Category Archives: Environmental

I was The Gar-repairman!

 By Jeff Bowman

For the past 10 years or so, at dusk on a Tuesday evening I would assume a different identity and travel the streets of my neighborhood in search of repairable items that people had discarded at the end of their driveways, to be hauled away by garbage trucks the next day. Several people knew my secret identity, and have kept it very quiet over the years, however, I will now reveal myself as “The Gar-repairman”

I didn’t do it for profit, quite the opposite; I did it for community service. I am somewhat handy, and electrically inclined.  I enjoy taking things apart to see how they work. Several years ago it occurred to me that those who aren’t good with their hands, or had no knowledge of the inner workings of gears and motors, would simply discard an item and purchase new rather than attempting what was often an easy fix.  The “throw-away” consumer. Those who fully believe in the theory of manufacturing’s planned obsolescence policy. If it breaks it is cheaper and easier to repurchase than to fix. For many years I fought that notion.

I would travel the streets in my unmarked vehicle (so as not to give away my identity), and peruse the piles on the curb. If I saw an item that I thought I could fix, I would casually stop, jump out of the car, grab it and stuff it back in the car and make a quick getaway. Sometimes my son would join me to make it quicker.  We called them “the drive bys”.  Lamps, fans and shop vacs were my specialties, but occasionally I would snag whipper snippers or leaf blowers and other small appliances. A tangled nylon string in the base of the cutter, a cut or worn electrical cord, a fan blade that simply needed cleaning and a drop of oil, a faulty switch or a cracked cover, were common problems and easily fixed at little or no cost using parts from items I couldn’t safely fix.

Now what do I need with all this repaired stuff you might be asking yourself?  I didn’t have a need for it, so every few weeks I would load the car up again with fixed items and drop them off at local charitable organizations, who could sell them and use the money for their very worthy community programs. It was like an in kind donation. (I often received odd looks when I would drop off   3 of the same item)

Times have changed. I don’t have as much time now as I used to, I am purging stuff in my house (donating) and stepping back from my Gar-repairman persona. Today, I believe some products are being made to expire a week after the warranty runs out, cheap plastic has replaced harder, sturdier materials in housings and gears and items that used to be an easy fix are truly not worth repairing now. I will continue to support local charities in other ways because they need the support in this economy, however my days of lurking in the dark for items of interest are over. To those who kept my identity a secret thanks!  To those who yelled at me from their windows on “garbage eve”, your discards went to a worthy cause.


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Filed under Environmental, Jeff Bowman, Manufacturing, No-for-Profit, Sustainability

When Convenient Becomes Inconvenient?

By Jeff Bowman

Product innovation began when someone chipped off the corners of blocks to make them round, making the transport of items a little easier. I am proud of my cavemen ancestors for being so creative because the wheel has led to cars, petrochemical refining, industrialization and the marketing of millions of convenience items to make ones life so much more simplistic.

I remember the Jetsons from when I was a kid. Meals came in pills, everyone lived and worked in skyscrapers, flew to work, and had machines that cleaned their house, made the meals, disposed of the dishes and even got them showered and dressed in the morning. Wow, what a life.  Think of the manufacturing innovation that has to happen to make all that great stuff a reality.

One of my first jobs out of school was working for a division of a large pulp and paper mill.  We were warned back in the 80’s that our industry was in decline and that the paperless society was a scant few years away. Well, here we are 30 years later, and paper is still here, mountains of it everywhere you look. I look around at the innovations that were supposed to make our lives so much easier and I really start to ask myself “is this really product innovation or marketing spin?’

From frozen dinners back in the 50’s to fast food and high caloric, high cholesterol delights in a box today. We all lead busy lives what with cell phones enabling us to communicate anywhere, anytime with anyone, blackberries notifying us of every e-mail or sports score, computers that allow us the pleasure of working 60 + hours a week from the comfort of our home office (which used to be referred to as a family dwelling) and drive through coffee to keep the caffeine pulsing through our veins.  Home chores are now a snap.  I can quickly wipe my floors with waste site filling disposable rags, far easier than a standard mop.  I no longer need to rake, I can just blow my leaves and grass clippings onto the road or my neighbor’s yard with smoke spewing or electrical blowers, and hope nature doesn’t decide to blow them back on my lawn a day later. No worries, I can just get into my car and just a mile or two to one of several branded coffee shops where my desire for any flavour of coffee imaginable might be satisfied for a few bucks, and I don’t even have to wash the cup, I can throw it away. Now if I can just remember what size a Grande is. Ah, the convenience!

Cavemen never envisioned how society might morph from simple innovations.  Dr. Suess nailed it with “The Lorax”!

I ponder as I drink my fresh-bought tea, why it needs to be so damn hot that it burns my lips, so hot that they need two paper cups to hold it.  Wouldn’t it be more earth friendly to lower the temp a couple of degrees and use a single cup like coffee? A small start to a massive innovation aimed at environmental and sociological changes. Maybe there was a reason the cartoon men in the Jetsons were a little paunchy and out of shape, right Mr. Spacely?

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Filed under advertising, Branding, Environmental, Innovation, Jeff Bowman, Manufacturing, Marketing

Turn up the Speakers

By Jeff Bowman

We all learn using a variety of different methods – seeing, hearing, reading  – however a great number of people have self enforced sensory deprivation when it comes to increasing their own knowledge base with regards to their business.

I took the opportunity recently to see two very good speakers in Toronto and another in Oakville who spoke on pertinent business and social issues.  As a speaker and trainer for the past 20 years, I thoroughly enjoy watching others present and seeing how their message is delivered and received by the audience.  There are always interesting tidbits that I record and add to my own arsenal.

Too often we are overwhelmed by our daily tasks to indulge in a little self-improvement. I found in the past few years that my time was extremely limited, so I would listen to informative CDs in my car.  Call me old-fashioned, but I still visit the library to source these materials. But when there is an opportunity to attend a live event with a choice of speakers in the same venue, I try to make the time to attend. Rarely am I disappointed with the presentations.

The first speaker I saw was Ken Wong who spoke in-depth about the dollars spent on marketing versus the return that is recognized.  Ken also touched on strategies that companies adopt during recessionary periods and their overall contribution to the success or demise of that organization. Interesting stuff from my perspective! The line that I relate to best is that companies need to understand “that there is a whole new generation of hippies coming” referring to the green and environmental generation.

Next up was Simon Sinek who encouraged us all to ask ourselves “Why” we do what we do. The message was simple and to the point – do what inspires you.  There was a great deal of the presentation that I took to heart.

Finally, I was able to hear Justin Trudeau speak about the youth of today, their trials and tribulations and the need for them to feel appreciated and understood. He spoke passionately about getting Canadians involved, because being involved is the only way to shape the future. That included businesses who need to take a leadership role in training and development of our youth.

The learning curve never stops. Our thought processes need to be fed regularly whether it be through activities, relaxation, reading or in my case listening to people with new and innovative ideas. The value of attending educational events is immeasurable, and employers should be encouraging their employees to seek out and participate in such events. Even an old dog can learn a new trick.

What was the last engagement you attended?

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Filed under Communications, Environmental, Jeff Bowman, Marketing, Sustainability

Working from a Clean Slate

By Jeff Bowman

As I travelled through Scotland, it became very obvious that the Scots were experts at making the most out of the least. It is a business lesson worthy of note.

I often speak about the importance of looking for opportunities for your product or service outside the usual suspects.  An example would be a wood mill producing wood for building.  For years the shavings were discarded, and now there is a strong demand for the shavings to produce chip boards, wood pellets for burning and even animal bedding.  It is maximizing the sales and usage opportunity of your goods.

Long have I heard the stories about the Scots being “frugal”.I have a different slant on it.  They are intelligent users of their resources, and have been way ahead of the “reduce and reuse” curve that we are just getting a handle on now.

I asked a local business person in Glasgow why the roads were barely wide enough for two cars on the outskirts of the city. His response was simple and to the point, “ land is precious and roads cost money, if cars can pass what else do they need”. He is absolutely correct.

As I looked around, it was all around me. All the taxis were the same make, more compact to make travelling on the tight roads easier and safer, and repairs were simplified due to them having the same parts.  Many of the buildings looked centuries old even in newer sections of town.  They build them like that because they have an abundance of granite, and want continuity with the older buildings in the city. The older buildings, some hundreds of years old were obviously built to last.

One product really caught my attention.  The vast majority of roofs were slate tiled.  Where we use metal, asphalt shingle or cedar shakes, they use a much heavier natural material taken directly from quarries all over Scotland. In some cases these roofs last hundreds of years. In cases where repairs are required, slate is recycled from other buildings that have been removed or disassembled with the stones being saved for other new projects.  Not only were the slate tiles on buildings, but the exact same slate tiles appeared in many different places throughout my trip. They were placemats in one of the older hotels.  I ate off slate tiles in a popular Scottish pub. Souvenir shops had slate tile calendars.  Some of the public washrooms used them on the counters, and I can’t tell you how many places used the same slate tiles for floor tiles.

If there was another use for these rectangular tiles, I couldn’t think of it.  Not only have they maximized the usage of a particular manufactured product that they mine the raw materials for themselves, they have methods of reusing it as well. Even the chips from the cutting process are used in garden beds for decorative purposes.

Call the Scots frugal if you must, I prefer to think of them as people make the most of what they have and look for ways to gather value out of everything they do. Buildings that last hundreds of years, roofs that don’t need replacing every 20 years, and a myriad of uses for a single product from a single manufacturing process.  That’s just plain smart.

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Filed under Environmental, Invention, Jeff Bowman, Manufacturing, Sustainability

Where can I find a new Merlin?

By Jeff Bowman

The day finally arrived, without much fanfare or celebration, but an old friend has been put to rest. Merlin had performed admirably, and when I say admirably, it may be an understatement.  We first took possession of Merlin back about 1986, and even then I didn’t expect much in the way of performance. Merlin, you see was an old 17 cubic foot freezer that had been left by the previous occupants of the house, and greeted us when we moved in.

It was about 15 years old at the time, had been very well used judging by the scratches and buzzing and whirring sounds it made.  I had figured on moving it outside to be picked up on large garbage pick-up day, when I had the opportunity.  There were many more important things to do in our new house.

Months went by, and soon we were filling that Merlin freezer with specials I found on sale at Dominion and Food City.  A few years later my son was born and the freezer stayed put.  Another couple of years later with two sons in tow we moved to a new house, and Merlin came along for the ride. That damn freezer with all its energy inefficiencies, and strange sounds, has continued to operate perfectly with the odd defrosting , and even a new paint job. Merlin far outlasted my expectations.  At 38 years of age he has finally come to the end of the line.

I have opted for an energy-efficient stand up fridge by Frigidaire.  It will hold a little less, and probably make less noise, and not generate as much heat from the motor.  My expectations are high for both performance and durability. If all goes well, I will be in my late 80’s when this model has to be replaced!

Yeah right!  I was asked by the clerk if I wanted to purchase an extended warranty to supplement the existing 3 year warranty. I told him about old Merlin and his response was, “well they don’t make em like they used to”.  Merlin was older than the sales guy who sold this to me. I’m now left scratching my head.

Manufacturing processes have improved dramatically in the last 40 years. The environmental concerns have been growing for many, many years. If the salesperson knows the products today are inferior, and he is telling me they are inferior, and I’m telling you that he told me, why the heck aren’t we doing anything about it?

Has anyone had a 5 year fluorescent light last 5 years? Have you had to replace a mattress before the 20 year tag on the bottom? Call me stupid, cheap or old-fashioned, but I’m proud to say my G.E. Television is 20 years old, my Eaton Viking Stove even older.

Quality and durability need to be brought to the forefront of the consumer’s buying decision again.  A value proposition must include the cost over the sustainable life of the product. Until it does, there will be no more Merlins! R.I.P.

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Filed under Environmental, Jeff Bowman, Manufacturing, Sales, Sustainability