A Way with Words

Jan. 1, 2008
The first part of January brings with it a plethora of accolades and awards. I figure this is because most people have little to do in December and can

The first part of January brings with it a plethora of accolades and awards. I figure this is because most people have little to do in December and can devote time to this kind of trivia. Since I don’t have the time, I’ll just steal their stuff and cobble it into something that relates to real life and transport packaging.

For example: the Wacky Warning Label Contest. This one’s been around for nearly a dozen years. It’s conducted by Michigan Lawsuit Abuse Watch (www.mlaw.org) to reveal how lawsuits, and fear of lawsuits, have driven the proliferation of common-sense warnings on U.S. products. The winner this year is somewhat related to material handling—and because it’s a label—indirectly to packaging.

The winner is a label on a small, front-end loader that warns, “Danger: Avoid Death.” It explains: “Before removing seat belt and leaving seat, lower lift arms to ground or rest lift arms on stops. Stop engine. Lock park brake and remove key.”

Words of common sense, which is not all that common these days. And, there's another contest nearer and dearer to the hearts of writers—the Word of the Year—conducted by the American Dialect Society (www.americandialect.org). This organization has been around since 1889. It lists a lot of words we’d be better off without and a few categories of words to which we should pay attention. Chosen as Most Likely to Succeed this year is the word “green.” I suspect, by next year, it will make the list of words we’ve heard too much of; however, for now, green is the new green (a phrase, by the way, chosen as too overworked: “X is the new Y,” etc.).

I’m sure this won’t be the last word on the word “green.” In transport packaging, we’ve long talked about reusable containers, recycling, reducing material content through better use of technology, etc. And, while packaging has often been viewed as an endof- the-line process, it’s rapidly moving to the front line of managers’ concerns.

The more I dig for the “why” behind the greening of virtually everything, the more I encounter a word I dislike—although marketing people embrace it—“trend.”

Among the meanings of “trend,” the one that bothers me most, when applied to environmental concerns, is, “current style or preference.” Detractors of environmental initiatives at work around our warming globe say, “It’s just a trend. Next year we’ll be looking at…”

I don’t think so. I’m an optimist (defined as a guy who carries a camera when he goes fishing). Green has staying power. Business plans are being created around green initiatives. New markets have arisen. Careers launched.

The climate (business as well as what’s happening outside your office window) is changing, forcing people and companies along the supply chain (another term I’m ready to retire) to give first consideration as to how they’ll do packaging at the end of the line. Many are accepting the challenge and searching for ways either to do more with less, or more with something else. Others are being dragged into the future kicking and screaming. And, then, there are those who will miss the wave—the Green Wave as author Andrew Winston (Green to Gold, Yale University Press, October 2006) describes the greening of the business world.

This time around, the smart people—those who pay attention to the reality of climate change—will find ways to create strategic opportunities out of environmental challenges. And, while it might not be possible to spin gold from straw, evidence points to the alchemy of producing dollars from sense.

Clyde E. Witt
[email protected]

Clyde Witt has been reporting on transport packaging issues and trends for more than 20 years.

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