Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Beyond Earth Day: Saving the Planet with Technology AND Nature

Earth Day has come and gone, but for the first time since the event originated 39 years ago, the general public, corporations, and governments are returning to the green message in a serious way, translating environmental concerns into everyday practices and using the economic crisis as a way to make conservation practical and sexy again.

Kiosks are one great place to see this happening:

Recycling "reverse vending" machines have been around since the mid 1980s, but usage is going way up and corporations are starting to consider the possibilities for advertising and point-of-sale promotions. Tomra, one of the larger manufacturers of recycling vending machines, has begun including videos (on built-in screens), coupons, and poster advertising on its recyclable sorting machines that are usually near supermarkets, sports stadiums, and college campuses. These kiosks are becoming more and more ubiquitous (indeed, perhaps eventually replacing the corner mailbox as the iconic neighborhood item?) and advertisers are realizing that consumers are willing to spend more time in stores and at the vending machines if they have an interactive activity while they're sorting the empty soda and beer cans.
Tomra’s RVMs provide an excellent opportunity for advertisers to associate themselves with a positive activity such as recycling, while at the same time increasing exposure for their products or services,” said Warren Stoll, Vice President Sales & Marketing, Tomra of North America. “This new program will increase store traffic and customer loyalty, contributing to a much-needed economic boost to stores throughout the country.”
Tomra claims that it collects more than 30 billion used beverage containers through its recycling machines, which is equivalent to approximately 3% of the world’s consumption. It also accounts for almost half the global revenue from recycling. Pretty impressive for something that could just be mistaken as a trash bin.

While amping up the kiosks with advertising and video is a great idea, let's hope that Tomra and its ilk continue to think broadly about applications. Rather than the ubiquitous (and often ugly) plastic recycling buckets in many locations, kiosks can be integrated into workplaces, parks, and municipal buildings, where self-service makes recycling easier. Aesthetically, they can enhance a space, offering bins with art all around the outside, such as this one designed by artist Russell Lord.

Environmental dimensions of kiosk development are not always visible: Steve Arel suggests that there are more ways that kiosks can develop a "green" technological face, such as using less metal and foam, recycling retired kiosks, using standby mode technology to reduce power use in idle times, and developing interactive modes that reduce paper use (emailing receipts, for example).

This would also work for kiosks that are associated with recycling smaller items -- such as batteries, cell phones, CDs/DVDs and printer cartridges. These kiosks are often in supermarkets, drug stores, and most often, electronics stores. While these are prime locations for in-store promotions, coupon offers, and product advertisements, it's often more effective to give each kiosk one overall message and design, drawing consumer attention to it as its own object. Marketing often tends to look at new sites as space to be filled, plastering every free inch rather than going for a single overarching pitch in one spot. If recycling kiosks are overburdened with too many disparate -- and unrelated -- product images, they will become part of the backdrop of endless advertisements.

Not all green initiatives need to be plastered right onto the kiosk itself: While Nokia Cell phone recycling kiosks in Indonesia have been very successful at generating green practices through the kiosks, they find that consumers still need to be educated about why this is a good idea. According to a Nokia spokesperson, "One of the main reasons why so few people recycle their mobile phones is because they simply don't know that it is possible to do so... up to 80 percent of any Nokia device is recyclable. Materials such as cobalt, nickel, copper, iron, aluminum, plastics, and even gold can be recovered. It can be reused to help make new products such as steel and other metal products, plastic cones, and in the case of precious metals like gold, into jewelry."

Promoting itself as a "green" company is one way to get consumers to think about the environmental aspects of their cell phones. Although it's not mentioned on the kiosk, one integral part of Nokia's recycling efforts is a program to donate a tree for every phone recycled. Sponsored by NEWtrees Initiative (a collaboration between Nokia, Equinox Publishing, and WWF Indonesia), Nokia has already pledged to plant 100,000 trees in Sebangau National Park in Central Kalimantan, Indonesia. The aim is to help reduce the annual haze that affects the region, and contribute to protecting and preserving the park.

As with all green initiatives, there's a healthy mixture of corporate responsibility and self promotion in creating technology and advertising that helps preserve the environment. Given the central role of recycling and education in so many kiosk applications, it's good for companies to keep their eyes on eco-conscious approaches in all aspects of the industry.

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