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‘Upcycling’ is a 21st century term, coined by Cradle to Cradle authors William McDonough and Michael Braungart. But the idea of turning waste into useful products came to life brilliantly in 1963, with the Heineken WOBO (world bottle). Envisioned by beer brewer Alfred Heineken and designed by Dutch architect John Habraken, the ‘brick that holds beer’ was ahead of its ecodesign time, letting beer lovers and builders alike drink and design all in one sitting.
Mr. Heineken’s idea came after a visit to the Caribbean where he saw two problems: beaches littered with bottles and a lack of affordable building materials. The WOBO became his vision to solve both the recycling and housing challenges that he’d witnessed on the islands.
Crazily, a shed at the Heineken estate and a wall made of WOBOs at the Heineken Museum in Amsterdam are the only structures where the ‘beer brick’ was used. As to the remaining WOBOs, it’s not clear how many exist, or where, but the idea even some four decades later remains a lasting example in end-use innovation.
But why didn’t this project didn’t take off, and why aren’t other brewers, or Coca-Cola for that matter, thinking like this? Certainly there are shipping efficiencies to packaging square bottles, and there’s no cost to the company if people decide to build things out of them. Re-use is always better than recycling, and if properly done, this could result in a virtually waste-free product.
Office drones chained to their desks have no hope of heating up a hot lunch… until now. Heinz has developed a prototype USB-powered microwave that lets workers keep working and eat a hot lunch without leaving their desks.
Called the Beanzawave, the mini-microwave stands a short 7.4-inches tall by 6.2-inches wide and 5.9-inches deep – just big enough to hold Snap Pots, a new microwaveable dish from Heinz.
Beanzawave plugs into a computer’s USB port and heats up dishes using mobile radio frequencies. But what about when the battery’s drained? Lithium ion power is a possibility if the product makes it to market.
Finding the balance between smart innovation and silly gadget is key as consumers crave smart tech that’s energy savvy. Beanzawave from Heinz is still a prototype, but is expected to retail for $160 if it comes to market.
Think like the US beef industry who’re rolling out new cuts in response to people’s desire these days to make more of their own dinners, and seek out relatively cost-effective ways to enjoy a good steak.
The beef industry spent five years and $1.5 million studying the chuck roll, the area under the shoulder blade that’s normally turned into moderately priced steaks and chuck roast — and came up with five new products. Country-style Chuck Ribs are boneless and best braised, like a short rib. America’s Beef Roast can be roasted in the oven and makes a great sandwich. The Denver has lots of marbling and is best cooked to medium-rare. The Sierra is similar to a flank steak and needs to be marinated for several hours before grilling or broiling. The tender Delmonico steak is best grilled or broiled.These new cuts will cost people as much as $4 more per pound than traditional cuts from the shoulder area, but still less than premium cuts.
Take a leaf out of ‘Boxed Water Is Better’s book. With only 14% of disposable water bottles being recycled, it’s no wonder designers are flooding the market with eco-friendly alternatives. Boxed Water Is Better is part-sustainable water company, part-art project, and part-philanthropic project.
The Michigan-based company creates each water box using around 90% tree matter, sourced from certified and ‘well managed’ forests, which continuously replant harvested trees. The boxes are also shipped flat to reduce carbon emissions from transportation, and each box is filled as needed.
The company returns 20% of its profits back to reforestation and world water relief organisations. (Many thanks to big Nick for this one.)
Everyone knows but rarely practices the secret to successful innovation: knowing how to fail early, and fail cheaply. Which is why P&G is still actively investing in game-changing innovations even amid the recession.
Real innovation is becoming rare which is why P&G knows it’s important to master the ‘art of failing’. P&G’s CEO, Lafley says, ‘In our industry, only 15%–20% of new products succeed. P&G’s success rate is a little over 50%. But we were at that lower industry average in the ’90s. We improved our batting average by clarifying and simplifying the innovation process. We set checkpoints with clear measures for each phase of the process from ideation through development and commercialisation. If a project looks like it won’t make it, we drop it. You learn more from failure than you do from success but the key is to fail early, fail cheaply, and don’t make the same mistake twice.’