The negative impact of our consumer culture can be vastly improved by strengthening the connections between phases of the customer life-cycle. That life-cycle can be split into 3 phases - On-Boarding a customer, Usage of the product or service, and the Off-Boarding at the end of the engagement.
If the message between buying a product, using a product and disposing of a product is not coherent we lose the opportunity to deal with issues associated with consumption.
Many companies overly focus on the On-Boarding experience because selling to more customers means more money -the status quo of business. Canon is no different this regard. The way they sell printer ink is a good example of a company's bias to getting more customers, over the Usage of the product or the Off-Boarding when the product comes to the end of its life.
Printer ink is a very hazardous material. It is highly poisonous to the environment, so it is essential that it is disposed of properly. Canon, the printing industry, and governments all agree on this. So it is very important that we capture and reprocess this poisonous material.
Lets look at the life-cycle of a Canon Printer Cartridge in more detail to example this issue.
As it shows, the user will transition through well crafted experiences delivered by advertising, marketing, and packaging companies on behalf of the producer - in this case, Canon. This On-Boarding process is made up of 'starting experiences' (Adverts, Point of Sale material, etc) choreographed by these experienced and powerful companies, urging the user to purchase the product.
Once the user makes a transaction the mode of the experience changes to one of ‘Usage’. The user navigates the inner packaging, cartridge, and the printer to replace the old with the new, and hopefully continues many days of happy printing.
But, once the new cartridge goes in, what happens to the old cartridge? At this point Canon seem to have lost interest in the lifecycle. The instructions contain some dos and don’ts, and a reference to the chemicals contained in the ink - users of course, don’t understand what ‘benzisothiazol’ means and therefore can’t action anything about it.
The only guidance about next steps for the user is another ‘upsell’ on the packaging for CreativePark, “a premium content service available exclusively to users of genuine Canon inks”. In effect, they are pushing another On-Boarding experience instead of guiding the user along the life-cycle to a safe and responsible conclusion - a Closure Experience.
What is surprising in this case is that Canon is a very responsible company, and a printer pioneer, having operated a cartridge recycling program since 1990. But sadly they have not coherently attached this proud ancestry this to their On-Boarding and Usage phases of the printer cartridge life-cycle.
To join these phases together it is left to the guilt driven user to find out what to do with poisonous printer cartridges. After a quick Google search, the user might find the appropriate page on the Canon website (its nowhere on the packaging). After reading quite a lot of material the user is asked to sign the Canon terms and conditions - 2300 words - an excessive barrier to entry, when we need to encourage all the enthusiasm for recycling we can from users.
After agreeing to these T&Cs, the user needs to fill in a form with their address and is finally rewarded with a commitment that Canon will send them a pre-paid envelope within 5 days. Canon recommends the user waits until they have at least 5 cartridges to send the pack back, citing that “it will help us minimise the carbon footprint of this service if at least five cartridges are returned per envelope”.
This again highlights the problems with breaking the phases of the life-cycle. Canon have already got the packaging of the cartridge into your home. This pack is excessive in size. Having nearly 500ml of additional space inside. A shocking piece of hypocrisy!
Like many big corporate companies Canon want to do the right thing, but are crippled with internal fractured thinking. The failure to stitch the On-Boarding, Usage, and Off-Boarding phases of the life cycle is inherent in the sales culture we breed.
Amongst the many simple solutions to remedy the Canon printer cartridge problem would be placing return packs in the capacious packaging they send their product in. This would keep the life-cycle coherent between the phases, encourage the user to recycle, inform the user that Canon is serious about the environment, and show that Canon can create Closure experiences, as well as starting ones.