The benefits of certification

Originally posted on the Green Loves Gold blog.

When I was thinking about starting a sustainable business one of the things I looked into fairly early on was certification standards. In the clothing business there are a growing number of standards and certification programmes that need to be considered.

Standards in the textile industry

In the industry that I’m entering with Arketype, there are a number of potentially applicable standards – to name just a few:

  • Fairtrade Cotton – Fairtrade certification for the raw fibre and textiles production
  • Certified organic cotton schemes, such as USDA National Organic Program or EU 834/2007 (which takes effect in Jan 2009) – covering raw fibre production using methods that are much less impacting on the environment
  • Oeko-Tex – testing and certification to limit use of certain chemicals
  • Homeworkers Code of Practice – an Australian programme that accredits garment manufacturing as “No Sweatshop” (which is part of the Fairtrade cotton standard for garments manufactured in Australia)
  • NoC02 – programme for auditing, reducing and offsetting carbon emissions

Of course there are many standards and logos which can be quite overwhelming for business owners and customers alike. The good folks at Eco-Textile News have produced an excellent guide for the TCF industry that outlines the major standards for that industry.

Even so, businesses can’t carry out all of these certifications, especially so during the start-up phase where capital (and time) are often limited. So the challenge is to be discerning about which programs we engage in.

Of course, we can also incorporate the principles of the various other programs into our practice, even if we’re not in a position to carry out certification against those standards.

Certification counter-acts the tyrrany of distance

I attended a talk recently by a member of a local food co-op and talk turned to “certified organic” produce. Many of the local growers are using organic methods, but not all are seeking certification.

In discussing this, the member explained that one of the aims of the co-op was to connect local growers with their customers directly. In breaking down this distance – creating a direct, personal connection – he argued that the need for certification is greatly reduced as a relationship is built up and trust develops.

If customers can talk directly to the farmer about their methods, perhaps even visit the farm etc., the farmer is less likely to break that trust as their customers are people they know.

In other words, it’s when distance is introduced – when the supply chain gets between the customer and the producer – that certification becomes increasingly important. The longer the supply chain, the more important certification becomes. I find it a thought-provoking alternative “approach” to achieve the same goal as certification.

For example, at a recent event held by my primary supplier, Rise Up Productions, the makers of our products were there at the event, and were introduced to us. Bronwyn Darlington, Rise Up’s founder, often visits the manufacturers and suppliers of our textiles in India – she has a personal connection to the producers – radically reducing the distance between producer and customer.

This builds confidence in me (the customer) that Rise Up are doing the right thing.

Why should we certify?

Interestingly, though, Rise Up are provide certified organic and Fairtrade cotton products, and are accredited under the Homeworkers Code of Practice. So why, given her close connection to producers, is Rise Up going through the certification process?

I can’t speak for Bronwyn and her team, but for me, certification is still important even under this circumstance for one reason: customer confidence.

Thanks to the effects of greenwashing – essentially an abuse of trust by companies who do more talking than walking – certification is essential to build confidence that what we’re doing is not just a marketing pitch and that our claims have been verified by an independent third party.

Without it, we risk being tainted with the same brush as other companies that aren’t as committed to social and environmental outcomes, but are trying to jump on the bandwagon of growing consumer interest in sustainability.

Recording budgets

I have often seen a lot of debate about the merits of downloading music for promotion of a band and how downloads are changing the music landscape.

Generally I agree that the opportunities for bands are much greater in this day an age than they were previously. In fact, our first EP is released under a Creative Commons license because of this belief – anyone can share our music with their friends, remix it (as our friend Karoshi just has – can’t wait to share that with you!), and the like.

What I haven’t seen is a lot of discussion of how much it actually costs to record and produce music of a standard suitable for “releasing” (radio play etc.). I get a sense that there’s a bit of a misconception that, with the advent of cheaper computers and audio recording hardware and software, that artists are able to produce their music really cheaply, which isn’t actually the case.

The other suggestion I see a lot is that bands can release music for free and make money through other means (performance fees etc.). This I think is in some way related to the first misconception, but also is problematic in its own way.

What I want to do in this post is share my experience of producing music with my band, Fuzu, and having a look at what it costs to release an independent EP.

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Letter to Tanya Plibersek re: Clean Feed

I decided to write to my Federal MP, Tanya Plibersek, about the Government’s plan to introduce an internet filter (which I’ve written about previously).

Over the jump is the letter itself – but I would also recommend checking out the Electronic Frontiers Australia briefing on the issue.

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Daily Tele’s irresponsible reporting

The past few days I noticed that the Daily Telegraph was on an all out campaign against the current NSW Government, with headlines lambasting their mini-budget.

Admittedly, it’s quite a state we’re in. The Government has admitted it’s nearly broke, but the Telegraph would no doubt cry foul if the Government increased taxes. Of course, by cutting the budget, as the Government did, they also get hauled over the coals.

When I read a Telegraph piece on the mini-budget, it a) proposed no alternatives to how the Government would cut expenditure and b) did not actually show any analysis as to where else in the budget where cuts could have been made. How we’re meant to be “informed citizens” from what passes as journalism over there is beyond me.

But that wasn’t the worst of it. I was going to write a blog about how the Telegraph had basically set itself on a campaign to oust the Labor government and that this was irresponsible journalism. I was going to say “just come out with it and call on the premier to quit”, which was obviously what they were aiming for.

Well, at least they had the courage to put their agenda on the front page. That article, however, points out that the Telegraph’s editor is leaving their post. I’m interested in the details: was this because they stepped over the line and were sacked?; or because they felt the direction of the paper was heading in the wrong direction?

In either case, perhaps the change of editors will restore the paper to some semblance of journalism, rather than activism. The Telegraph has, of course, for a long time been less about news and more about headline grabbing and entertainment, but recent events go far beyond what I consider journalism at all.

In my opinion, good journalists report the news, not set out on politically motivated campaigns. Especially so when they continue to pretend that they’re “unbiased” and “have no agenda” as so many journalists do.

In a global credit crisis, with the State nearly broke, we don’t need this kind of bullshit passing as journalism. We need to actually get some analysis and some help understanding how we can realistically get out of this mess.

Sacking the premier and calling an early election (which I’m informed via @neerav on Twitter is wishful thinking) is not the solution.

Not least of which because the opposition is a ridiculous mess – I don’t even know who the opposition leader is, let alone what the Liberal’s policies are and how they plan to get us out of this mess… (The two party preferred system is broken at the best of times, but it’s especially poor with such an appalling group of pollies that this State has.)

*Sigh*

Update: Just a quick clarification: I mention the Liberal leader and policies as I know that, in the end, a swing away from Labor means a win for the Liberals. And this “two horse race” view of political races continues to be propagated by mainstream media, further perpetuating the myth.

With this in mind, even with a significant swing to another dominant party such as the Greens, the preferential system is likely to install either Liberal or Labor into Government.

Personally I vote on the basis of the local candidates’ strengths and approach to things, not on party lines. But I’m aware enough to know that in the current system such a backlash is likely to result in a Liberal win – thus my comments above.

Recently linked (12-Nov-2008)

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Recently linked (10-Nov-2008 through 11-Nov-2008)

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Arketype update

Just a quick update on Arketype, given I’ve been quiet on that front of late around these parts. (For new blog readers – a bit of background here.)

Today I’m heading down to Rise Up to pick up our second fit sample – the dress shirt. The t-shirt fit sample was good, but we’re refining it further and that’s currently with the pattern maker.

I’ve been speaking to Sonny and Biddy at We Buy Your Kids (WBYK) about creating the designs for the initial range of tees. I’ve also been talking further with sustainable fashion designer Timo Rissanen about working together. So far our discussions and the ideas being generated have been very promising.

(As an aside, be sure to head down to Incu at The Galleries Victoria and check out WBYK’s instore displays – v. cool!)

In the meantime, I’ve been thinking on the business plan (especially in light the current economic climate) and have been doing some more market research. I’ve come to a point, though, where I could really use the help of someone with solid retail management experience involved in the project.

So if you happen to know someone (in Australia, pref. Sydney) who’s working in fashion retail as a manager (or store owner) – i.e. someone who has managed a store or perhaps is interested in starting their own fashion retail business, who has experience in the area and knowledge about volumes etc. – that you think might be interested in engaging on the project, please feel free to pass on my details or let me know.

Cafe service fail

This is a random little rant – feel free to pass it over if that’s not your thing..

I am one of those weirdos that takes his own mug to the coffee shop, to avoid the wastage of a paper cup.

A life-cycle analysis of a paper cup vs. a porcelain mug shows that, if the mug is used enough times, the carbon footprint is lower – so I use it as often as I can. I probably have used my mug for hundreds of coffees – and I intend to keep using it to maximise the use of the resources involved.

I’m consistently dumbfounded, though, when I turn up to a cafe with my trusty mug and one (or both) of two things happens:

  • The barista takes a paper cup to put the espresso in, rather than a re-usable container. I’m bringing my mug to reduce wastage (why else would I do it?), then you go and waste the cup anyway.
  • They then only half-fill the mug, or fill it and complain that it’s bigger than a normal cup. I’m saving you the $0.02 of the paper cup, you can afford to give me that $0.02 back with an extra 25-50ml of milk.

If either of these two things happen, I usually don’t go back. Even if the coffee’s good. It’s a basic attention to detail/service thing. Yes – I’m sure that I’m being picky, and probably unreasonable (there are, of course, bigger things in the world to get upset about).

But I’m sure there are lots of people like me that notice these things, and many cafes that are losing custom because of them. And many cafes get it – my favourite one charges less because I bring my own mug.

Which is a long way of saying that I won’t be returning to either of the cafes I went to today…

</rant>

Recently linked (02-Nov-2008 through 06-Nov-2008)

  • Obama-Wan Kenobi on Flickr – This has to be my new iPhone wallpaper…
  • CIO – Hands off the Internet – CIO mag chimes in on the planned filter and creates a petition to support their efforts (site sign-up required)
  • Barack Obama makes history by becoming the US's first black president-elect – Wow. Yay! That's the best way I can describe this news; the best news since, well, Howard getting ousted… I do hope that we see some significant change from his presidency.
  • nvohk – nvohk claims to be "the first community-managed, eco-friendly, lifestyle clothing company". They have just launched their first range of t-shirts, based on American Apparel tees.
  • Are Designers also Marketers? – Joshua Porter: "when designers are tasked with selling their product they make better products. When they are not tasked with selling their product they have less responsibility, and thus aren’t forced into getting feedback on what they’re making. It’s that feedback you get from selling, from your success/failure at marketing, which pushes back positively into the design process."

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Recently linked (05-Oct-2008 through 02-Nov-2008)

  • Adventures in connectedness – Twitter – Stephen Collins outlines the value of Twitter from his perspective as a social media consultant. I have to say his experience has been similar to mine…
  • Subscribe and go in the draw for a free book! – Peter Brandis, a friend of mine (and sometimes a client too), is holding a competition to give away Nature and the Human Soul by Bill Plotkin, which you can win if you sign up to his (free) email newsletter.
  • No Opera Mini for the iPhone – Yet another example of how the Apple iPhone App Store system is broken…
  • Enkin: navigation reinvented – an interesting method of navigating map data in a 3-dimensional space.
  • Australia’s top web 2.0 entrepreneurs – Saasu (makers of NetAccounts) gets a mention in Smart Company's top list. Awesome! Thanks to Marc for the mention too – v. unexpected!
  • Message in-a-Box – Priscilla Brice-Weller (solidariti.com) says of this site: "contains information on using technology for social change, including photographs, video and mobile. The site is aimed at beginners to intermediates, but without a patronising tone :)" Looks like a great resource…
  • Mobile Marketing: Bet on the iPhone – Proof positive for anyone that doubted the iPhone is the game-changer it's heralded to be – punching well above its weight in mobile data usage.
  • Accountants critical to climate change response – "…an essential element in addressing climate change is how businesses allocate and manage their resources for the production of goods and services. Accountants are the managers of strategic business resources, and as such make crucial decisions on how and where these resources are allocated. In a setting where businesses have to be increasingly accountable for their greenhouse gas emissions and such emissions will have a cost, this role is crucial." I've long argued that the role of carbon management within a business will fall to the accounts department (thus suggesting accounting systems should embrace this as a new business opportunity). Kate Brent from CPA Australia bolsters the case.
  • Greening the Apparel Supply Chain: Tapping the Power of Collective Leverage – An argument for opening up and sharing supply chain information for competitive advantage.
  • Sustainable Innovation/Biomimicry & Innovation: Part 2 – John Bradford, VP of operations and R&D for Interface discusses why Interface started mimicking nature to design eco-friendly products, how to turn concepts into design and offers tips on product innovation through biomimicry.
  • Repreve – Hopefully this is an option to replace the polyester yarn we're using to make our tees…

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