It’s All In The Bin

One of the best places to witness the stark differences between generations is in the grocery store.  My favorite place to lounge and gaze is inside the Whole Foods café with a bird’s eye view of the recycle bins.  If those bins could talk, they would tell entertaining stories of behaviors in action around the discarding of trash.  As I watch people of all ages and life-stages approach the bins, I quickly spot the different generations; a mini focus group unfolding before my eyes.  Universally, the Whole Foods bins are met with a pause and a sigh as people start to ponder which of the many boxes to throw the myriad of materials that sit on their trays.  I’ve seen many a hand cautiously approach those small round stainless holes to either toss in or in some cases pull out the remains of a meal. 

Easiest to recognize is the Gen X Mom, always practical and diligent.  With kids in tow, this is one of those moments when she will ask her children to be patient as she carefully considers which bin to select for her plastic, glass and used paper items.  If she is momentarily distracted and makes the wrong selection, she will not think twice about plunging her hand into the bins to retrieve the item and make the proper selection.  Care, thought and modeling good behavior go into the recycling ritual in a typical Xer household, as family has always and continues to define this generation.  Our society has  never seen a  more engaged parent.

In stark contrast to this scenario: enter the Millennial.  This is our food generation, raised and praised for their knowledge and love of food.  They feed off of each other’s adventurous spirits whether they’re cooking at home, buying groceries or eating out.  Watching them sample the many flavors and colors on their friend’s trays makes you want to join the party.  Immediately following the meal, after one last glance at their phones, they get up in perfect unison and approach the bins.  The questions begin, “comingled recycling?” “plastic wrap?” “what about this rubber band?”.  A few items successfully land in the right bins, but inevitably, after a subtle glance over the shoulder, it’s a quick toss into landfill with “items you are unsure of”.  This generation wants to save the Earth, indeed.  But can it be, perhaps, a little less time intensive?  Or maybe just a little easier – a better system?  And, by the way, let’s ask them to solve the challenge for us.  We know they’ll come up with something smart, but I’ll bet it will be fun as well.

We can understand what motivates people to do the things they do by understanding the values that drive them every day.   I use Whole Foods as a great example here, not only because of the behaviors around the bins, but because this is a store that feeds into the values of a diverse group of people.  Their newest campaign, “Values Matter” beautifully proclaims the value of values – those core drivers of behavior.  If we understand human values we will not only be able to recognize them in action and understand people better, but it will enable us to truly connect and personalize any experience.  As brands move toward becoming more human, an understanding of who people are as humans versus consumers is a solid base upon which to build a relationship.

Have you considered the values of the people you are trying to reach?  Check out our newest research, The Human Project.  We explored the core values of Active Families and found some interesting and surprising behaviors that shatter typical stereotypes. If you would like to hear more about the findings send us an email at