Rob, the buyers of this material are not consumers, but manufacturers. Although consumers have led the charge for buying green, it looks to me like industrial and corporate buyers may be starting to catch up with that trend, at least in terms of plastics and alternative materials. I saw Chuck's article, too, and that's very disappointing news. I agree with his comment about it currently being bad timing for buying anything that's got a premium attached. That said, corporate buyers now have sustainability programs and what I heard at NPE2012 was that plastics companies' customers want greener solutions.
Generally speaking, although bioplastics have been historically more expensive than their petro-based counterparts, that picture has begun to change in some cases, especially as petroleum prices skyrocket. The companies didn't provide specific details about materials price comparisons in this case. That said, the material's greater melt flow and lower processing temperature sound to me like the process itself may end up costing less.
Good point, Chuck. It's the same principle behind Walmart's success. People understand the small mom and pop shops have quality and community advantages, but ultimately, they choose Walmart over their local mom and pop stores. Green products will truly succeed when cost is not a factor -- or much of a factor.
I would ask the same question: what about pricing? When several options are close to equal, price will get the nod most of the time. Some of the description was about how the new material was good, but none was about how it was GREAT! So there is then the question about price.
Corporate competition being what it is, the non-green alternative often has a built-in cost advantage. It's always a struggle to get a large swath of the buying public to agree to pay a premium for being green, especially in a weak economy.
This looks like a wonderful advance. I share Chuck's question about the cost implications. If this is more expensive than conventional materials, are consumers willing to pay a green premium? A portion of that car-buying population were willing to pay extra for a cleaner hybrid vehicle. Yet a good portion of that population didn't continue with a second hybrid, according to an article by Chuck.
Ann: I'm currently reporting a feature for the June issue of Design News (stay tuned) on the challenges engineers face when designing for sustainability and one of the main drivers people are talking about is increasing customer demand. Whether it's lip service or not, customers are definitely jumping on the go-green bandwagon. Besides having the right information at their fingertips to make the right alternative materials choices, having a wide range of alternative materials to choose from that have the same or better properties and characteristics as compared with traditional options definitely makes the whole transition much easier.
Beth, the benefits are both sustainability gains and, of course, better customer relations if customers have been asking for more sustainable materials. Customers are, in fact, doing so, and not just end-consumers, but industrial customers, since many of them now have sustainability programs and goals to be met. This was a big theme at NPE2012, and something new in the industry. The industrial demand for bioplastics, and for recycled plastics, especially more durable ones, will make a big difference. So will the fact that many bioplastics--such as this one--have even better performance than the petro-based versions they replace.
What should be the perception of a product’s real-world performance with regard to the published spec sheet? While it is easy to assume that the product will operate according to spec, what variables should be considered, and is that a designer obligation or a customer responsibility? Or both?
Biomimicry has already found its way into the development of robots and new materials, with researchers studying animals and nature to come up with new innovations. Now thanks to researchers in Boston, biomimicry could even inform the future of electrical networks for next-generation displays.
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