Sun 23 May 2010

Optimization without profiling

Seventh Generation dishwashing liquid claims that if every household in the US switched from a bottle of petroleum-based 25oz dishwashing liquid to their product, we'd save 81,000 barrels of oil each year.

The United States consumes approximately 21 million barrels of oil per day.

Put another way: if Seventh Generation were to achieve 100% market penetration, they would reduce US oil consumption by 0.001%.

By contrast, half-time teleworking would save 453 million barrels per year. (I don't know the answer to the question ‘half of what?’ — this is just for the sake of illustration.)

That's a much more significant sum — nearly 6% of the US's total oil consumption goes on schlepping a bunch of people to and from work.

I'd go so far as to guess that any oil savings from their products fail to offset even Seventh Generation's business operations: commuting workers, product transport, heating and lighting, and manufacturing. Hell, if you have to drive to a different store to buy the damn thing you've had a net negative effect on oil consumption!

Either Seventh Generation is being deliberately disingenuous in their marketing, or they haven't done the calculations to discover the real impact. I'm betting on both. Still, this is an interesting case study in how bad humans are at picking their battles, and how vulnerable consumers are to irrational arguments: nobody rational would ever think that developing and marketing a non-petroleum dishwashing liquid (in a plastic bottle!) was worthwhile.

Posted at 2010-05-23 10:32:00 by Richard NewmanLink to Optimization witho…