Finding persistent invisible systems

This post is by Seth Godin from Seth’s Blog

Plastic was inevitable.

It took hundreds of years to perfect, but we built a system based on profit, convenience, productivity and markets.

Markets are extremely good at sniffing out problems that can be solved with transactions. If people care enough to buy something to fill a need, someone else is likely to try to make that thing.

Along the way, this market-need sensing mechanism leads to factories, to retailers and to marketing. No one is in charge, no one stays on top forever, and the outputs of the system keep shifting–more of what the capital markets, parts of the labor market and most of all, the consumer market demands.

And so plastic is inevitable.

It makes it easy to manufacture and ship some things. It can increase productivity. It can lower costs. It makes the retail process more convenient–and consumers love convenience.

Last year, earthlings manufactured and used a trillion plastic bags. The manufacturer and disposal of plastic has an enormous cost to people and the places we live.

But plastic persists as a commercial solution, because the system is invisible and resilient. Each member of the system does what they do, usually for good reasons.

Gaiam makes yoga mats and blocks. It’s run by people who care about their impact on things, and their customers are environmentally aware. Yoga blocks are made of semi-hard foam, but they last a long time, and most of their customers are okay with that tradeoff.

But these blocks are then shrink-wrapped in plastic. (Read more…)