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    Inside the “Casa do Bem”

    By Keith R | October 8, 2007

    Topics: Corporate Social Responsibility, Environmental Education, Environmental Protection, Waste & Recycling | No Comments »

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    If you enter the Wal-Mart Supercenter hypermarkets in Brazil, and walk the aisles, you may run across an unusual large exhibit — a mock-up of a miniature house that you can enter and explore. It has faux windows and flower boxes, and corners representing the interiors of a kitchen, bathroom and laundry room.

    Look closer. Nearly everything in the exhibit is made of recycled material.

    The “grass” in the flower box is made of slivers from shredded PET bottles and the flowers from Hellman’s mayonnaise jars. The floor consists of tiles made from recycled toothpaste tubes, as do many of the fixtures and decorations. The fabric in the display is made of bamboo fabric (as is the uniform of the female presenter for the exhibit). The laundry pole is bamboo.

    Even all the wood in the display is certified by the national environment agency, IBAMA, as from reforestation projects.

    Welcome to the “Casa do Bem” (“House of the Good”).

    The In-Store Experience

    The Casa do Bem is an environmental education project put together by Unilever and hosted by Wal-Mart Brasil. Throughout the exhibit (click on these pictures to enlarge) are signs (most in the word balloons with the words embraced by hands forming a rooftop), audio and visual prompts with environmental tips (dicas) for households, such as:

    As you might readily discern, the majority of the tips involve conserving energy and water or the importance of recycling.

    Thousands of visitors to the exhibit also have received two booklets (both about 10 pages long, illustrated, large type), A Água e a Vida (“Water and Life”) and A Natureza e as Embalagens (“Nature and Packaging”), and a leaflet with environmental tips.

    The exhibit was first displayed in Supercenter stores in Pacaembu, São Bernardo, and Osasco in São Paulo in June, but since has toured other Wal-Mart stores around Brazil. [Temas Observation: has Wal-Mart considered mounting something similar in its stores in Argentina and Mexico, two markets in which it has a substantial presence and the need for environmental education projects is considerable?]

    The Virtual Casa do Bem

    If you don’t live in Brazil or don’t frequent Wal-Mart there, you can still visit the Casa do Bem virtually. Yes, Unilever and Wal-Mart have created an online version at The last image in this article (see below) is of the opening page of the animation once you get past the introduction screen with the Casa do Bem logo.

    It’s a slicker, more stylized version without all the recycled materials, but the basic idea is preserved: you tour different parts of the home and get environment tips that you can use in your own home. Click on the doorbell to enter the Casa and start the tour.

    It’s currently only in Portuguese, though. [Temas Observation: Given the market reach of both Unilever and Wal-Mart throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, however, one wonders how long before they mount something similar in English and Spanish.]

    In this interactive flash animation you look for the circles with the Casa do Bem logo (the rooftop formed by two hands) and you point your cursor at one, it spins toward you and opens with a tip.

    Also, in the laundry room, when you run your cursor over the brightly colored recycling bins, it will tell what type of objects/packaging you should and shouldn’t try to recycle in each category (paper, plastic, glass, metal, organics).

    The virtual Casa do Bem has other goodies. There are two interactive games — a “memory game” in which you flip squares to match environmental tips (aided by symbols), and a “recycling game” in which you take a ball marked with a material tag (“paper,” “plastic,” etc.) and toss it into the proper recycling bin.

    The portal of the virtual You can access either directly through the main menu (click the little arrow on the upper left-hand side by the flashing “menu” message), or through the individual “room” pages in the animation — laundry room for the recycling game (since that’s where the recycling bins are) and the bathroom for the memory game (not sure why).

    Yes, both are roughly the intellectual level of a child, but I guess that’s a key target audience for Unilever and Wal-Mart (teach the young so that they might change the adults?) and they cannot afford to get too complex and ambitious in this initial thrust at environmental

    There’s also a download section accessible through the main menu. Here you can a PDF version of the booklet A Água e a Vida, as well as the PDF of another on the importance of preserving Brazil’s Atlantic Forest, A Mata Atlântica. [Yes, both are offered only in Portuguese.] No sign of the booklet A Natureza e as Embalagens. Wonder why?

    You can also download the PDF of Unilever’s 124-page “socio-environmental” corporate report (Relatório Socioambiental – a report on corporate community and environmental responsibility measures) for 2006 [caution: it’s a 8 MB file]. Finally, you supposedly can download a zip file containing a Unilever video, although every time I have attempted to download the latter I get an error message when trying to unpack the zip, so I cannot vouch for its contents. [This problem has persisted for weeks.]

    Some Observations

    First off, let me congratulate Unilever and Wal-Mart for taking the initiative. Any project that can persuade more Brazilians to use water and energy rationally at home, to separate and recycle materials, and to understand the importance of the Atlantic Forest, is certainly welcome. Making both tangible displays (in one of Brazil’s most popular stores) and a virtual tour was a stroke of genius.

    Second, kudos to the designers of the virtual site. It is slick, visually appealing and relatively easy to use. My guess is that it has received quite a bit of traffic. It would be interesting to see how many downloads of the booklets and corporate responsibility report it prompted.

    But (you probably sensed that there was a “but”) I have a few suggestions, recommendations, complaints, etc.:

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