Enlightened Capitalism

Essays about how to harness people's natural desire to create wealth and improve their quality of life to solve global problems such as war and poverty.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

The Girlcott project (as opposed to Boycott)

(Written November 10, 2007)

I am committed to transforming the paper industry.

I was wondering what one person could do, in the face of such a monster. I thought and thought about this and talked to many people. And then one day in the Summer of 2006, I had an idea.

Stores that sell paper are very sensitive to demand. They tend to give more shelf space to the products that do more volume. And they put the high volume products in better, more visible, positions.

So I did an experiment on Toilet Paper at a particular Safeway store in Phoenix AZ (the one at 47th St and Indian School Road). When I started, they had only one non-virgin-fibre brand, it was buried at the very back of the section, and it had only 6 rolls wide of shelf space, with no extra boxes up on top or in the warehouse. Several store employees told me that was their least popular TP brand.

I started going there every couple days and buying all but one of their stock (generally 0-8 packs of 12 rolls were in stock, they replenished on a somewhat random schedule), and then I would ask them to order more, and then I'd go put a package on each neighbor's doorstep, starting with the residents closest to that store (the ones most likely to shop there, I reasoned). I kept track of where I had delivered packages by putting green dots on a map (see above picture).

After a couple weeks, I noticed the first change. Up above the shelves, there started to appear overstock boxes of the tree-free brand (called "Earth First", by Royal Paper). I continued to buy their entire stock, minus one or two packages (I didn't want other customers to come in and find no tree-free TP). So now I was buying between 0-16 packs every 2 or 3 days, and delivering them out to the neighborhood.

This has three effects: First, the store and the manufacturer are loving it, of course. They see the tree-free stuff flying out the door. Second, many of the neighbors had probably never considered buying tree-free TP. I left a little note on each package, explaining what I was doing. So this probably converted a few people. Third, even for the majority who probably didn't convert, they still almost certainly used the free product, delaying their next purchase of virgin fibre TP. Because all these purchase delays were concentrated around that Safeway, the store was likely to notice a slowing of sales of the virgin fibre TP.

The second effect I saw was a few weeks later. Nearly all the virgin fibre TP went on sale. Really deep discounts. Ha! I thought. I just increased the marketing costs of virgin fibre TP! The tree-free TP didn't go on sale. But I kept buying it up.

The third effect, a few weeks later, was the one I was aiming for. The tree-free TP got moved from the back to the FRONT of the aisle! I am told by retail specialists that this is very difficult to achieve. And yet, I did it! Without any meetings or events or campaigns or convincing the management to be greener.

And then there was a fourth effect I had never expected, they actually introduced another tree-free TP brand, and put it next to the Earth First brand. This other brand was made from cotton, which unfortunately is probably just as bad for the environment as virgin tree fibre, but I think they meant well. I think they were trying to respond to the obvious increased demand for tree-free products. And of course, when the store pushes products like that, they move.

After all was said and done, this project cost me about $3000 and took about 3 months. I checked back periodically, and 1 year later the tree-free TP was still in front, even though I had stopped buying it for a year. I am doing this again here in Atlanta, with 4-pack rolls instead of 12-pack rolls, so it should cost closer to $1000 to cause the same shift this time. If I can find 10 other people to join me, for $100 each we can move a retailer.

I am also doing it now with recycled copier paper from Staples. The thing I like about TP though is that it's unlikely people will use more just from having more. You only poop and sneeze a certain amount. Whereas with paper towels, for instance, there's a good chance people would use more if they were given a free pack, and this would reduce the positive impacts outlined above.
I dubbed this process a "girlcott", as opposed to a "boycott".

If anyone is interested in looking at how to spread this to more stores, and maybe even take on an entire retail chain, let me know. I am committed to transforming the paper industry. If I can cause that effect working alone, imagine what a team of people working together could do...

Thanks for listening, :)


  • At 8:04 pm, Blogger secondluv2. said…

    this is really brilliant.
    thanks for being inspirational.


  • At 10:22 pm, Blogger Susan said…

    I like that you went direct instead of just lamenting a problem or putting pressure on athority figures to change.

  • At 5:32 am, Blogger dafo said…

    I do think this is a cool project, and I'm proud of what I accomplished. Now I wish I could get others interested in doing it too.


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