We’d like to thank those folks who nominated questions for Chad Rea, social brand innovator/entrepreneur and the founder of ecopop.

ecopop is a innovation collective that merges ecology with pop culture to make conscious consumerism a mainstream concept and the brands that enable it more accessible.

In 2002, Chad started 86 the onions, a brand communications firm. After great success creating marketing solutions for major clients like Target and Starbucks, Chad developed 86 the onions into ecopop. Since 2007 ecopop has created, co-owned and marketed brands that are environmentally and/or socially responsible.

Besides setting an example of how to produce positive outcomes for the world through work, Chad is also a career and business coach, teacher, public speaker, writer, voiceover and musician.

We asked Chad to answer five of the questions posed by DESIGN 21 members and here are his answers:


Why do you think people need this element of pop in order to value global responsibility?

I believe that the element of pop is quickest way to positive global change. Its primary function is to reach a wider audience and change consumer buying habits whether they truly care enough about ecology or not.

Unfortunately, segregation is alive and well in the media and in the grocery store.

There are websites, magazines, TV shows, and even TV channels devoted to the eco lifestyle. And there are mainstream media outlets that devote special columns, issues, episodes, and entire weeks to green themes.

Similarly, there are retail stores that specialize in sustainable goods and there are others that might have a small section. In the grocery store, for example, green brands are often quarantined to the heath food aisle, or a specialty store altogether.

If you ask me, this is not the most efficient way to change the way people make and buy things. Instead all brands and branded content, ecological and not, must live side-by-side in order for consumers to compare and businesses to compete. And let's not forget the importance of discovery and the element of surprise.


No offense to Tom Cruise, but which would you rather attend: A FREE pancake breakfast? Or the Church of Scientology's Open House? Most people would choose the free pancake option when, in actuality, they are one and the same. The main difference is how the two options are marketed.

Like Scientology, green comes with a lot of baggage. While the mainstream is becoming more and more aware of what it means to be green, there are also a lot of companies jumping on the green bandwagon. Few get it right. All contribute to what is quickly becoming known as "green fatigue." Because of these factors, and the niche, fringey ways that the majority of green brands are being marketed, green is quickly becoming a ubiquitous brand that is no longer ownable, especially when every brand walks and talks the same. Green, earthy colors. Nature imagery. Names with words like green, eco, natural, earth, world, blah, blah, blah. These are all dead giveaways and a huge warning sign to anyone who might not have any interest in green, are actually put off by it, or have a mountain of barriers to overcome, namely time, pressure, knowledge and price.

The sign of a good actor is not knowing that they are acting. The same holds true for advertisers. If an actor simply came out and said, "I'm sad," for example, it's not very believable, is it? When advertisers come out and brag just how good they are, especially if they have a history of being bad, it's really no different. Don't shout that you are cool or authentic or responsible. Simply be it.


Live Earth or Warped Tour? Guru or Red Bull? Seventh Generation or Method? Doesn't it make more sense to have a concert that appealed to the masses and then surprise them with an important message about global warming? Wouldn't a energy drink — be it a healthy one – sell more because it tasted better, worked better, and appealed to our pop culture sensibilities better than ANY energy drink on the market? Wouldn't more people do less harm if they bought cool, sexy, hip brands that were unknowingly green? In other words, brands shouldn't act green. Instead, they should be green and act pop.

Conscious consumers will seek out constructive brands. The rest of the world, however, would rather discover a company's story of sustainability through other means, like the list of ingredients, a website, word-of-mouth, the news media, etc. Even if they don't, who cares? The world is still better for it. Take Method, for example. Their designer cleaning products are sold at Target as well as Whole Foods. While the green community buys Method products because they are green and sexy, there are still countless other people that buy Method products simply because they are sexier than any other cleaning products on the market. If Method was just another Seventh Generation, a brand with a unique selling point that's no longer unique, they wouldn't have had the same appeal or, more importantly, positive impact on the world.

The same approach can be applied to the media. How many NASCAR and WalMart consumers in middle America are going to tune into Discovery's Planet Green? Bor-ring. Instead, there needs to be a show on the Speed Channel, CBS or Cartoon Network, for example, which translates green in a way that they can identify with.


Mainstream consumers don't want to have to seek out green alternatives. They simply want to go about their business the way they always have without compromising. Therefore, change needs to happen with business first. If consumers have to demand change in order for businesses to step up and do the right thing, it might be too late.

In order for positive change to happen efficiently and on a global scale, business has to act as if they snuck into someone's house and replaced all the destructive products with sustainable ones. And without the homeowners knowing anything has changed — unless, of course, it's an improvement. In other words, the clothes have to look and feel the same way. The food has to taste just as good if not better. It has to have a comparable price point. (Do you really need to make that much profit?) And the design and communication has to be relevant. (FYI, don't hire green marketing and branding agencies.)

Consider things like world illiteracy, immigration, and media access. UNICEF estimates that more than 16% of the world population is unable to read and write in any language. One in five Americans speak a language other than English at home — which means they probably aren't reading Treehugger.com, either. It also means that they are probably unable to read things like instructions or warning labels. As a result, they unknowingly harm themselves and the environment with dangerous levels of harmful chemicals. If they were offered a safe product to begin with, there wouldn't be a problem.

So, what's a faster solution? Making sure everyone on the planet is educated? Or creating responsible products to compete with the destructive ones? As seasoned entrepreneurs and mainstream marketers who can successfully create demand, influence and social currency for just about anything, ecopop would like to believe the latter.

Do you ever fear that by bringing responsible brands into the realm of pop, the whole green consumerism will just fade like other trends? What do you predict the future of this whole "green branding" trend we are seeing everywhere will look like say 15 years down the road?

By making corporate responsibility and conscious consumerism popular, and everyone else unpopular, businesses and shoppers will be forced to change their ways for the better. Eventually, this will eliminate the need for separation or a distinction between constructive and destructive brands simply because global responsibility will become the norm. In the future, brands will look and act like they did before the green movement without the harmful side effects. You have the power to make sure of it.

What's your favorite example of visually beautiful design that's ecologically disastrous? What's your favorite example of ecologically smart design that's aesthetically disastrous?

According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, the manufacturing and use of consumers' vehicles cause more environmental damage than any other single consumer spending category. For the sake of comparison, I thought I’d combine two questions and focus on passenger vehicles.

For the first question, I don’t think I could possibly think of anything more ridiculously cool than the International CXT, the world's biggest production pickup that puts soon-to-be-extinct HUMMER to shame.


On the other end of the spectrum, I’m a huge fan of anything that adheres to the Cradle to Cradle design manifesto. (This book should be required for anyone in design, marketing or business.) While there are no Cradle to Cradle cars I know of currently on the market, Ford’s Model U looks promising. Until then, the next best option next would be something like a Prius, which is pretty damn ugly when compared to the Audi I traded in for it. My point is this: When automakers start making responsible cars that look and drive like their destructive counterparts, more people will drive them. Thankfully, the Prius has created a demand for both hybrids and, hopefully soon, better-looking hybrids with a mass appeal.

Most K-12 schools don't include much design education in their curriculum. Many are confused about whether design should be a topic taught by art teachers or by technology education teachers. How early do you think design education should be introduced in K-12 education?

This is a really tough and interesting question. I'm 38, but as early as 6th grade, I was using an Apple IIe to design crude pixel animations and saving them on a giant floppy disk – thanks to a forward-thinking public elementary school in Colorado. While I may be a bit of an anomaly, students today have cell phones, laptops, video games, social networks, and other cutting-edge technology at their disposal – all of which have an element of customizable, personal design. While it might not be part of a school's curriculum, the element of "do-it-yourself" design is often built in to technology itself. Personally, I believe design should be taught as part of technology education as soon as they begin interacting with the technology itself which seems to be at a younger age every day.

What quotations or motivational phrases do you live by?

I can. I will. I am.


Next up: Your chance to question Lorraine Gamman, founder of the Design Against Crime Research Center at Central St Martins. Click here to nominate your questions by August 13.

Posted August 11, 2009