty, and while she smiles a lot she isn't really that friendly.   Now that in itself is fine, because if she understands the brand of the business she bought she can hire staff that can help make up for her weaknesses.  But she hasn't. 

There was also an old fashioned neighourhood feel to the place.  I forgot my wallet at the office one day. No problem. Catch them tomorrow.  I caught up the next day.  Apparently a few other people ran a more regular tab (a rare thing in this day and age).  They must have been slower to pay than the new owner liked.  Because there suddenly appeared a list of outstanding tabs on top of the loyalty card box.  Nothing like publicly shaming regular customers to lose customers. 

There also appeared a new hand written note on the cash register noting that debit transactions less than $5 would incur a 20 cent charge.  The new owner has clearly, and quickly set up her top priority, profit!    Not relationships with her existing customers.   It is no longer a funky, alternative place to get a great sandwich (at a good price).  The sad part is she clearly doesn't understand the brand she has purchased.  I know that some of the regulars from my client's office are going there less often.  They aren't boycotting the place, but one or two less visits a month by her regular customers is going to eat into her profits. 

And she isn't offering anything "new" that sets her apart from her competition.  She bought a great niche business and is whittling away at that difference.

Unfortunately I predict that as her traffic counts decline she will start to "adjust" her product mix to make up for it. And once those yummy sandwiches and unique home made soups change her business will eventually be lost.

The other example I have is more extreme.  Vancouver is also know for their bubble tea. People are really passionate about their bubble tea.  There is a lot of bubble tea in this town. But only a few places doing it really really well.  Places where you can get a fresh fruit bubble tea, with perfect pearls  These places have line-ups from the moment they open to the moment they close.  One of these has clearly been sold to new owners.  The signage still indicates a list of fresh and  powder bubble teas. But the "fresh" fruit now tastes like syrup.  And when asked if it is fresh you get these blank "yes" of course looks.  But they clearly are no longer fresh.  And the pearls are mushy.  The product is so bad and the change so obvious that long time customers are refusing to go EVER again after just one visit. 

In the case of the coffee shop you could argue that the new owner understands some of the core pillars to the business (the product quality has not changed) and is trying to elevate her new business to represent her vision for its brand.  But if you are going to do that you better be clearly defining a new brand differentiation for your business.  And not making yourself more like the rest.

In the bubble tea example the new owners don't even seem to care about the existing business they bought.  Neither really understand the brand they have purchased. And that puts both of these businesses at risk.

Monday, February 21, 2011

The Politics of Pink

My son is a stereotypical boy. He is into trains, trucks, robots, lego, excavators, dinosaurs, concrete mixers (don't dare call it a cement mixer in our house). He is a high energy boy who runs, jumps, dances (like Maniac from Flash Dance), roars like a monster, growls like a pirate and does a perfect impression of a transformer transforming.  And his favourite colour is pink. 

So yeah that last part isn't so stereotypical.  But I love that he loves pink.  And while I'd like to take all sorts of credit for being a gender neutral mom. It is his two girl friends at daycare that are likely the reason. They like pink.  So he likes pink. 

Personally I love a man in a pink button down with a matching tie.  But there are no pink clothes for boys.  And most of the girl t-shirts in pink, also include some sort of princess element.  And when I suggested a pink shirt that had a princess he emphastically said NO.  During a recent trip to Old Navy he picked out flip flops, blue with grey stripe track pants, Ewok t-shirt, 2 soccer balls and a stuffed Penquin. Since we weren't shopping for clothes (or toys), we compromised with the Ewok t-shirt.  We were there to buy new underwear.  We found it all in the girl's section.  His pick - pink girl's underwear. 

Was I an open minded parent? No. I distracted him with some blue stripes.  I worried about what people might say if they see him wearing pink girl's underpants.  I didn't worry about what they say to me.  I worried about what he would hear them say about him.  I've already had a few discussions with people I know about whether I should be concerned about his love of pink.  And for the record I'm not worried about that.

What I don't want is him thinking there is anything wrong with liking pink, just because society says pink is a girl's colour.   I'd love him to have the option to pick shirts or sweaters that include pink.  But pink underwear seemed over the line to me.   It seemed too open to critism from others.  Other kids and other adults. 

So for now, until someone designs some boy's clothes that include pink. I'll be on the lookout in the girl's department for cute pink/non-princess items that Lil T might like.  That is, of course, if he still likes pink next week.  As things change fast at 3.