Product Power: It’s All Soy Good

Not too long ago soy milk stunned the dairy industry as the leading alternative to cow’s milk through marketing it’s benefits to those who are vegan, lactose intolerant, and health conscious. Other soy food products soon after appeared in western supermarkets regardless of the controversy over whether the legume is truly healthy or not. But the interesting thing about soy is its entry into the marketplace was not the first time soy has been consumed as milk or as an alternative source of protein. Soy has long since been consumed as a beverage and as a food product in Asia and by westerners with specific diet requirements.

Likewise, properties of soy have been used as an industrial product for quite some time too, with Henry Ford using soy-based plastic to make his first car panels in 1941. Today, soy has again re-appeared but as the manufacturer’s magic bean.

The Magic Bean

Soy is a renewable resource and a safe product for humans and the environment. Soy-based products have been found to be a great alternative to petrochemicals and energy fuel – conserving and reducing the demand for fossil fuels. In fact, the United Soybean Board‘s product guide lists a soy-based product for almost everything from:

  1. soap and shampoo
  2. auto care supplies and engine oils
  3. carpet and insulation
  4. paint and ink
  5. plastics, solvents and adhesives

Soy May Be A Better Product Design

Soy is considered a replacement technology for many toxic chemical compounds with benefits above social and environmental. Soy-based materials may be a better substance to use for your new product.

Take Renuva, for example. Renuva creates soy-based polyols (like polyurethane) using technology that is:

  1. greenhouse gas neutral and uses 60% fewer fossil fuel resources to create -saving energy costs in production
  2. won’t release hazardous materials such as V.O.C’s (volatile organic compounds) that you can smell in a new car
  3. more resistant to UV rays and repels water better – lasting longer in outdoor environments

than petroleum-based polyol technology.

Capitalising on Existing Innovation – A Product Team Effort

Where do soy-technology or any other innovative environmentally friendly products play in the development of new products? I’m still working out where environmental responsibility lies in the creation of new products. Does it belong to Senior Management and their implementation of a Sustainability Policy or a Corporate Social Responsibility Plan? Is it the designers problem or the engineers? Should it be purely driven by consumer demand?

I believe Product Managers have a unique role in driving a better, greener future for ourselves and the future generations. Product Managers or Product Owners are key players in investigating the demand for ‘greener’ products of their target markets and ensuring such needs are met in the market and product requirements. Collaborating with Product Designers and Engineers on environmental trends from the beginning of product planning will also enable everyone to think about how they can incorporate environmental design and development into the final product.

The need to become more sustainable in our business practices as well as in our product offerings is a trend that will last until the global environmental crises goes away – and at this rate, I think the trend will stick around for quite a while yet. The good news is there are plenty of existing eco-innovation that isn’t being fully utilised so we don’t have to start from scratch, we just need to be aware of the technology out there and be creative. Maybe there is a soy-based material or product that can work for you.

This blog entry has been inspired by Allison Arieff’s New York Times article, “Not New, But Improved“.