Because today is also #ThrowbackThursday, I’m going to highlight some classic P2 publications. Although they were originally in the published in the 1990s through early 2000s, they contain a trove of useful information about implementing pollution prevention in today’s industrial facilities.
EPA Sector Notebooks (U.S. EPA, late 1990s) EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance (OECA) developed the EPA Sector Notebooks to provide chemical profiles of selected industries. Each profile includes information about the processes conducted in the industry, chemical releases and transfers of chemicals, opportunities for pollution prevention, pertinent federal statutes and regulations, and compliance initiatives associated with the sector. Although these notebooks were published in the late 1990s, they still contain a wealth of information about the production processes, environmental impacts, and pollution prevention options for these sectors.
Facility Pollution Prevention Guide (U.S. EPA, 1992)
For those who are interested in and responsible for pollution prevention in industrial or service facilities. Summarizes the benefits of a company-wide pollution prevention program and suggests ways to incorporate pollution prevention in company policies and practices.
The Industrial Green Game: Implications for Environmental Design and Management (National Academies Press, 1997)
This volume examines industrial circulation of materials, energy efficiency strategies, “green” accounting, life-cycle analysis, and other approaches for preventing pollution and improving performance. Corporate leaders report firsthand on “green” efforts at Ciba-Geigy, Volvo, Kennecott, and Norsk Hydro.
Organizational Guide to Pollution Prevention (U.S. EPA, 2001)
This Pollution Prevention (P2) Guide provides information to help organizations get P2 programs started or to re-evaluate existing P2 programs. It presents an alternative method for working on P2 projects and four approaches to implementing a P2 program in an organization.
Searching for the Profit in Pollution Prevention: Case Studies in the Corporate Evaluation of Environmental Opportunities (U.S. EPA, 1998)
This research was initiated to more fully illuminate the challenges facing industry in the adoption of pollution prevention (P2) opportunities, and to identify issue areas that can be studied and addressed by policy-makers and industry. The case studies in this paper describe three P2 projects that were chosen/or analysis precisely because they were in some way unsuccessful. This analysis, based on a small and non-random sampling, is not necessarily representative of the experiences of all companies or all P2 investment possibilities.
When most people think about things they can borrow from their local library, books and DVDs are most often what comes to mind. However, many libraries are going beyond their typical collections and lending a plethora of other things. Some of these include:
Tools are handy to have around the house, but they can also be expensive and difficult to store. Tool lending libraries, which aren’t always affiliated with public libraries, are becoming increasingly common. Find one near you or start one if your community doesn’t have one already. Libraries throughout the country loan Kill-A-Watt power meters, which help you measure the efficiency of your appliances. Many libraries have also started loaning technology, including internet hot spots.
Cake pans, cooking tools, and maker/crafting kits
If you like to cook or bake, you may eventually run across a recipe that requires a special type of pan or kitchen tool that you may only use once. Libraries have you covered there too. The Northlake Public Library in Northlake, IL lends a wide variety of speciality kitchen equipment, including food processors, panini presses, and crepe pans. They also lend crafting tools like sergers and knitting looms.
Musical instruments are an investment if you aren’t sure you’re going to continue playing. Libraries have you covered there too. For example, you can borrow a Moog theremini and a wide variety of other instruments from the Ann Arbor (MI) Public Library.
Seed libraries, often located in public libraries or other community gathering points, are institutions created for the purpose of sharing seeds. The idea is that a library patron can “check-out” seeds to grow themselves, let “go-to-seed”, and then return seeds to the library to share with other community members. Learn more about seed libraries here or find one near you.
The next time you need household tools, electronics, games, or even formal wear, check to see if your local library has you covered. You can save money and reduce your environmental impact at the same time.
Those of us in the Great Lakes region (and the rest of the US and Canada) live in a so-called “throw-away society” in which consumerism is rampant, and goods are not often designed or produced with durability in mind. In fact, in recent years, more and more goods are designed to be explicitly or implicitly disposable. Even complex products, such as consumer electronics, are treated as if they are meant to be ephemeral. The classic example is the smartphone. These devices are astounding feats of scientific innovation and engineering. For perspective, consider ZME Science’s article from September 2017: Your smartphone is millions of times more powerful than all of NASA’s combined computing in 1969. Despite their complexity, and the fact that you, and probably everyone you know, barely scratch the surface in terms of using these devices to their full potential, we are constantly bombarded with cues to upgrade to the latest model. And new models seem to be released ever more frequently, always being touted as somehow greatly more advanced than their predecessors. A simpler example is clothing–when was the last time you sewed up or patched a hole in a shirt or pair of pants? Something that once would have been done by most people as a matter of course might now be deemed peculiar. A modern member of our culture might wonder why one would bother to patch a pair of pants when a new pair could be obtained so cheaply.
Our “take-make-dispose” model can also be called a linear economy, and the message you receive in such a system is clear: if you have something that becomes damaged or has minor performance issues, you should just replace it. In fact, even if what you have is working well, the time will quickly come when you should just replace the old with the new. Replace, rinse, and repeat. A linear economy is one in which natural resources are extracted and used to create goods which will entirely, or partially, inevitably end up in landfills or incinerators. Some materials may be recovered and recycled, but over time these materials degrade in quality and are used for increasingly lower grade purposes, so that ultimately they will become waste, of little or no further use.
Of course, in order to replace whatever is being disposed of, new goods are required. And those new goods require as much or more resources as the ones that went before them–new minerals and other raw materials must be extracted. Extraction processes can have negative environmental and social impacts (e.g. pollution, habitat destruction, human rights issues related to labor practices, health issues related to exposure to chemicals or physical risks, etc.). Materials are transported to factories (requiring the use of energy in the form of fuel) where they are transformed into new products, again potentially with new human exposures to toxins or other adverse conditions, and potential new emissions of toxins or other substances of concern. In the case of products such as electronics, sometimes components are manufactured in places distant from each other and must be further transported to be brought together in yet another factory to create a complete device. And the finished product is in turn transported across the globe to reach consumers, resulting in more expenditure of energy, more emissions. By the time most products reach the consumer, a great deal of natural and human resources have been invested in them, and however positively the product itself may impact a human life or the broader ecosystem, the number of potential negative impacts all along the supply chain have stacked up. Clearly, any tendency to treat products as disposable, purposefully or incidentally, exacerbates those negative impacts by requiring the manufacture of more products, more quickly than might otherwise have been the case, as long as the demand for product does not diminish.
The tragedy of this linear cycle of use and disposal has lead to the advocacy for a circular economy–one in which extraction of resources is minimized and products and services are designed in such a way as to maximize the flow of materials through resource loops as close to perpetually as physically possible. In such a system, what might have once been considered “waste” continues to be valued in some form or another. A circular economy is built upon design for durability, reuse, and the ability to keep products in service for as long as possible, followed by the ability to effectively reclaim, reuse and recycle materials.
There are many barriers to repair, including costs (real or perceived), knowledge, confidence in those performing the repair (one’s self or someone else), and access to tools, instruction manuals and repair code meanings which tell technicians exactly what the problem is so they can address it. Manufacturers of a variety of products, particular those with electronic components (everything from automobiles to cell phones to tractors) have come under pressure in recent years over the attempt to monopolize access to parts, tools, and necessary information for performing repairs, leading to what is called the Right to Repair movement. Currently, 18 US states, including Illinois, Minnesota, and New York in the Great Lakes region, have introduced “fair repair” bills which would require manufacturers of various products to make those tools, parts, and pieces of information accessible to consumer and third-party repair shops. You can read more about the history of the right to repair movement and right to repair legislation on the Repair Association web site.
In an increasing number of communities around the world, citizens are coming together to share their knowledge, tools, and problem-solving skills to help each other repair every day items for free. I’m writing this on the campus of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and here are some examples of local projects that can help you repair the items you own:
Illini Gadget Garage. This one’s my favorite, but I’m admittedly biased, since I helped launch this project and coordinated it for the past few years. The IGG is a collaborative repair center for personally-owned electronic devices and small appliances. “Collaborative repair” means that project staff and volunteers don’t repair your device for you; rather they work with you to troubleshoot and repair your device. Assistance is free; consumers are responsible for purchasing their own parts if needed, though staff can help determine what parts might be necessary. In addition to working with consumers by appointment at their campus workshop, the IGG crew conduct “pop-up” repair clinics in various public spaces around the Champaign-Urbana community and across campus. Consumers not only benefit from the “do-it-together” approach, they also get access to specialized tools (e.g. soldering irons, pentalobe screwdrivers, heat guns, etc.) that enable device repair, which many folks wouldn’t have in their tool box at home. Though successful repair obviously can’t be guaranteed, project staff say that if it has a plug or electrical component, and you can carry into the shop (or pop-up), they’ll help you try to figure out and fix the problem.
The Bike Project of Urbana-Champaign. Including both a downtown Urbana shop and a Campus Bike Center, this project provides tools and space for bicyclists to share knowledge and repair bicycles. This project sells refurbished bikes, and individuals who are willing to work on fixing up a donated bike (with assistance) can eventually purchase a bike at a discount. See https://thebikeproject.org/get-involved/join-the-bike-project/ for membership fees; an equity membership based on volunteer hours is available.
CU Community Fab Lab. Though technically a makerspace, this project provides access to a variety of tools that individuals may not own themselves, as well as a community of tinkerers and creative minds to foster sharing of knowledge. See http://cucfablab.org/inside-the-lab/tools/ for available tools. Note that some fees may apply for consumable materials. Workshops are also offered to help you learn various skills. The Fab Lab is free to anyone in the community during open hours.
Restart Project. Focused on electronics, this is a UK project, but you can host a “restart party” anywhere, and some K-12 schools, including some in the US are integrating restart centers to help teach repair skills and instill ideas of sustainability among students.
In 1990, Congress passed the Pollution Prevention Act. Pollution Prevention (P2) Week, celebrated during the third week of September each year (September 17-23, 2018), highlights the efforts of EPA, its state partners, industry, and the public in preventing pollution right from the start.
Pollution prevention is a cornerstone of community resilience. By reducing the use of toxic chemicals and eliminating waste, communities improve the health and welfare of their citizens and reduce their risk when natural disasters strike.
As electronics become more ubiquitous each day, the integration of smaller electronic components into ever more products continues, and renewable energy becomes an increasingly popular strategy for addressing climate change, the ability to store and supply power efficiently and safely is all the more important. So it’s no surprise that batteries have been a hot topic in the news for the past month or so. Let’s take a moment to consider some of the highlights of recent battery-related news.
We may as well start with the well-written piece by Geoffrey A. Fowler, the Washington Post’s technology columnist, published today (9/12/18): “The problem with recycling our old tech gadgets: They explode.” This is a good article about how design choices to make electronics thinner and more portable make the recycling of electronics more difficult and dangerous. Specifically because lithium-ion batteries are being incorporated into more products and smaller products, often without an easy–or any–way to remove those batteries. This isn’t just problematic for for extending the useful life of products. The trend makes the recycling of electronics increasingly risky while simultaneously making the economic feasibility of such efforts diminish. Recyclers need more time, special equipment, and training for proper handling, and they are at greater risk of damages caused by fires. As Fowler explains: “For all their benefits at making our devices slim, powerful and easy to recharge, lithium-ion batteries have some big costs. They contain Cobalt, often mined in inhumane circumstances in places like the Congo. And when crushed, punctured, ripped or dropped, lithium-ion batteries can produce what the industry euphemistically calls a “thermal event.” It happens because these batteries short circuit when the super-thin separator between their positive and negative parts gets breached. Remember Samsung’s exploding Note 7 smartphone? That was a lithium-ion thermal event.”
Fowler visits Cascade Asset Management, an electronics scrap processor in Madison, WI, to observe the process of removing a battery from an old iPad before the device can be sent through the shredder for recycling. My take away from this article: products need to be designed not only with sleek aesthetics and portability in mind, but also the ability to easily and safely upgrade, repair, and maintain them during their useful life and then to easily and safely reclaim parts and component materials when they have reached their end of useful life. Fowler concludes “So as a gadget reviewer, let me say this clearly to the tech industry: Give up your thin obsession. We’ll happily take electronics with a little extra junk in the trunk if it means we can easily replace batteries to make them last longer – and feel more confident they won’t end up igniting a recycling inferno.” Do agree with his sentiment? Consider voicing that opinion to the manufacturers of your favorite devices, and if you’re an industrial design student, heed well the lessons you can learn from this article.
As long as we’re on the subject of “thermal events,” consider this interesting research highlighted in this article provided by the American Chemical Society : “These lithium-ion batteries can’t catch fire because they harden on impact.” ‘Lithium-ion batteries commonly used in consumer electronics are notorious for bursting into flame when damaged or improperly packaged. These incidents occasionally have grave consequences, including burns, house fires and at least one plane crash. Inspired by the weird behavior of some liquids that solidify on impact, researchers have developed a practical and inexpensive way to help prevent these fires. They will present their results today at the 256th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS). “In a lithium-ion battery, a thin piece of plastic separates the two electrodes,” Gabriel Veith, Ph.D., says. “If the battery is damaged and the plastic layer fails, the electrodes can come into contact and cause the battery’s liquid electrolyte to catch fire.” To make these batteries safer, some researchers instead use a nonflammable, solid electrolyte. But these solid-state batteries require significant retooling of the current production process, Veith says. As an alternative, his team mixes an additive into the conventional electrolyte to create an impact-resistant electrolyte. It solidifies when hit, preventing the electrodes from touching if the battery is damaged during a fall or crash. If the electrodes don’t touch each other, the battery doesn’t catch fire. Even better, incorporating the additive would require only minor adjustments to the conventional battery manufacturing process…In the future, Veith plans to enhance the system so the part of the battery that’s damaged in a crash would remain solid, while the rest of the battery would go on working. The team is initially aiming for applications such as drone batteries, but they would eventually like to enter the automotive market. They also plan to make a bigger version of the battery, which would be capable of stopping a bullet. That could benefit soldiers, who often carry 20 pounds of body armor and 20 pounds of batteries when they’re on a mission, Veith says. “The battery would function as their armor, and that would lighten the average soldier by about 20 pounds.”
Imagine the day when lithium-ion batteries might be an asset for safety instead of a liability!
Writing for the HOBI International blog, Alicia Cotton recently wrote that “Innovation is making lithium-ion batteries increasingly harder to recycle.” The point of her post was that as demand for lithium-ion batteries increase, manufacturers will look to produce them with cheaper materials, adversely impacting the economic incentives for recycling these batteries. ‘According to the Royal Chemistry Society, the cost of cobalt, which is heavily used as a cathode material in all batteries, jumped from $32,500 to $81,000 in just over a year. In response, battery manufacturers have opted to redesign batteries to minimize cobalt. In May, Tesla CEO Elon Musk said the company had all but eliminated cobalt from batteries it uses in automobile and stationary batteries. However, doing so will help keep batteries cheap — as in too cheap to recycle. Without valuable contents recyclers have little incentive to capture used batteries, Kaun said.‘ This is an interesting example of trade-offs and how considerations for sustainability are rarely simple. The use of cobalt in batteries is problematic not just due to the economic cost of the material, but also due to human rights issues related to cobalt sourcing. However, this article points out that as higher value materials are phased out of design, there is a negative impact on the economics of recycling. More work is clearly needed to create recycling incentives for lithium-ion batteries moving forward, as well as developing batteries which depend less on cobalt, and improving the sustainability of the cobalt supply chain.
In another recent post for the HOBI International blog, Cotton writes that a “New Material will Triple Storage Capacity of Lithium-Ion Batteries.” “Together in a joint effort, scientists from the University of Maryland (UMD), U.S. Army Research Lab and the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) have been working hard to improve the storage capacity of lithium-ion batteries. Turns out, the use of extra cobalt was the answer. The scientists believe they can triple the energy density of lithium-ion battery electrodes.” Well, that would make those batteries not only have higher storage capacity, but also create an incentive for recycling them–but then we’re looking at the issues surrounding cobalt sourcing again. What did I say about trade-offs and how sustainable solutions are rarely simple? Sigh.
And, while we’re on the subject of sustainable solutions coming in shades of grey, here’s an example of how context can be important. As someone who advocates for waste reduction, I often talk about the need for more durable, repairable, upgradable goods and a move away from disposability. I certainly like to encourage people to use rechargeable batteries instead of single-use ones where they can. But there are situations in which disposable goods might actually fostersustainability, and yes, this is even true for batteries. Another recent update from the American Chemical Society discussed “A paper battery powered by bacteria.” Consider remote areas of the world where access to electricity is a luxury, or situation in which a natural disaster or other emergency has occurred leaving an area without access to power. Think about medical devices that would be needed to help victims of a disaster, or just be part of everyday medical support in remote areas. Paper is desirable for biosensors due to its flexibility, portability, high surface area, and inexpensive nature. “Choi and his colleagues at the State University of New York, Binghamton made a paper battery by printing thin layers of metals and other materials onto a paper surface. Then, they placed freeze-dried “exoelectrogens” on the paper. Exoelectrogens are a special type of bacteria that can transfer electrons outside of their cells. The electrons, which are generated when the bacteria make energy for themselves, pass through the cell membrane. They can then make contact with external electrodes and power the battery. To activate the battery, the researchers added water or saliva. Within a couple of minutes, the liquid revived the bacteria, which produced enough electrons to power a light-emitting diode and a calculator…The paper battery, which can be used once and then thrown away, currently has a shelf-life of about four months. Choi is working on conditions to improve the survival and performance of the freeze-dried bacteria, enabling a longer shelf life.“In a related article by Jason Deign for Greentech Media, Choi noted that in these low-power, low-cost situations, the paper battery could be used and then biodegrade without special treatment. Further reporting on this innovation is available in the IEEE Spectrum.
Now that you’ve read about all these innovations and the need for further innovations, you may be thinking, “Can someone please just tell what a lithium-ion battery is, the basics of how they work, and why we use them if there are so many problematic issues?!?!” Don’t worry–a recent post by Arthur Shi on the iFixit blog provides a nice overview with some links to more in-depth explanations if you’re interested.
The global travel sector is one of the fastest-growing, most profitable industries in the world. In fact, it’s so successful that it’s now 10.4% of global GDP ($12 trillion USD). There’s no denying that travel is both enlightening and fulfilling. Often, being a tourist leaves a lasting appreciation for the culture, diversity, and beauty of the place you visit. However, most of us don’t consider the environmental impact, which includes the trip itself as well as accommodations while we’re visiting.
What if there’s a more mindful way to travel? What if there’s a way to still have fun while also ensuring that your trip doesn’t leave a lasting impact on the environment? In recent years, an interesting sustainability-focused subsection of the tourism industry has developed that addresses those very questions. This week’s column is all about ecotourism.
Photo Courtesy of World Atlas
What is Ecotourism?
The World Conservation Union defines ecotourism as, “environmentally responsible travel to natural areas, in order to enjoy and appreciate nature (and accompanying cultural features, both past and present) that promote conservation, have a low visitor impact, and provide for beneficially active socio-economic involvement of local peoples.”
Simply put, ecotourism means creating a minimal environmental impact in order to leave a place just like you found it. A one-week trip seems harmless enough, but it’s amazing how the right combination of obliviousness and lack of consideration can lead to major destruction in just a short period of time.
Sensitivity towards, and appreciation of, local cultures and biodiversity
Support for local conservation efforts
Sustainable benefits to local communities
Local participation in decision-making
Educational components for both the traveler and local communities
I think it’s important to take note here of the emphasis on community. When you choose a destination, it may be a vacation to you, but for the people who live in the places you’re visiting, that’s home. Ecotourism can be as simple as respecting and being sensitive towards an area’s natural environment and people. They don’t want the beauty and character of their home to be sacrificed for increased commercialization and development.
Tourism can also negatively impact the lifestyle and cultures of people living in these communities. As a destination’s popularity increases, resources tend to suffer from overuse. Towns must grow to accommodate new visitors, often resulting in an influx of hotels, restaurants, and shops. The new developments, while sometimes providing a major economic boost, often cause original residents to lose pasture and cropland and can force out local businesses. Instead of remaining in the jobs that they’ve always known, they’re forced to take low-paying service jobs in the hospitality industry. In addition, an influx of tourists can also drive up prices for the locals. Tourism can degrade not only can the identity of the natural environment, but also the daily lives of the people who make the community a spot worth visiting in the first place.
Photo Courtesy of Agriturismo
If you’re choosing a travel destination, try to travel as sustainably as possible. Responsible Travel, an online ecotourism-based travelogue, promotes natural destinations and vacation spots while also giving tips on how to preserve and respect them. Responsible Travel’s mantra is, “if you’re going to make the decision to travel here, this is how you do it with as a little environmental impact as possible.” The website provides an extensive list of countries and destinations, vacation types, travel/restaurant guides, and reviews. They also have a section full of cool videos explaining the organization’s mission and history, ecotourism “How To’s,” and the origins and impact of overtourism.
Despite the downsides, it’s hard to deny the benefits of ecotourism. It allows communities to economically build without environmental harm. Instead of encouraging the construction of massive hotel and entertainment developments, they can promote locally-owned restaurants, mom-and-pop shops, and park/waterfront conservation. Tourism also provides much-needed revenue for the protection of national parks. This is a win-win for both locals and visitors, as wildlife will continue to be able to thrive and out-of-towners are able to experience the enchanting beauty of an untouched natural landscape. Beholding the pristine, unaltered natural beauty causes a sense of clarity and appreciation that true environmental consciousness and sustainability initiatives result in real change. Tourists may even decide to take sustainability home with them.
The Bottom Line
Everybody loves a good vacation. They’re a much-needed reprieve from a busy work schedule or hectic home life. I recently traveled to Florida before doing research for this week’s column and discovered just how easy it was to lose sight of the reason why I was really there. I became distracted by the lively restaurants, the plush hotels, and the drinks by the pool, so much so that I forgot to look outside my window. I finally realized on my last night there that the true draw of this location was the gorgeous, immaculate beach vistas, from the deep blue water to the lush expanse of sand. The natural environment was the reason for this place to genuinely be considered a destination, yet I had been distracted by the bells and whistles. Gaining an appreciation for nature can really ground you and make you realize how important it is to incorporate sustainability into your day-to-day life. The term may scare a lot of people at first, but once you start learning, you see how easy it is to understand and internalize. Just a small alteration can make a huge long-term impact. Sustainability touches everything from storytelling to breweries, to urban revitalization, to disaster risk reduction, to recycling, to fashion, to ecotourism, and everything else. It is the key to a healthier, better world.
It’s payday. You get off work, head over to your favorite store at the mall or your favorite online retailer, and use your latest check to overindulge in some retail therapy. You spend hours poring over shelves and racks (or web pages), considering styles and looking for the perfect bargain in your size. It’s extremely easy to get caught up in the excitement of the hunt for that perfect outfit. When you find it, the rush you get (especially when it’s a financial steal) is part of the appeal. You’re thinking about when and where you’re going to wear it, rather than the environmental implications of its production, purchase, and disposal.
It’s easy to see that the how of clothing production is less well understood and publicized than the marketing of the clothes themselves. Fashion retailers want you to find that consumer high and spend your money, not think about how the clothes are made or what happens to them when they go out of style.
Some people would classify that as a blissful ignorance, but I think it has more to do with a general lack of mainstream media promotion of sustainable fashion as a real, attainable thing. How are people supposed to know about something they’ve never heard of? On the surface, sustainability and fashion are two completely unrelated things, so it’s not surprising that people don’t see how production and consumption influence one another. But the relationship between these two are very much intertwined. It’s important for the public to start taking note.
Photo Courtesy of GreenEarth Cleaning
The issue with the fashion industry as a whole, specifically regarding environmental sustainability, is its determination to keep up with quickly changing trends. The average shopper buys much more clothing than did a few decades ago, but keep items half as long. They want trendy, stylish clothing in an accessible location at a reasonable price and they want it NOW. Fast fashion refers to the production of clothing at high speed and low cost to meet increasingly impatient consumer demand. Fast fashion companies are most concerned with lowering costs and getting the product from design to shop floor as quickly as possible. While fast fashion is economically attractive to retailers, the fast-paced production expectations have an enormous environmental impact.
According to the United Nations Economic Commission of Europe, the fashion industry is responsible for producing 20% of global wastewater and 10% of global carbon emissions. That’s more than the emissions of international flights and maritime shipping combined. Creating vibrant and colorful textiles is a critical part of the industry, yet the toxic chemicals associated with textile dyeing are the second largest polluter of clean water globally. Fast fashion has also led to oceans getting bombarded with over a half million tons of plastic microfibers per year due to the washing of plastic-based textiles (polyester, nylon, or acrylic). Textile waste may be an unintended consequence of fast fashion, but that doesn’t mean the industry shouldn’t be held accountable. The problem has now reached a global level. Wardrobes in developed nations are oversaturated. Retailers want to sell as many products as possible and to do that they must stay ahead of the curve, convincing shoppers that their brand is a “must-have” and the items already in their closet are no longer fashionable.
Sustainability and Fashion
While eco-friendly fashion is a trend on the rise, no environmental organization had decided on a concrete definition for what sustainable fashion truly means and stands for. The Ellen Macarthur Foundation recently published a report titled, A New Textiles Economy: Redesigning Fashion’s Future, which establishes sustainability goals for the fashion industry. This report includes four recommendations:
Phase out substances of concern and microfibre release
A. Align industry efforts and coordinate innovation to create safe material cycles.
B. Drastically reduce plastic microfibre release
Transform the way clothes are designed, sold, and used to break free from their increasingly disposable nature
A. Scale-up short-term clothing rental
B. Make durability more attractive
C. Increase clothing utilization further through brand commitments and policy
Radically improve recycling by transforming clothing design, collection, and reprocessing
A. Align clothing design and recycling processes
B. Pursue technological innovation to improve the economics and quality of recycling.
C. Stimulate demand for recycled materials.
D. Implement clothing collection at scale.
Make effective use of resources and move to renewable inputs
The report was written in consultation with many major fashion design companies. Its underlying message is that fashion that should be produced and sold in the most eco-friendly way possible during all stages of production, including design, raw material production, manufacturing, transport, storage, marketing, and final sale. Sustainable fashion can be achieved by ensuring efficient and careful use of natural resources, selecting renewable energy sources (wind, solar, etc.) at every stage, and maximizing repair, remake reuse, and recycling of the product and its components. It even uses sustainability storytelling by highlighting how environmentally conscious fashion can significantly lower costs to businesses and create positive long-term customer relationships.
Ideally, the rules of A New Textiles Economy would be incorporated into every fashion and lifestyle brand’s business model and production processes. Some companies have done so, but there is more work to be done. These standards help raise awareness of sustainability practices, as well as show manufacturers that considering the environment doesn’t have to be expensive or overly complicated.
Photo Courtesy of Fashionista
So with A New Textile Economy’s standards in mind, here are some examples of companies that are incorporating sustainability into their brands.
Organic by John Patrick created the world’s first organic oxford cotton shirt and uses other eco-friendly materials such as vegetable-tanned leather, organic wool, and recycled cotton.
People Tree, partners with Fair Trade artisans and farmers to produce a wide collection of ethical and eco-wear for over 20 years.
Patagonia’s mission statement incorporates sustainability by making quality products that can be repaired, supporting grassroots activists by paying an Earth Tax, and supporting regenerative practices in ranching and agriculture.
Adidas partners with Parley Plastics to incorporate plastics recovered from the ocean in their shoes, clothing, and plastic hangers. On some of their product lines, they’ve also debuted ZeroDye, which features undyed polyester. Finally, they’re partnering with Fashion for Good to green the apparel supply chain. Read more about Adidas’ sustainability initiatives here.
Nike incorporates recycled polyester into 75% of their shoes and apparel. The dye process used for soles in the Nike Air line allows 99% of recoverable dye water to be recycled. All Air sole innovations designed since 2008 are composed of at least 50% recycled manufacturing waste. Nike also transforms used product into Nike Grind, which is created from recycled athletic footwear and surplus manufacturing scraps to make performance products, ranging from new footwear and apparel to sports surfaces. Read more about Nike’s sustainability efforts here.
H&M’s new Paris flagship store includes an entire floor dedicated to clothing repair. It includes a fleet of sewing machines, bottles of natural detergents, and eco-friendly stain removing sprays, along with bins of patches and embroideries. The idea is to invite customers to bring in clothing, both H&M and other brands, to be repaired and made new again. Customers can restyle their old clothing to update and upcycle their looks. The floor also includes a recycling station where customers can recycled their old clothes (not just H&M) in exchange for a store discount.
Turning the fashion industry into something noticeably more sustainable won’t happen overnight. Some brands will continue to pursue short-term economic gains over longer-term environmental costs. That’s why it’s so important for consumers to understand the impact of their choices on the industry. Fast fashion is preventable. If we take a second to slow down and pay attention to how much our desire for the latest styles at the lowest prices encourages companies to cut environmental corners, real progress can happen. The more we become informed about these issues and use that information to change our daily routines, the more the fashion industry will be pressured to think more sustainably. Next time it’s payday and you go on your shopping binge, shop with a conscience. Or don’t shop at all.
A sustainability gem hides in Champaign, just east Neil Street and the Springfield Avenue viaduct. Tucked away on the second floor of a nondescript strip mall, The IDEA Store, an “eco-edu-art marketplace,” has set the standard for creative reuse retail in downstate Illinois. Any preconceived notions one may have about traditional secondhand shopping will be suspended the second they walk into this expertly-curated hub of reusable goods.
PHOTOGRAPHY BY: Margaret Golden, ISTC Intern
Co-founded by Carol Jo Morgan in 2010, the IDEA Store accepts items that would normally be thrown in the trash and gives them a second life. This isn’t your average thrift shop. The IDEA Store exists more as a testament to the benefits of sustainability. Its specialty is showcasing how almost any household item has the potential for reuse, encouraging the community to refrain from contributing to landfill growth.
“My favorite thing about working here, of all the awesome things, is seeing people’s faces when they come in the door,” says the Idea Store’s Retail Manager Jessy Ruddell. “When you see one bottle cap, it doesn’t seem awesome, it seems like trash or recycling. But when you get a collection of bottle caps together, it can really inspire people creatively.”
The shop is filled with typical household items as well as more unexpected discoveries. You can find school supplies next to glass slides donated by the University of Illinois’ Art History department. A bin of rubber stamps
is an aisle down from a collection of disconnected keyboard keys. There are greeting cards, yarn, fabric, candles, magazines, records, instruments, office supplies, metals, and even home improvement materials. The most interesting item the store has received? “We once had someone donate a desiccated tarantula,” Morgan said, in between bouts of laughter. “And it sold for $20!”
Morgan, who received her master’s in Natural Resources & Environmental Sciences, has some advice for other retail outlets looking to incorporate sustainability into their business plans. “We know that there are cottage industries that have sprung up as a result of the IDEA being here. When you think about it, the raw materials we supply are so inexpensive, it helps their profit margin,” Morgan explained. “We’ve provided a sustainable place for people to shop. People with budgets, people without budgets, there’s something for everyone. We’ve filled a niche. That is the secret of success in any kind of nonprofit or business. You look where the need is and you fill that.”
The IDEA Store won’t be located at its current Springfield Avenue location for much longer. Morgan and team are in the process of transitioning the store to a new location at Lincoln Square Mall in Urbana. To accommodate an exponential growth in donations, the Lincoln Square storefront will be three times larger than the current location. This will allow excess items currently stored in the warehouses to be sold on the floor. The location also makes it much easier to donate materials. Instead of having to physically bring their donations in and hand them off to volunteers, customers will be able to drive around to the back of the mall and simply ring the doorbell to have their items collected. Keep an eye out for the new store, which has a targeted opening date of late October.
A crowdfunding effort will be launched August 20th to support the financial cost of the IDEA Store’s big move. Community support ensures that the shop’s growth will be successful and smooth.