Tag Archives: environment

E-Commerce: Convenience Built on a Mountain of Cardboard

Have you ever thought of the environmental impacts of your online shopping?  You may (or may not) be buying all natural and organic products online to decrease the use of toxic chemicals and your environmental impact, but you still have an impact!  The old cliché fits here: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle!

By MATT RICHTEL–Februay 16, 2016

Ruchit Garg, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur, says that he worries that something isn’t right with his Internet shopping habit. With each new delivery to his doorstep — sometimes several in a day — he faces the source of his guilt and frustration: another cardboard box.

Then, when he opens the shipment, he is often confronted with a Russian nesting doll’s worth of boxes inside boxes to protect his electronics, deodorant, clothing or groceries. Mr. Garg dutifully recycles, but he shared his concerns recently on Twitter.

A handful of scientists and policy makers are circling the same question, grappling with the long-term environmental effect of an economy that runs increasingly on gotta-have-it-now gratification. This cycle leads consumers to expect that even their modest wants can be satisfied like urgent needs, and not always feel so great about it.

The new arms race for Internet retailers is speed, making the old Federal Express commercial, “When it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight,” seem as quaint as delivery by horse and buggy. Amazon boasted in a news release in December about its “fastest order delivered to date” — a Miami customer’s craving for a four-pack of Starbucks vanilla frappuccino was sated in 10 minutes flat.

In 10 major regions, Google Express delivers in a little less than two hours from dozens of stores — including toys, drugs, hardware and pet supplies. Postmates, a San Francisco start-up, promises deliveries in less than an hour. It dropped off nearly one million packages in December.

Over all, the $350 billion e-commerce industry has doubled in the last five years, with Amazon setting the pace. Its Prime membership service has grown to more than 50 million subscribers, by one estimate. (And its new faster service, Prime Now, can “get customers pretty much anything in minutes,” its website says).

Uber calls its new UberRush service “your on-demand delivery fleet”; Jet Delivery offers “white glove” service in less than two hours; Instacart can deliver groceries to your door in less than an hour.

The environmental cost can include the additional cardboard — 35.4 million tons of containerboard were produced in 2014 in the United States, with e-commerce companies among the fastest-growing users — and the emissions from increasingly personalized freight services.

“There’s a whole fleet of trucks circulating through neighborhoods nonstop,” said Dan Sperling, the founding director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at the University of California, Davis, and the transportation expert on the California Air Resources Board. He also is overseeing a new statewide task force of trucking companies and government officials trying to reduce overall emissions from freight deliveries, including for e-commerce.

Dr. Sperling said that consumers shared as much responsibility for the environmental cost of the deliveries as the companies that provided the speedy services.

“From a sustainability perspective, we’re heading in the wrong direction,” he said.

But measuring the effect of the cardboard economy is more difficult.

E-commerce was responsible for much of the 35.4 million tons of containerboard produced in 2014 in the United States. Credit Jim Wilson/The New York Times

There are possible trade-offs, for example. As people shop more online, they might use their cars less. And delivery services have immense incentive to find the most efficient routes, keeping their fuel costs and emissions down. For its part, Amazon said that delivering to consumers straight from huge warehouses cuts down the need to distribute to thousands of stores.

So far, though, shoppers appear to be ordering online while still driving to brick-and-mortar stores at least as much as in the past, according to Dr. Sperling and other academics. One recent study explored the environmental effect of Internet shopping in Newark, Del., and found that a rise in e-commerce in recent years by local residents corresponded to more trucks on the road and an increase in greenhouse emissions.

Ardeshi Faghri, a professor of civil engineering at the University of Delaware, said the increase of various emissions — which he estimated at 20 percent from 2001 to 2011 — “could be due to a multitude of reasons, but we think that online shopping and more delivery trucks are really one of the primary reasons.”

“Online shopping has not helped the environment,” he said. “It has made it worse.”

Other scholars say that, at least for now, online shopping appears to be complementing brick-and-mortar shopping, not replacing it.

“People who shop online also like to see and feel things,” said Cara Wang, an associate professor at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute who studies transportation issues and has written a paper about habits of online shoppers. “And they have to return things.”

Dr. Wang and other researchers say the demand for instant delivery, in particular, creates challenges for trucking companies trying to be efficient. Instead of taking big truckloads to single retailers they now make more scattershot deliveries.

Many drivers deliver just one item. This is often the case for Postmates, which has a fleet of 15,000 freelance drivers signed up to make deliveries of whatever the customer orders — an Uber-like service, but for deliveries. The cost typically starts at $5, and a 9 percent service fee applied to the cost of the item. (The company says it also has about 5,000 deliverers who go on bike or foot in dense urban areas).


Ruchit Garg and his 3-year-old son with produce ordered online through Google. Credit Jim Wilson/The New York Times

And the push for speed from marketers gives shoppers little incentive to wait.

“Why select one week if I can get it in one hour?” asked Miguel Jaller, an assistant professor at U.C. Davis who studies urban freight patterns.

Such is the case for Monica Rohleder, who admits to using Amazon Prime so much that “my husband jokes we keep Amazon in business.”

Ms. Rohleder, who lives in Los Angeles and works at a public relations firm, said she liked overnight delivery, but “within a couple of hours is best” because she is busy with work and her two young children. So she often does not order something until it’s urgent. “There’s the immediate gratification of getting something and checking it off your list,” she said.

One afternoon she received six boxes, from Amazon and Nordstrom, for a Hawaii trip, including bathing suits, workout clothes and coloring books. Some of the clothes did not fit, so she returned them.

She thinks more about the cardboard that comes into her house than the truck emissions, she said. “It’s embarrassing,” she added of her mass of weekly recycling.

Dennis Colley, the president of the Fibre Box Association — the trade group for the corrugated paper, or cardboard, industry — estimated that the use of boxes for e-commerce was growing faster than most other market segments. However, he emphasized the industry’s efforts to be environmentally conscious, and that 90 percent of corrugated packaging were recycled.

Amazon is aware of the cardboard issue. Since 2009, it has received 33 million comments, ratings and photographs about its packaging as part of its “packaging feedback program.” Amazon said it used that feedback to make sure that cardboard box size was consistent with the size of the product. It also works with manufacturers to send some products without additional cardboard packaging, said Craig Berman, a company spokesman.

Though recycling can make consumers think they are helping the environment, the process has its own costs, including the emissions from shipping it to recycling centers, which use a lot of energy and water. Don Fullerton, a professor of finance and an expert in economics and the environment at the University of Illinois, said one possible solution would be to make the retailers responsible for taking back the boxes. That would create incentives for them to come up with solutions for less packaging.

“And maybe not put a box inside a box inside a box,” he said

Robert Reed, a spokesman for Recology, San Francisco’s main recycling processor, which collects 100 tons of cardboard every day, has a simpler solution: “Slow down consumption,” he said. “Slow down.”

(via New York Times)

The Parmesan Cheese You Sprinkle on Your Penne Could Be Wood

Color me shocked! …Not! Is it that surprising that the “parmesan cheese” you buy from Kraft/Walmart/etc. that does not need to be refrigerated is not authentic parmesan? Nope. At least it is just cellulose, which is relatively harmless! This article reminds me of the claims about faje olive oil about 2 years ago.  This shines a bright light on the disparity between providing quality and creating/increasing revenue. Labels are often misleading, which is why many consumers are so confused when it comes to making food and beauty choices.  On another note, sit and ask yourself about how a product is made, thinking of the human, environmental, and economic input and outputs.

By Lydia Mulvany–February 16, 2016

No Copyright Infringement Intended

Acting on a tip, agents of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration paid a surprise visit to a cheese factory in rural Pennsylvania on a cold November day in 2012.

They found what they were looking for: evidence that Castle Cheese Inc. was doctoring its 100 percent real parmesan with cut-rate substitutes and such fillers as wood pulp and distributing it to some of the country’s biggest grocery chains.

via Yahoo Finance.

The cheese police are on the case.  One might be tempted to think of this as a ripped-from-the-headlines episode of “NYPD Bleu,” except that the FDA wasn’t playing. Some grated Parmesan suppliers have been mislabeling products by filling them with too much cellulose, a common anti-clumping agent made from wood pulp, or using cheaper cheddar, instead of real Romano. Someone had to pay. Castle President Michelle Myrter is scheduled to plead guilty this month to criminal charges. She faces up to a year in prison and a $100,000 fine.

German brewers protect their reputations with Reinheitsgebot, a series of purity laws first drawn up 500 years ago, and Champagne makers prohibit most vineyards outside their turf from using the name. Now the full force of the U.S. government has been brought to bear defending the authenticity of grated hard Italian cheeses. Which is good news for Neil Schuman.

For years, Schuman has been a one-man Reinheitsgebot, insisting that the fragrant granules Americans sprinkle on their pizza and penne ought to be the real thing; if not, the label should say so.

The stakes are 100 percent real for him. Schuman’s Fairfield, New Jersey-based company, Arthur Schuman Inc., is the biggest seller of hard Italian cheeses in the U.S., with 33 percent of the domestic market. He estimates that 20 percent of U.S. production — worth $375 million in sales — is mislabeled.

“The tipping point was grated cheese, where less than 40 percent of the product was actually a cheese product,” Schuman said. “Consumers are innocent, and they’re not getting what they bargained for. And that’s just wrong.”

How serious is the problem? Bloomberg News had store-bought grated cheese tested for wood-pulp content by an independent laboratory.

Cellulose is a safe additive, and an acceptable level is 2 percent to 4 percent, according to Dean Sommer, a cheese technologist at the Center for Dairy Research in Madison, Wisconsin. Essential Everyday 100% Grated Parmesan Cheese, from Jewel-Osco, was 8.8 percent cellulose, while Wal-Mart Stores Inc.’s Great Value 100% Grated Parmesan Cheese registered 7.8 percent, according to test results. Whole Foods 365 brand didn’t list cellulose as an ingredient on the label, but still tested at 0.3 percent. Kraft had 3.8 percent.

“We remain committed to the quality of our products,” Michael Mullen, a Kraft Heinz Co. spokesman, said in an e-mail. John Forrest Ales, a Wal-Mart spokesman, said he questioned the reliability of testing a single sample and that Wal-Mart’s “compliance team is looking into these findings.”

Jewel-Osco is also investigating, spokeswoman Mary Frances Trucco said in an e-mail. “We pride ourselves on the quality of products we deliver for our customers,” Trucco said.

“We strongly believe that there is no cellulose present,” Blaire Kniffin, a Whole Foods Market Inc. spokeswoman, said in an e-mail, adding that it could have been a false positive. “But we are investigating this matter.”

According to the FDA’s report on Castle, obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, “no parmesan cheese was used to manufacture” the Market Pantry brand 100% grated Parmesan Cheese, sold at Target Corp. stores, and Always Save Grated Parmesan Cheese and Best Choice 100% Grated Parmesan Cheese, sold by Associated Wholesale Grocers Inc., which along with its subsidiaries supplies 3,400 retail stores in 30 states. Instead, there was a mixture of Swiss, mozzarella, white cheddar and cellulose, according to the FDA.

Castle has never been an authorized Target vendor, according to Target spokeswoman Molly Snyder. “We are investigating the information provided in the report,” she said in an e-mail. Jeff Pedersen, an executive vice president of Associated Wholesale Grocers, had no comment.

DairiConcepts, a Springfield, Missouri-based cheese maker that’s a subsidiary of Dairy Farmers of America, said on its website that in a test of 28 brands, only one-third of label claims about protein levels in grated parmesan were accurate. The company blamed fillers such as cellulose.

Until recently, there was little incentive to follow labeling rules. Criminal cases are rare. That’s because the FDA, which enforces the country’s food laws, prioritizes health hazards, said John Spink, director of the Food Fraud Initiative at Michigan State University. But civil lawsuits abound. A Jan. 29 complaint accuses McDonald’s Corp. of selling pure mozzarella sticks that contain starch, considered a filler, a claim the company denies.

Cheese makers commit adulteration because it saves money.

Marty Wilson, chief executive officer of New York-based Sugar Foods, which buys cheese from Schuman and supplies major pizza chains with to-go packets of parmesan, said whenever his contracts come up for renewal, competitors peddling ersatz cheeses surface. And he has lost business to them. “We’re constantly battling cheap imitators across all of our product lines,” Wilson said.

Bob Greco of Cheese Merchants of America said competitors hawking bastardized products have underbid him by as much as 30 percent. “The bad guys win and the rule-followers lose,” Greco said.

The FDA regulates what can legally be called Parmesan or Romano according to standards established in the 1950s to ensure that manufacturers wouldn’t sell cheeses wildly different in composition.

Americans love their hard Italian cheeses. Last year, U.S. Parmesan output rose 11 percent from 2014 to around 336 million pounds, while Romano production grew 20 percent, to 54 million pounds, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture data.

Italian producers, however, aren’t loving it as much. The Parmigiano Reggiano Consortium, a trade group based in Rome, asked the European Union in December to protect its manufacturers against U.S. companies that were using the names of their cheeses and Italian flags on their packaging. “A deceit” is how the organization’s president, Giuseppe Alai, characterized Americans’ use of Italian names and symbols.

Of all the popular cheeses in the U.S., the hard Italian varieties are the most likely to have fillers because of their expense. Parmesan wheels sit in curing rooms for months, losing moisture, which results in a smaller yield than other cheeses offer. While 100 pounds of milk might produce 10 pounds of cheddar, it makes only eight pounds of Parmesan. That two-pound difference means millions of dollars to manufacturers, according to Sommer.

Slippery Rock, Pennsylvania-based Castle produced mainly imitation cheeses for nearly 30 years. The company, whose factory was adorned with crenelated battlements and curved archways to look like a medieval castle, had $19 million in sales in 2013.

The trouble started in 2010 when it began making what it called 100 percent grated Parmesan. A plant manager designed flawed recipes, and after Castle fired him in 2012, he alerted the FDA, the company said in a December 2012 letter to the agency, obtained through the FOIA.

The FDA accused Castle Cheese of marketing as real grated Parmesan what was in fact a mixture of imitation cheese and trimmings of Swiss, white cheddar, Havarti and mozzarella. After the probe, Castle stopped production of the problematic cheeses and dumped inventories. The company filed for bankruptcy in 2014.

A lawyer for Michelle Myrter and Castle Cheese didn’t respond to requests for comment. In the 2012 letter to the FDA, Castle said there was inadequate documentation, and the FDA could note only the potential that the products weren’t 100 percent pure.

Lauren E. Sucher, an FDA spokeswoman, said the agency couldn’t comment on pending legal cases. “The FDA takes economic fraud very seriously,” she said in an e-mail.

The FDA’s investigation may be the spark that changes things, said John Umhoefer, executive director of the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association.

“The industry wants to be known for a wholesome, safe, honest product — it’s what’s kept the industry growing for 100 years,” he said. “The wholesomeness of dairy products is a treasured part of our story.”

—With assistance from Craig Giammona and Leslie Patton.

(via Bloomberg/Yahoo Finance)

Microbeads have been banned in the United States

This is great to see.  The microbead ban started at the state level and made its way to a Federal law in the United States.  The ban will official come into effect in 2017.  Hopefully, over the next several years a solution will be found to get rid of the microbeads already in aquatic systems and impacting wildlife.

Microbead ban signed by President Obama

(By Jareen Imam-12/30/2015) Say goodbye to your exfoliating shower gel.

Those tiny plastic microbeads you have been rubbing on your face are now outlawed in the United States.

President Obama signed a bipartisan bill that prohibits selling and distributing products containing microbeads. The bill is intended to protect the nation’s waterways.

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A microbead is any solid plastic particle that is less than 5 millimeters and is used for the purpose of exfoliating or cleansing, according to the bill.

These tiny plastic beads have become ubiquitous in hundreds of products ranging from body scrubs to toothpastes. They provide an exfoliating sensation for users and are designed to wash down drains.

But because they are made of plastic, microbeads do not dissolve and may pose a threat to the environment.

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In September, a study published in Environmental Science & Technology reported that more than 8 trillion microbeads were entering the country’s aquatic habitats daily. The volume was enough to coat the surface of 300 tennis courts every day.

Microbeads have contributed to a greater increase in microplastic polluting the planet’s oceans and lakes, researchers say.

Not only are they hard to clean up because they are about the size of a pinhead, researchers say they are also posing a threat to aquatic life.

Some marine life mistake small plastic as food particles. Scientists are researching whether microplastics affect the health of marine life once ingested and if chemicals transfer to humans who eat those species later, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

(via CNN Health)

 

When Earth Day Changed the World

By Jamie Henn–Forty-five years ago, on April 22, 1970, an estimated 20 million people took to the streets for the first ever Earth Day. It was the largest public demonstration in United States history and helped turn environmentalism into a mass social movement for the first time. Today, Earth Day is known for feel-good concerts, eco-fairs, or recycling parties. But in 1970, Earth Day still had bite. The story of how it came together, where it succeeded, and where it failed, contains powerful lessons for today’s environmental movement.  

“Today, Earth Day is known for feel-good concerts, eco-fairs, or recycling parties. But in 1970, Earth Day still had bite.”

Back in 1969, Sen. Gaylord Nelson, a longtime environmental advocate in Congress, watched as teach-ins against the Vietnam War swept college campuses across the nation. Could this student energy be harnessed to protect the environment, he wondered? 

“I was satisfied that if we could tap into the environmental concerns of the public and infuse the student anti-war energy into the environmental cause, we could generate a demonstration that would force this issue onto the national political agenda,” Nelson later recalled.

While politicians had been slow to respond, by the late 1960s there was already a growing public outcry over the state of the environment. All across the country, smog, trash, and water pollution were ravaging America’s natural beauty and impacting public health. Then, a series of high profile environmental disasters helped put environmental concerns at the top of the agenda. 

In 1969, an oil rig exploded off the coast of Santa Barbara, spilling millions of gallons of crude into the ocean, much of which washed up on some of California’s finest beaches. The New York Timeslater referred to the disaster as the “ecological shot heard ‘round the world.” That same year, Timemagazine ran a special report on the Cuyahoga River, which had famously caught fire because of all the oil and pollution befouling the waterway. Meanwhile, the smog in major American cities had become a national crisis. “Just breathing the air in some areas of Los Angeles is said to be equivalent of smoking two packs of cigarettes a day,” wrote the Los Angeles Times in 1970. Something needed to be done. 

The team behind the first Earth Day was perhaps an unlikely crew to rise to the occasion. While Earth Day 1970 had the backing of a prominent politician in Nelson, the organizing effort took a distinctly grassroots approach.

While the nation’s traditional conservation groups helped promote the event, they weren’t the driving force behind the effort. Instead, Nelson hired Dennis Hayes, a Harvard graduate student, to head up a ragtag crew of students and volunteers who based themselves out of a cramped office above a Chinese restaurant in Washington, D.C. The group quickly got to work tapping into the environmental energy that was exploding across college campuses and communities around the country. They worked around the clock, sending out thousands of mailings, hitting the phone lines, and issuing regular press releases documenting their progress—anything to get people to circle the date April 22, 1970 on their calendars. 

The effort benefited from alliances that may seem unlikely today. Earth Day organizers, for example, found a strong ally in the hard-hitting United Auto Workers president Walter Reuther. Known as the “most dangerous man in Detroit” for his ability to take on the auto industry, Reuther had a soft spot for Mother Nature—and a radical vision of how the UAW could be at the forefront of a new industrial revolution.

Pointing to the smog choking America’s cities, Reuther put the blame squarely at the feet of the car companies. “The auto industry is one of the worst culprits and it has failed to meet its public responsibility,” he declared. “It is asinine (I don’t know of a better word to describe it, to have hundreds of thousands of people all going to the same place at the same time for the same purpose and all of them dragging two tons of gadgets with them.” 

Breaching Iceberg, Greenland 2008.
The Arctic’s devastating transformation
There was no snow, no sea ice anywhere to be seen. These would be my last days in Svalbard in August of 2011.

As a solution, Reuther envisioned a partnership between industry and government to create the most extensive, modern mass-transit system in the world. He proceeded to write the first check to the Earth Day organizing committee, providing much-needed funds to get the operation up and running. Just weeks after the day’s success, however, Reuther died in a plane crash, taking much of the energy behind his transformational vision with him. Today, labor and environmentalists are just beginning to come together again to put forward a vision much like the one Reuther dreamed of decades ago. 

The first Earth Day also helped invigorate a discussion between the environmental and civil rights movements. African Americans, especially in inner cities, had been fighting problems like pollution, lead paint, pests, and improper waste management for years, but it wasn’t until the late 1960s that these were identified as “environmental” issues. 

Some African American leaders saw Earth Day as a dangerous distraction from the many daily injustices from which white America would prefer to avert its eyes. “The nation’s concern with environment has done what George Wallace was unable to do: distract the nation from the human problems of the black and brown American, living in just as much misery as ever,” said Richard. G. Hatcher, the mayor of Gary, Indiana. George Wiley, the director of the National Welfare Rights Organization, argued that before they started proposing new policy solutions, environmentalists had to “deal initially with the problem of racism in the United States of America.”

Other civil rights leaders saw an opportunity in Earth Day to get whites on board with solving these pervasive challenges. “But now that White America is being threatened, perhaps we can deal with black needs and white needs – human needs – in a united effort to remedy the value system that has brought us to this Earth Day,” the Rev. Channing Phillips told an audience in Washington, D.C. 

Whatever their motivation, when Earth Day arrived on April 22, 1970, tens of millions of people took to the streets across the nation. In New York City, tens of thousands marched and the mayor bicycled around town to give various speeches. In Chicago, high school students marched to protest air pollution. In West Virginia, students collected five tons of garbage along a five-mile stretch of highway and dumped it on the steps of the Harrison County courthouse. In Los Angeles, organizers sold tickets to a “car smashing” to people who wanted to “vent their feelings about cars.” Up in San Francisco, a group of 300 divers scoured the adjacent ocean shelf to collect trash. 

In total, more than 1,500 colleges and 10,000 primary and high schools hosted events. Even those that chose to stay home could watch the special “Earth Day” programming on nearly every major network. Newspaper estimates put the total number of participants at 20 million, but the scale of the day made it nearly impossible to count. “I’ve been on the road at least three days a week this last year,” said Hayes, the organizer, a year later, “and I have never been in a city or  school which didn’t take part in Earth Day.”

“When Earth Day arrived on April 22, 1970, tens of millions of people took to the streets across the nation.”
JAMIE HENN

The outpouring of public activity made an immediate political impact. In the years following Earth Day, President Richard Nixon, hardly a bleeding heart, passed the National Environmental Protection Act, creating the Environmental Protection Agency, the Clean Air Act, the Endangered Species Act, the Occupational Safety and Health Act, and more. “Environmental concerns have become part of our political value system,” reflected EPA Administrator Douglas M. Costle some years later. 

Like any political moment, the energy didn’t last forever. Just a week after Earth Day, President Nixon announced that he’d given the order for American troops to invade Cambodia, sparking a new wave of protest against the Vietnam War. Then, on May 4, National Guard troops fired on students at Kent State.

The good mood of Earth Day vanished overnight. “With an almost manic abruptness, the nation seemed, as Yeats once wrote, ‘all changed, changed utterly,’” wrote Time magazine. Environmentalists were able to maintain momentum during the Ford and Carter administrations, but came up against a brick wall once Reagan took office, forcing the movement back on the defensive, where it has largely remained ever since. 

RELATED: Growing fossil fuel divestment protests hit colleges nationwide

Now, 45 years later, it seems as if many of the conditions that led to the first Earth Day could once again be falling into place. Just as the “pollution crisis” began to move the forefront of American’s minds in the late 1960s, the climate crisis is beginning to creep its way up on the national agenda. Iconic disasters, like Hurricane Sandy, the California drought and the BP oil spill, are galvanizing a new environmental consciousness, while fights against projects like the Keystone XL pipeline are invigorating a newly powerful climate movement. Last September, more than 400,000 people took the streets of New York City for the People’s Climate March, an effort that united the climate movement with social justice, labor, faith communities, and more. Across college campuses, the fossil fuel divestment campaign is emerging as one of the most powerful sources of student organizing in the country. 

When Sen. Nelson first dreamed up the idea of Earth Day in 1969, he hoped that it would spread to at least twenty or so campuses. Instead, it swept the entire nation and resulted in the largest public demonstration in the history of the United States.

It’s hard to know when you stand on the brink of incredible change. But as today’s climate crisis threatens to spin out of control, Earth Day should give us hope. When the right conditions arise, we can still come together to do extraordinary things. 

Jamie Henn is the Communications Director for 350 Action and co-founder of 350.orgThis essay is based on research from his 2007 thesis, “Out of the Wilderness: The First Earth Day” (PDF).

 

Happy Earth Day!

Today is the 45th celebration of Earth Day!
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Today, Nature’s Pulchritude challenges YOU to think about what the Earth means to you and how it provides for you  AND one behavior change (big or small) that can help the world collectively improve our planet!

What is my behavior change you ask?  Stop leaving the water running! (:))

Fashion Brand Pushes Growth, Talks Sustainability

We typically don’t delve into fashion here, but since it is New York Fashion Week, here is an interesting article discussing brand responsibility to people and the environment.  How many of you have thought about the point of origin of your clothes, beyond the store or retailer you purchase it from?  What do you think of this company’s actions on sustainability and human rights?

Sharon Edelson, NEW YORK — H&M’s ambitious agenda — which includes expanding its product offerings, creating another stand-alone brand and opening more and more stores worldwide — may seem at odds with sustainability and human rights.  But not to Karl-Johan Persson, managing director of Hennes & Mauritz AB.

The Swedish retailer this year will open nearly 365 stores — almost one of every day of the year — and the size of those stores is increasing.  At a time when retailers such as Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Target Corp. are building smaller units, H&M in June unveiled a 57,000-square-foot flagship on Fifth Avenue and 48th Street here, and a 63,000-square-foot unit will bow on West 34th Street here next year. H&M delivers dozens of new styles daily to its stores, a massive logistical effort repeated 3,388 times around the world.

Persson defends the retailer’s seemingly endless quest for growth — even as he acknowledges most consumers have enough “stuff.”  In his view, H&M needs to grow because “consumption creates lots of jobs.  To consume less of everything could have a negative effect on the economy. Sometimes, when we’re speaking about fast fashion, it’s connected to a negative impact on the world. The customer is getting good value for their money. It creates taxes and jobs in developed countries and creates a lot of jobs in the developing world. The one thing is the environment. The right response is to continue consuming, but to consume from companies that are responsible. Tesla is a great example. They’re cracking the code.

Of course, Persson believes H&M is another responsible company. “On the environmental side, we want to continue to grow while respecting planetary boundaries,” he said. “We have to change how fashion is made. We have to make more with less. We have to go from a linear model to a circular model. We recycle in all stores the H&M brand and other brands. We’ve collected 8,000 tons of garments.  We’re closing the loop, getting fibers or yarns back into production again. We’re investing in finding new materials and recycling Tencel. Our R&D is finding solutions for fibers that can be reused and at scale. We’re optimizing this so it can be scaled up. If we do this, we’ll have a major positive impact on the world.”

To the frequent contention that fast fashion is disposable, Persson said, “We want to make fashion affordable, so it’s not throwaway fashion. We see a trend of a lot of companies growing in the low-price area. We want to offer good design and affordable, good quality. We’re investing in improving the quality.”

Persson discussed H&M’s future in an interview following a speech he gave at the BSR 2014 Conference here.

The company’s portfolio includes H&M, COS, Monkey, Cheap Monday and & Other Stories. “We’re looking into new ideas to broaden the H&M concept portfolio,” Persson said in the interview. “It’s too early to talk about, but we’re developing another concept. It’s a new brand. We’re also broadening the H&M brand and developing new categories. We’re constantly growing at H&M, and when we find new concepts that the consumer likes — like sportswear, shoes and home — we’ll make sure we have the space in stores to showcase them.”

H&M was slow to join the e-commerce wagon, launching a transactional site 13 years after its arrival in the U.S. in August 2013. “We’re working a lot on omnichannel,” Persson said. “We’re working on scanning and buying products in store, click and collect, and returning in stores.  All stores will be able to access online [e-commerce]. We see our online shop growing faster than our physical stores. We have to find ways to make the in-store experience better and more exciting. One way is customer service. It’s a work in progress.”

The retailer is looking for growth in the U.S. and China, and new markets such as Australia, India, Peru and South Africa. With global sales of $17 billion in 2013, H&M is the second-largest apparel retailer in the world after Zara parent Inditex. The global apparel market is estimated to be $1.1 trillion.

“Do [we] want to be the number-one fashion company in the world,” Persson asked, rhetorically. “When I’ve said, no, people have looked at me like I’m not telling the truth. We want to become the biggest and we could expand quicker in the race to be number one, but who knows where that will take us. If we become number one, we become number one. If it’s three or 10 or one, it will happen [organically].”

Regardless of Persson’s attitude toward growth, the retailer has been castigated for its emphasis on low prices, which naturally lead to low wages in third-world countries where it sources, especially Bangladesh and Cambodia.

“When you look at costs, H&M produces different materials but using the same suppliers as some high-end brands,” he said, arguing that the price consumers are charged for a product doesn’t necessarily impact wages.

During his speech at BSR, Persson said that H&M last year launched with experts and global trade unions a fair living wage road map. “It’s a complex issue,” he said. “It’s based on a four-way collaboration between H&M, our suppliers, the suppliers’ workers and the government [of Bangladesh].

“Higher wages will mean higher prices,” he added. “Are we prepared to pay higher prices without passing them along to the consumer? Yes. It’s already impacting margins. All the pressures are coming from analysts and investors. You have to be prepared to sacrifice short-term profits for long-term profits. There’s too much short-term thinking, especially in the fashion industry. It’s bad for the environment. There is a lot more that can be done from the standpoint of the industry. We’re not in any way alone, but there are companies that are not doing enough.”

Persson said H&M has to “buy more evenly, buy smarter and work with suppliers and the Fair Wage Network, an independent organization. Extreme poverty is falling by 90,000 people every day. We’re leading the way in countries like Bangladesh.  Since 1991, the number has been halved. I was in Bangladesh a month ago to visit factories. Overtime has been reduced and wages have increased. We’re investing in training for technical skills and negotiating skills. We’re working with the government to make sure they enforce the labor laws and that salaries are revised annually.” 

In its 2013 sustainability report, H&M surprised the fashion industry by listing the names of most, but not all, of its 1,700 factories. “We were a bit hesitant about releasing the list of factories where we do business due to the competition,” Persson said. “We thought we should get it out there and make the fashion industry more transparent and hopefully inspire others to do the same.” The company is now working with the Sustainable Apparel Coalition to develop consumer labeling called the Higg Index that takes into account everything from a product’s raw materials to its end-of-life solutions. 

H&M is the world’s biggest buyer of 100 percent sustainable cotton, and the fiber’s share of the total H&M collection is growing and will continue to increase. “We don’t charge more for organic cotton, even though it’s costing us more,” Persson said. H&M is also developing new care labels with Gintex, called Clevercare that remind consumers of the climate impact of washing clothing, and encourages behavioral changes to reduce the environmental footprint of fashion consumption.

H&M’s goal of 100 percent sustainability by 2020 is ahead of schedule, Persson said. His commitment to sustainability and human rights, he said, comes from his grandfather, who in 1947 founded the company. “My grandfather often spoke of the importance of long-term thinking,” he said, “that a business must have wider responsibilities than just building profits.

(via Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week)