Live Local

Last time I was around at the Igloo (Digital Eskimo‘s HQ) I was excited to hear that a new project of there’s, focused on sustainable living, was close to launch.

The other day Dave announced that it’s live – the project is called “Live Local” and it is a community driven site where people can share their experiences with living more sustainably.

I’m quite excited about the site because in many respects it extends my original vision for the (now very different) Future is man made.

The site already has a bunch of great ideas on it. You can share your own story, comment on others’ stories. or join in the action by “re-creating” the idea in your world. For example, I’ve re-created the Riding my bike between work and home idea – this is something I’m already doing and it was easy to add my name to the list of people participating.

While this is a simple example, I think the site has a lot of potential. For other activities, like the Bristol Street Party or the Permablitz in Newtown, re-creating gives you an opportunity to try some different things and share your experience in more detail, including adding videos and photos.

Collectively we can be inspired and inspiring, and share our learnings to make it easier for the next person who wants to do something a bit more, or a bit different, to help make their small part of the world a bit more sustainable.

I do hope that a community grows around the site. I’ll certainly be contributing when I can – I hope you will too 🙂

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.

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>

del.icio.us bookmarks (15-Jan-2008 through 10-Mar-2008)

  • DeviDoll – A UK-based fashion label with some nice mens shirts.
  • Mark Liu?s Zero-Waste Designs – "… Mark Liu, … ?zero-waste? fabric patterns and eco-designs that … waste not a scrap of fabric." This is one of the methods I see Soko Loko using design innovation to reduce costs – allowing more room for higher labour costs and organic materia
  • Luxury redefined – At a reported GBP120 – these are out of the ballpark for most folks.
  • Thinnovation: The MacBook Air – Treehugger reviews the environmentally friendliness of the new MacBook Air.
  • GM Banks on Coskata’s Cellulosic Ethanol Breakthrough – I think I’ve read about this process before – and it’s an exciting development. I was skeptical of biofuels as a solution before reading about this. “In initial [third party]tests … the ethanol generated 7.7 times the energy used to produce it”.

These links are automatically posted from my del.icio.us feed.

BioBike

South Australian students have constructed a biodiesel powered bike.

That’s cool ‘coz it’s an Aussie invention (we need more of them). But like most – likely to go off-shore (“There are no plans to produce a commercial version of the bike, but several companies in Asia have expressed interest.”).

That’s so frustrating – these talented students can do more than manufacturers with R&D budgets infinitely larger that the students probably had to work with. We need to see more of this kind of R&D happening in Australia – thankfully we have the education system to do that hard work eh?

People are the business/building

During Earth Hour I had a couple of conversations about how people who work in offices seem to be less conscious of their habits in relation to sustainability than they are at home. That somehow, when they’re at work, they kind of feel it’s someone else’s responsibility. This was primarily anecdotal, but it did ring true for me at the time.

Seems that recent survey, reported by Smart Company seems to back that up:

According to a recent survey of 1741 US employees by Sun Microsystems published by Inc.com, 73% of workers want to work for businesses that are environmentally-friendly – but only 52% say they turn lights off when they leave a room at the office, and 34% report they turn off their computers at the end of the day.

Interestingly, people take more responsibility for conservation at home. The same survey found 92% of people conserve energy at home by turning off the lights and 58% shut down their computers.

In our chats one of the folks suggested that we needed to get across the idea that individuals are the business – in the specific case we were referring to the building (i.e. that the building doesn’t know how to turn off lights and computers, put things in recycling, conserve water etc. – the people do).

But how do you do that without sounding patronising? Anyways – hopefully that study will help change some behaviour…

Jetstar launch offset program

In my inbox today – “Introducing Jetstar’s Carbon Offset Program”:

To celebrate the launch, we are going to be paying for all carbon emissions on every international and domestic flight, for all of our passengers, on Wednesday 19th September – the first day of our new program.

This single day offset will have a six figure price tag and is a real sign of our commitment to protecting our environment…

The program is accredited by the Government’s Greenhouse Friendly program, which includes tree-based offsets in the mix of accredited products. (I’m not a fan of tree-based offsets – investment in renewable energy, like that offered by Climate Friendly, is preferred in my book.)

Unlike Virgin, Jetstar have embedded offsetting into their booking page on their website – right after the “excess baggage” section. This is a good move (and one of the criticisms I had of the Virgin program.)

A flight from Sydney to the Sunshine Coast – which, fortuitously I need to book today 😉 – adds $2.52 to the flight cost. By contrast, Climate Friendly’s price for the same trip are $13.04. This is partly because Climate Friendly also include other factors in their pricing – such as the contrails and other impacts of flights – as well as using more expensive credits.

That said, Jetstar do go to some effort to explain how they calculate the cost and it seems they are factoring in a few things specific to their airline, which may also lower the cost. They also claim that they “will not make any profit from Carbon Offset transactions”.

The offsetting doesn’t apply to Jetstar’s business operations, nor is it compulsory for all passengers (it’s not even ticked by default). But they do claim to be taking measures to increase operational efficiency:

Jetstar is focused on the implementation of several conservation strategies relating to energy, water and waste usage across all facets of its operation.

They also tout the benefits of their younger plane fleet’s fuel efficiency as one of the “measures” they are taking (although I doubt environmental benefit played a significant part in their decision making process).

Unfortunately for Jetstar, like Virgin, their core business, low-cost flights, are actually contributing significantly to the increase in flights being taken, which in turn contribute to global warming. So moves like this will do little to dent the scepticism of many a hardened climate campaigner.

But as I’ve mentioned before, I think, on balance, programs such as these do help, because they result in investment in renewable energy (and in the case of tree-based programs, landcare and bushland regeneration). And with our government lagging behind in introducing any concrete targets or legislation, this can only be a good thing.

Find out more about the program on Jetstar’s site.

Ethical footwear

So, I’m getting close to needing a new pair of shoes for work. The last pair I bought are starting to get a bit ragged and worse for wear. So I’ve started to do a little bit of research into ethical footwear, to see where things are at on that front.

SA8000 and K-Swiss

My first thought was to check out K-Swiss who were SA8000 accredited last time I checked. SA8000 was intended as an independently verified standard for labour rights. I can’t seem to find any reference to SA8000 related to K-Swiss now, so I can only assume they’ve slipped off the wagon.

The information I found last time I checked (about 3 years ago) was hard to find, and the Social Accountability International website remains pretty much useless to actually find out consumer-beneficial information about accredited companies and/or products.

In the time since I last spent time researching these things I’ve also heard and read some bad things about SA8000 – along the lines of ‘nice idea, but didn’t quite hit the mark’. So no luck there…

So I checked out some other popular footwear brands I like such as Merrell and Salomon. Neither of these companies has any information about their CSR policy that I could find, nor could I find any reliable research or information via Google (except for this little tidbit related to Salomon about shoe companies disclosing their audits.)

Worn Again and No Sweat sneakers

So I started looking around. Dave at work pointed me to Worn Again, a UK company that makes shoes from 99% recycled materials, including seat belts and firemens uniforms.

They have a limited range that look kinda cool, but it’s very hard to tell without seeing the product in real life (a difficult proposition in Australia). They’re also very expensive – around $200 (incl. shipping) for a style of shoe that usually goes for between $50 and $100 less than that.

I also recalled the No Sweat sneakers which are union made and a styled after the popular (though decidedly un-ethical) Converse Chuck Taylor sneakers. I’m not exactly a fashion victim, but Chuck Taylors have never really suited me, so I’m not so keen on the No Sweat offering.

What about Nike?

I remembered that Nike had done some interesting stuff with their Considered products – significantly reducing waste and chemical use, as well as experimenting with recycled materials. I saw the Humara at a store in Sydney and I wanted to find out more.

I also recalled hearing somewhere that after the successful campaign against the treatment of workers who produced products for Nike (among others) that Nike had actually made good progress to improve their track record. So I did a bit of research and found Nike’s corporate sustainability report for the 05-06 financial year.

It’s an interesting read, with clear targets for carbon emissions (carbon neutral for Nike owned facilities and business travel by 2011), environmentally friendly production (17% reduction in footwear waste by 2011 and 30% reduction in packagin) and supply chain auditing – for working conditions (eliminate excessive overtime in all contract factories by 2011 and 30% of their supply chain being properly audited).

What’s interesting about Nike’s statement is they acknowledge that monitoring alone isn’t working and that to change practices the entire industry needs to engage. So they’ve publicly published the details of all their factories and called on other companies to do the same so they can work together to improve conditions.

They also claim that the Considered ethos is being brought into their general operations, rather than continuing as a distinct product line. I think this is positive and negative: positive because it means their entire product range will (eventually) become more environmentally friendly, and that it recognises the principle that environmentally friendly can improve their bottom line; negative because it will become harder for the conscious consumer to determine which products are good for the environment, and which ones aren’t.

I also think it’s a shame because it means it’s harder to “vote with your dollars” – at least with the Considered line, a purchase pretty clearly indicates that you care about the environmental benefits of the product. If I buy the next Air Zoom Affinity, am I buying it because I want the next Air Zoom Affinity, or because I care about the environment?

In steps the cynic

For a giant like Nike to be developing an agenda that, on the surface at least, is very promising and progressive is great to see. But that’s when my cynicism kicks in. How real is all of this? How much of this is just marketing spin, and how much is real progress? Why will it take a whole 5 years to clean up just 30% of the supply chain? And so on…

The Clean Clothes Campaign includes this tidbit in their press release relating to Oxfam’s Offside! report:

Sportswear is big business and brands like Nike, Reebok, adidas, Puma, ASICS and FILA make big profits and spend hundreds of millions of Euro on marketing and sponsorship of big-name athletes. Meanwhile, the Asian workers who make the sneakers and sports gear are doing it tough. They struggle to meet their families’ basic needs and many are unable to form or join unions without discrimination, dismissal or violence.

Makes you wonder what would happen if they funneled a few percent of their sponsorship budgets towards solving the issue – would we see faster progress?

What to do?

So I’m left with a dilemma. Do I go for a pair of shoes I don’t like but know their ethically OK? Do I risk $200 on a pair of shoes I can’t try on or check out? Or do I give Nike the benefit of the doubt and support their efforts to clean up their act?

I’m still undecided. If you have any thoughts, I’d be interested to hear them…

P.S. as some of you know I’ve been interested in ethical clothing and footwear for some time. In my reading travels I’ve recently found Nau – I read about them in Fast Company. Very cool – worth checking out. I’d really like to try on their cleanline jacket and courier windshirt. If only they had a store in oz…