Redesigning How We Clean: Ami Shah of iQ on Their Award Winning Refill Packaging (Interview)


All images via iQ

Over one billion plastic cleaning containers go into landfill each year, according to the Canadian eco-cleaning company Planet People. And did you know that the majority of household cleaners are 95 per cent water and only five per cent cleaning solution? The combination of these two facts has prompted Planet People to redesign the way we use cleaning products with their new brand iQ, which stands for 'I question'. We spoke to iQ brand director, Ami Shah, about how and why their refillable packaging could radically reduce plastic waste.Through promoting bottle reuse the iQ cleaning brand aims to reduce the plastic waste associated with traditional cleaners by 80 per cent by packing all the non-toxic cleaning concentrate into a small, recyclable cartridge. You only need to buy one container for each type of cleaning product once and then after that you buy the refillable cartridges. The bottles are robust enough to be reused many times over. If they do break then the plastic is fully recyclable.

The iQ range (All-Purpose Cleaner, Glass Cleaner, Bathroom Cleaner, Floor Cleaner) has already won two awards for its innovative design, Best Green Packaging at the Green Awards 2010 and most recently winning PAC's Sustainable Packaging Competition Award in June this year. They were also featured on Springwise.com as "one of the top 20 business ideas and opportunities for 2011." iQ is currently on sale in Walmart and Loblaws in Canada and online at Drugstore.com

Ami Shah brand director for iQ
TreeHugger: How did the idea for the iQ range originate?
Ami Shah: Concentrates have been in the market for years, but consumers haven't adopted them because they're messy, cumbersome and seem expensive. We noticed an emerging trend in the commercial market towards easy to use concentrate systems and felt this could be a new approach for the consumer market to reduce packaging waste. We also noticed that consumers and retailers were increasingly demanding reduced packaging and less waste in the products they were buying and using. As such, we felt that the market was ready for this idea.

TH: How long did it take to bring to market?
AS: It took about 18 months from initial concepts to production.

TH: What were the biggest design challenges in realising the concept?
AS: Our biggest challenge was creating an easy to use system that consumers would adopt. Switching to concentrates changes the way consumers typically behave and interact with cleaning products. This is a huge challenge as it's such an ingrained habit. As a result we designed the product to be easy to use, durable and be visually appealing.

TH:Can you explain how you addressed these three issues?
AS: In designing for ease of use we recognized that there was a number of cleaning concentrate attempts that failed in the past, mainly because they were not easy for the consumer to adopt or understand. The iQ cartridge is designed to be an easy, mess-free, child safe solution. To enable the packaging system to be re-used, we selected durable materials for the triggers and spray bottles, while making them recyclable.

In terms of visual appeal, since this is a product we want consumers to re-use and keep in their homes, we ensured that the design was simple, yet elegant. We hoped by doing so, consumer will make this product a visible element of home decor - on the kitchen counter instead of under the sink!


TH: What are your ambitions for the brand now that it is stocked in big stores in Canada and the US?
AS: The more people who switch to iQ, the more we save in packaging waste and the carbon footprint required to create traditional cleaners. We've calculated that if every household across North America switched to iQ, we would save 235 million pounds of plastic waste and would take 200,000 trucks off the road, in just one year.

TH:Are there any improvements that can still be made to the design?
AS: In terms of improvements and developments, we continue to look at ways we can better educate and communicate the benefits of making the change to iQ. This could be through changes in the packaging communication, merchandising or the marketing mix. We know we still have a long way in reaching our goals - so we continue to gather feedback and make improvements.

TH: What feedback have you had from customers using this new system?
AS: Consumers love the system once they get it and try it out. We've found once consumers see how easy it is to use the REFill (Reduce Environmental Footprint) Cartridge system and understand the impact it makes, they're in love with the system and the fact they save both money and the environment by choosing iQ.


TH: Was there a question about whether to market this as an eco-product or not?
AS: Since all Planet People products are eco-friendly, this was never a question. Before iQ, we were focused on specialty cleaning products. On entering the general purpose cleaning market, we wanted to make sure that beyond being an eco-friendly cleaning product, this was a product that was differentiated and delivered more of an eco impact, as the eco-friendly, general purpose cleaning market was already cluttered.

TH: Do you think the ethical market place is sustainable in itself?
AS: We believe this market is sustainable, as at the end of the day the iQ product line performs as well as, or better than, traditional cleaning products. It just requires a change in habits. We know that consumer change is not easy, but it makes our job more interesting and we hope that we can get consumers to question the status quo and show them a smarter way to clean.

TH: How did you get into this line of work?
AS: I previously worked at P&G; in marketing. After taking a leave of absence to volunteer in Vietnam and India, I decided to do my MBA at INSEAD and make the shift to work on a more sustainable and eco-friendly brand. When I discovered Planet People and iQ specifically, I saw a great opportunity to switch to a brand that could have a substantial impact on society.


TH: When did the green bug strike?
AS: Growing up with immigrant parents who came to Canada with nothing, being green was always just an essential way of life. I was taught to appreciate the things we had and to always to take care of the people, the community and the environment I was lucky to have here in Canada.

TH: What is your ultimate green goal?
AS: To help change the western mentality that 'bigger is better.' As a society this mentality is so ingrained that in the pursuit for more, we've ended up developing wasteful products and packaging that pollute our planet. We all need to learn to question the status quo and seek out innovative and progressive products that can meet our needs without taking a toll the environment.

TH: What is the most challenging part of your job?
AS: Changing consumer behaviour. We're all been programmed to use single-use plastic spray bottles as our household cleaners. We purchase, clean, discard and then start all over again. The notion of re-using plastic spray bottles, and refilling them with cleaning concentrate cartridges and tap water is, understandably, a foreign one to consumers. Our challenge is to encourage the consumer to question the way they've always cleaned, and excite them with the benefits of a new approach to an old habit.

PG: What is the most rewarding?
AS: Realizing the impact I'm making on people and the environment. I love working on the iQ brand because it provides consumers the best of both worlds - a cleaner that doesn't compromise and has a number phenomenal environment impacts: it cuts out 80% of packaging waste, and dramatically reduces transport emissions by reducing the trucks on the road. I hope more brands will adopt a similar creative approach to meeting the needs of people and the environment.


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Tags: Canada | Chemicals | Detergents | Green Packaging | Whole Foods

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