Recently on this blog we published a post applauding mega retailer Home Depot for going above and beyond in their garden department by making it easy for their customers to return their empty polystyrene floral containers. They could have decided their responsibility ended at the cash register but opted to assume some level of responsibility after the sale.
If we praise effort like Home Depot’s, we also have to condemn a retailer like Sears who is most definitely guilty of promoting a product for its green benefits; in this case a zero emission, propane powered lawn trimmer, and failing to assume the post sale responsibility that is certainly theirs.
Are Propane Powered Garden Tools Really Green?For my Father’s Day gift, my wife and I went shopping for a propane powered weed trimmer/cutter. I personally dislike the fumes and trouble of a gas powered weed whacker, and have grown to dislike my electric and battery powered units as well. I realize $200 for a propane model is a lot of money at times like this, especially when you can buy an inexpensive electric version for as little as $39.00. However, I decided that the eco benefits would make it worth the higher initial cost.
The problems really started when I realized the propane fuel tanks my new trimmer would use are not refillable. So I asked a friendly Sears employee about recycling and disposal. The propane tanks are metal so if not refillable, certainly they have to be recyclable, right? The minimal information provided indicated each tank lasts approximately two hours so it did not take a mathematician or landscaper to determine I was likely to create an empty cylinder every other week or ten to twelve cylinders over the course of a single Chicago summer. I was surprised when the man offering “trained Sears’s assistance” said he had no idea about disposal or recycling. I guess that was not covered in sales training class.
The Search for Information and Eco TruthWe bought the trimmer and the next morning I called our local waste hauler, Waste Management, and asked about the recycling of the empty propane tanks, in hope recycling could be accomplished curbside. They promptly responded they did not want them and have always instructed their people to not collect them.
Recalling we do business with a company for propane for our fork lift, I thought they might have some answers. They were kind enough to tell me that they would accept one or two empty tanks but did not want to be a collection point since the small, empty canisters I was eager to get rid of had no value, only cost to them.
I turned to our local village for assistance and they quickly sent me to a county department in charge of hazardous waste. The lady who answered the phone immediately understood the problem and told me I was the fourth call that day on the same topic. She admitted her family used a similar propane cylinder for cooking while camping but told me they (county government) could not accept the cylinders because they were not considered hazardous. “What do you do with yours?” I naively asked. “I bury and hide them in my kitchen garbage bags” she replied, “Otherwise our waste hauler won’t take them.”
Sustainability and the Return of the Propane Grass Trimmer
I saw no choice but to take the trimmer back to Sears for a refund. I then went to another retailer and bought an 18 volt rechargeable model that was Energy Star rated. Not exactly what I had in mind but I decided it was the best possible option for now as I imagined thousands or ten of thousands of these supposedly empty propane tanks soon buried in our landfills.
What About Sears?Honestly this story could have possibly been about almost any retailer since propane powered garden equipment is gaining popularity and is on sale everywhere, probably including Home Depot. However, I am extremely disappointed Sears did not give it as much thought and effort as I obviously gave it.
From a marketing perspective, I also thought about how sad it is with all of their resources and people that Sears never realized what a huge opportunity this new source of power is for them. If they thought beyond the cash register, what if they decided to be a collection point for the empty propane tanks? What if in exchange for empty propane tanks Sears rewarded eco minded customers with a discount coupon or other incentive designed to bring customers back to their stores?
Going forward the market is sure to judge retailers who don’t do the right thing every bit as harshly as retailers who do the wrong thing. Green washing by conveniently dropping the sustainable ball on the products they sell, is really no different than lying through omission or even outright deception. Call it eco consistency and you know I do, but Sears failed to look beyond the sale and has missed a tremendous opportunity to be a market leader and a good environmental citizen.