by Sarah Fazio
“I love your sweater.” “Thanks. It used to be a bicycle.” This “used to be a” refrain echoes as upcycling’s cachet expands beyond locavores, Etsy zealots and conscientious hipsters.
Upcycling, the love child of recycling and reuse, turns castoffs into artisan crafts. I respect the practice. I even have a clutch made of tape measures. But I’m weary of “used to be a” as a marker for green heroism, because it rings more of cuteness than conservation. And I’m not the only one: Portlandia’s viral-darling “Put a Bird on It” sketch mocks cutesy, superficial upcycling as products leap from meh to must-have with a simple avian silhouette. Honest-green consumers want to see a practical side, where endurance and resilience reign over preciousness. The real sustainable hero is reuse, or simply continued use.
We’ve seen brand-driven examples of reuse in Starbucks’ Grounds for Your Garden initiative, New Orleans’ ReUse District coalition and Que Hago con Esto? packaging partnerships, to name a few. Berlin’s BücherboXX teaches passersby about the benefits of reuse with pop-up book-booths on street corners. The message? Reuse stretches value for the stuff of life.
What it means for marketers
Consumers’ deconsumption mindset focuses on eschewing novelty offerings in favor of signature products and legacy brands that offer lasting value. Durability and potential for reuse or repair are key for this back-to-basics cohort. Best practice: Red Wing Shoes’ heritage blog.
Planning for a longer lifecycle doesn’t just mean creating a product that lasts. Telling a complete cradle-to-cradle story informs consumers of the journey from production (where did it come from?) to disposal (what do I do with it?). Best practice: Patagonia’s Footprint Chronicles and Common Threads Initiative.