“Man. You try to do the right thing, and people just knock you for it.”

That was the first reaction when my colleagues and I met to discuss criticisms of Larry’s Beans’ “Biodegradable” Coffee Bag. I had worked with Larry’s on the launch of this bag – supposedly a first-of-its-kind coffee bag that would biodegrade in home compost heaps, the ocean, even in landfill.

The bag had won awards. It had been headline news in the trade press. And we believed it was making a difference in the war against unsustainable packaging.

But we had received a few emails warning us that our claims for the bag may be untrue, and that we should be careful about pushing false solutions. While our instinctive response was defensive, we soon realized that our critics were both sincere in their concerns, and had credentials that suggested they knew what they were talking about.

Rather than back ourselves into a corner, we decided to start a conversation. The result was this video:

As the video shows, we learned many lessons on this journey, including:

  • Biodegradability means little unless you know how a package will be disposed of
  • Many claims of biodegradability are unregulated, and potentially misleading
  • There’s no silver bullet for our waste problem.
Above all though, we learned that when you try new things, you sometimes make mistakes. And that’s OK, as long as you learn from them and share that knowledge.

Imagine an economy where transparency was taken seriously. Imagine if corporations began genuine dialogue with their critics, where PR departments were willing to not only shout about their successes, but to share their failures too.

If we’re going to fix the mess the human race finds itself in, we’re going have to learn fast.

Sami Grover is creative director and co-owner of The Change Creation, a good-for-the-world branding agency that works closely with Larry's Beans on brand strategy, design and sustainability. Sami is a regular contributer to MNN and TreeHugger.com. He also loves compost.

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