So as you might know I write marketing copy for a number of companies and players in the bike industry. The folks I work with are all US-based, not because I planned it that way, but over time, those are the stories I seem to be best at telling and the products I understand most clearly.
When we are talking about how to pitch their products, they want to focus on durability and sustainability. They want to emphasize the importance of investing in quality up front, and then keeping those quality products a long time. And they want to talk about the measures they’ve taken to produce things in the cleanest, best possible way. The word sustainability is often thrown out, but what we’re really talking about is clean manufacturing practices, clean operating procedures, etc.
Here’s the thing, though. Just about no one buys a set of wheels or a frame because it has the smallest carbon footprint. Durability, pretty much everyone acknowledges, is the least sexy feature of any product ever. So there is a disconnect between their corporate values and their desired customer’s values, though let’s be clear, if you ask consumers if they want durable, sustainably produced products, they’ll say, “Yes, of course.” And yet, when it comes time to key in the credit card number, those values tend to go by the wayside, or at least they count for much less than a perceived discount or a really cool color.
In a hierarchy of buying criteria, durability and sustainability consistently come in fourth or fifth on the list.
But Lahaina, Maui just burned down. On the East Coast we’ve gotten a dose this summer of wildfire smoke, a curse West Coasters have been familiar with for a while. It’s the hottest summer on record, not just here in Boston, but everywhere on the planet. Everywhere you look the evidence of global warming is piling up, those irascible chickens coming home to roost much sooner than we expected.
So I’m not trying to scold anyone, and obviously I have a clear stake in people changing their buying habits in this way, so I’m not high-horse riding avatar of pure intentions here, but what I am trying to do is wonder aloud when things like durability, sustainability, low carbon footprint, etc., become really dispositive values in the buying process.
When do we consider the ultimate destination of the stuff we buy? For example, can your bike be recycled? Or does it go to a landfill? I haven’t thought too hard about these things until recently, and I own some stuff whose only current path is to the trash heap. I therefore owe them a duty of care and service that will put that eventuality off as long as possible.
I was talking with a friend of mine recently who is a scientist working on hazardous site cleanups, and she was saying that a lot of her work these days is in mitigating forever chemicals, PFCs and PFAS. These are chemicals that just don’t break down. They have to be filtered and sequestered to keep from entering the water system.
These chemicals are in every piece of waterproof gear you own (with the possible exception of Patagonia stuff, which uses a new chemical that is currently thought to be better than PFAS).
This was fascinating to me, because I think of myself, as a cyclist and outdoors person, as an environmentalist by extension, but my buying habits might not back that self-perception up, and that just brings me back to ideas of durability and sustainability and wondering if now isn’t the time (actually, probably 50 years ago was the time, but…) to reassess what I’m buying, how I’m going about my favorite activities, to bring it in line with my values.
Do you think about these things? What, if anything, about the consumption side of the cycling ledger bugs you?