Saturday, February 23, 2008

Cardboard boxes, the ecology and business ethics

We are moving house. Anyone else who has ever moved house (which is just about anyone, I guess) will know that it usually entails a fair number of cardboard boxes.

Of course, I have been collecting some from work, and we had kept a few nice strong ones from the last move, but we have been forced to buy several.

One of the places we went to in our quest for the best deal was a stationery supplier. Everywhere you looked in the store, there were boxes of stock. Most of their products are delivered in boxes - most of them perfect sizes for packing and moving. Paper, binders, you name it. It all comes in boxes, which they then unpack onto their shelves and sell singly. In some sections of the store, there were moutains of sealed boxes, topped off by the contents of the few that had been opened. In top of the shelving, were unopened boxes containing new stock. Boxes. Everywhere. But you can't have those. You have to buy purpose-made boxes at £3 each, or in packs of 5... or 10.

So what are they going to do with all the hundreds (thousands?) of boxes in which their stock is packaged for delivery? They're going to take them out back, flatten them and bale them, so that they can be collected for recycling. Presumably by some large, diesel fume emitting vehicle which will take to some carbon-footpring producing recycling plant.

Why can't they let us have them instead?

Well because they sell boxes, you see, so it would interfere with their profits. Why should they give away something when they can sell it for a ridiculous sum of money?

Why can't they sell those ones for a nominal fee (or even better for a donation to some green organisation)?

Well, because, they're not set up for that, you see.

Why not?

Look lady, we just aren't. Do you want the boxes or don't you?

Well I don't, but I need them. Nevertheless, I am going to go and buy them somewhere else (a) because they're cheaper, (b) because that company doesn't have boxes standing around that they could give away and (c) because I've got the hump now and I'm blowed if you're getting a penny out of me. Have a nice day, won't you?

Okay. So what has this got to with learning?

Simply this:

If I know something that you need to know, I will gladly let you have it (free, gratis and for nothing). I have been on the receiving end of generosity of this sort for several years as a learning professional, and I have "grown up" with this attitude.

Not only is it generous, it makes sense. It keeps the knowledge economy flowing, it moves us all forward, and we all grow knowledge richer together. This in turn, makes good fiscal sense, since we can implement the new knowledge in the fulfillment of our day jobs.

How very "pay it forward", and how very much to my liking!


Anonymous said...

i used to work at Waterstones and they have lots of nice big boxes which they usually give you for free if you ask them.

That's what i do.



Anonymous said...

Thanks, James. I will certainly check them out.