Thursday, 21 August 2008

The tree of life for the indecisive

It seems a cruel irony that, as a notoriously indecisive person, I decided to set up a business which requires me to make hundreds of decisions: furniture, building materials, crockery, music, amount of space between tables, number of power sockets, amount of storage, width of passages? No wonder I can’t sleep.

My problem is, I’m terrified of making a wrong decision. To avoid that, I do so much research that I end up more confused and overloaded with choices than when I started. Take packaging for example. I want to do environmentally friendly packaging for takeaway items at the cafe. Decision made. Ha! It's like the time I decided to paint my room white and then discovered the paint shop had booklets devoted to different shades of white.

A lot of companies claim to offer environmentally friendly packaging but if you want to know what that really means, you have to delve a little deeper. I had one supplier tell me that they had a range of packaging that was made to look environmentally friendly. Is it? Well no, but customers think it is.

You can go the biodegradable plastic route (eg. poly lactic acid), but PLA will only break down in an industrial composting facility, few of which exist in the UK. Also, the sugar cane or cornstarch used to make plant based PLA is from GM crops. So the environmental credentials of PLA start to look a bit iffy. This article by John Vidal in The Guardian sheds more light on the environmental pros and cons of bio-plastics.

Another option is packaging made from material that can be recycled in mainstream recycling facilities, eg. paper. Again, you need to investigate whether the paper is sourced from sustainably grown forests and/or made from recycled paper.

All of this effort to provide recyclable and biodegradable packaging is largely futile if customers just throw their used package into the general rubbish. But, at least with paper, even if customers don’t put their packaging in a recycling bin, it will break down in landfill.

And that’s just the start of the decision making process. I then need to decide on the sizes, colours and shapes of the packaging. Of course none of the packaging made from the materials I want come in the size and shape I want.

Drowning in a sea of packaging samples.

A couple of months ago I went to a seminar on sustainable packaging hosted by London Remade. While I soon realised that no one was going to provide me with a quick solution to my packaging dilemma, I did come away with a very useful tool: the Packaging Decision Tree designed by Jack Shepherd of London Remade. If only we could plant forests of decision trees to help the indecisive.


Anonymous said...

How's it going? (Environ)mentally by the sound of it. Seems ages ago that we sat out in the garden in Fulham on that one day we laughingly, looking back on it, called Summer and did a bit of tasting. Great fun. Can't wait for the real McCoy so keep me posted and good luck as the big day gets closer.
All the best - Will

Ben Terrett said...

Did you manage to get the packaging issue sorted?

Anonymous said...

Sort of. Why, are you a friend of the packaging decision tree?

scrambling eggs said...

Thanks Will. That does seem a long time ago that we had our unofficial menu launch.

I'll have to dig out the score cards to see who we'll be letting through the door when we open.

I'm sure you were a generous marker.