Design Your Life: The Pleasures and Perils of Everyday Things
Last week, I bought a jug of Ultra Tide Pure Essentials with Baking Soda. Why that one and not something else? Because it looked green to me.
It comes in a cream-colored plastic jug. It’s made from the same material as the bright orange bottles used for Tide’s other products (No. 2 HDPE plastic), but the soft ivory color makes it look…greener. And the lid actually is green—a pale, soothing tint of sage. The product contains baking soda—a household chemical that you can actually eat. The detergent is also “pure,” “essential,” and smells like “white lilac.” (White lilac is surely cleaner, more invisible and ethereal, than purple lilac, no?) It’s a classic example of green washing. It uses a cultural vocabulary that talks about nature and purity and ecology but may have nothing to do with how the product affects the world.
Here’s another piece of packaging: a returnable glass milk bottle. Once a week, Cold Mountain Creamery delivers fresh dairy products to my house. The milkman picks up the empty bottles and takes them back to be washed and reused. Screenprinted on the front of the bottle is the date “2003”—the bottle has been circulating for six years. The package is owned by the dairy and merely leased by the customer (I pay a $2 deposit for the privilege of using it). What I am purchasing each week is not a product but access to a well-designed system.
This milk bottle suggests a more exciting approach to green packaging than the detergent jug—and yet it represents an old business model that was made obsolete by strip malls and parking lots in the 1960s. Today, new ecological priorities along with online networks are making systems like this one convenient and attractive once again.— Ellen Lupton · 2009-03-07