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Music by Richie Colosimo - @parmageddon_
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Hi, everyone. Welcome to Eco Go Go, the podcast that makes sustainability easy. I'm your host Elyse Kardos and we are on episode four now. It has been so great. I thank you again for coming back for more information. I've gotten so much feedback surrounding these episodes and first of all, I just want to say I'm delighted that you all seem to think that my voice is so soothing and love that you're all finding small and large tips from these episodes. I hope that you're all taking some time to acknowledge your dedication to making more sustainable choices because like I always say, every little bit goes such a long way here.
I want to jump right into the topic this week. We're going to touch on the first of many episodes to come about product sustainability and ethics in the fast fashion industry. I've allowed myself to make better purchases now that I've been outside of school and I shop much less but I would like my hard-earned money to support great causes and companies with respectable missions. Of all of the purchases I make now, I predominantly buy athletic clothing and sports products of sorts so this is why I'd like to first touch on the athletic side of the fast fashion industry. Like I said in last week's episode. my great friend Barbara, thanks Barbara shout out to you, reminded me and many others of the harsh realities of some of my favorite brands.
So without further ado, let's get into fast fashion athletic clothing. We have two main terms that we are going to talk about this week. The first term is fast fashion. This is cheap and trendy clothing that is designed to rapidly reflect styles that are popular on the catwalk and worn by celebrities. Our second term is greenhouse gas. This is a bit of a repeat from previous episodes, and greenhouse gases absorb and emit radiant energy. Which makes things warm and makes the Earth livable for us but too much of it causes a heavy warming effects and impacts many other organisms and critters in our ecosystem.
How big of a deal is this? The Ellen MacArthur Foundation found in a study that, in 2015, greenhouse gas emissions from textile production total 1.2 billion tons of CO2 equivalent. 1.2 billion tons! This is more than those of all international flights and maritime shipping combined. That is so much greenhouse gas emissions from one industry in the world. And how are these companies able to maintain their high output of the products? By outsourcing to manufacturing facilities in developing countries with poor labor laws.
The companies are trying to provide the cheapest materials and products possible to consumers while maintaining high profits. So their answer to this is finding cheaper manufacturers, finding cheaper materials, and sources for materials and manufacturing means. And then these companies mark up the price of what they're actually paying for these manufactured products and they profit at an increasing rate compared to what they're outsourcing. Unfortunately when we are outsourcing the manufacturing we don't have control as a country as much over those other jurisdictions. The consumer push over the last few decades to hold these corporations accountable for their human rights and environmental violations has produced significant outcomes. Solutions over the years have proven that public and private government's working together is the most effective way to monitor all of the gaps and aspects of these manufacturing problems.
From this growing global concern over the pollution and labor violations of the textile industry, there have been a number of organizations and initiatives and companies that these businesses can join or sign to better represent ethical and environmental practices. Some organizations and initiatives, just to name a few of so many, that companies can be signing to exhibit better practices are the Fair Labor Association, Sustainable Apparel Coalition, the Better Cotton Initiative, the UN Global Impact, Leather Working Group, Bluesign, Responsible Down Standard, the Detox Commitment, UN Climate Change and Fashion Industry for Climate Action, Circular Fibers Initiative. That's just a few I found in my research. I found so many it was almost hard to keep track of.
Regardless of all of these initiatives and actions the biggest problem that we see with the company environment and human violations or unethical practices is that there is no real standard way of measuring this stuff. There's no set criteria and there's tons of scientifically backed suggestions and ways to be more ethical or be more sustainable. But again, no set practices.
A lot of the companies are not entirely transparent and even if they are a part of those initiatives or organizations, they're not entirely transparent, they're not required to be entirely transparent about all of their practices. There are many different standards to attempt to measure the impact of these companies. Some of them include the CDP, the Dow Jones Sustainability Index, the Global Initiative Sustainability Ratings, Ethical Consumer, and goodonyou.eco.
I've used a lot of information in my research for from Ethical Consumer and goodonyou.eco. Both of these use their own scoring methods. Just to give you an idea of what the Ethical Consumer uses. They base scoring on 300 topics in five main areas which include the animals, the environment, people, politics, and product sustainability.
They start with a score of 14 and they deduct for issues within the category. They can gain a point for sustainability initiatives. All companies are updated at least once every three years but they do update companies every day. They have a database of over 4,000 companies so obviously you know there is some time with which things are updated. And this company is a nonprofit Cooperative based in the UK.
I just want to warn you I tried to look through so many different resources, I tried to look through so many different kinds of databases. It is disturbingly hard to find out information about a company's manufacturing and ethical humanitarian practices. If you happen to notice that something I have mentioned is no longer true or up-to-date, I'd love to hear it. I love to update the rest of the listeners. But I went to so many different resources just to try to find a couple of things about a handful of companies that I figured might be big contributors and tycoons in the textile industry.
So before we talk about those companies, I want to talk about some poor manufacturing processes that we typically see in the textile industry. This list can go on. We can talk about it for months, there's so many different violations and poor processes that are used in these industries unfortunately from raw material harvesting all the way to product design and implementation, to producing and manufacturing the product. So this is by no means an all-encompassing list but this is a handful of common core practices that I found in quite a few of the companies that I researched.
Leather outputs about 2 times more greenhouse gas emissions than that of synthetic leather. They used an effluent in the tanning process that causes tons of chemical pollution. Synthetic fibers have micro particles that are not easily biodegradable and a lot of this can end up in our waterways just by washing our clothes in our clothes washer. Cotton and polyester are huge issues. 1 kilo of cotton fiber amounts to approximately 28 kg of CO2e. Cotton also requires the use of so many pesticides and water. Polyester produces tons of microplastic in the waterways.
With the use of synthetic rubber and foam. A common practice that's used here is an EVA foam, or Ethylene Vinyl Acetate, and this is an extract from the petrochemical industry. It's highly polluting, a lot of industries use perfluorinated chemicals, and these are man-made chemicals that are used in many industrial purposes even outside of the textile industry. There is little info on the long-term health effects but it is found, currently it's found in other mammals and in humans right now. In our blood and our milk, our breast milk, in our tissues, etc. It has known health effects on test animals though.
Other poor manufacturing processes in the companies that we're about to discuss involve poor and unsafe working and labor conditions. Where laborers are not paid living wages, they might be in forced labour situations, which yes that is still very much a common practice in this day and age. And these workers also may not have proper access to safe working conditions or work environments.
There's animal cruelty still happening a lot in so many different ways and, you know, they just use a lot of unsavory practices to profit from cheap prices for abundant products. I'm going to mention just one common animal cruelty issue that's practiced in a lot of these athletic products mainly because of the down and the wool. Is something called mulesing and I think I'm saying this correctly but just a disclaimer for everyone listening. If you're very sensitive or triggered by animal violations or issues please skip ahead like 10 seconds.
I'm not going to get into much detail but this process is the process of carving strips of skin from lambs legs and tails to prevent flies from laying eggs in the folds of the skin. These lambs are not euthanized or under any anesthesia and this is just done so that they can get more product. So you know this is just one of unfortunately very many disturbing animal cruelty practices in this industry. And last but not least, this has to be one of the biggest issues of all, is that all of the manufacturers and sourcers involved in these companies products are in so many locations.
So let's talk about some big athletics companies and I'm talking about athletics like clothing, maybe your sneakers, your running shoes. I have one listener who requested that I touch on not just athletic wear but also athletic products like climbing equipment, or slacklining equipment, things like that. So that's something I'd like to cover in a future episode. For this purpose we’re talking mainly clothing things that you would wear for your athletic purposes.
So a big company that everyone talks about is Nike and Nike has over the years owned up to some of this and is attempting to be better. They have a move to zero plan which does kind of seem like a little more of a marketing strategy and not a concrete plan to achieve zero waste. They do want to reduce carbon emissions globally by 30% by 2030. But I don't really see any plans on raw material sourcing that's more sustainable. So they are involved in Sustainable Apparel Coalition, UN Climate Change in Fashion Industry for Climate Action, and the Circular Fibers Initiative just to name a few. They have a global sustainability team and have started to do a lot of reduce and reuse within the company. Like reuse-a-shoe, and other recycling and reusing of old materials, but this is not for all materials and waste though.
But they do have a lot of ethical and humanitarian practices that are concerning. Like they still use a lot of chemicals in manufacturing that are harmful to workers and the environment and say they heavily use polyester, which again has a lot of microfiber plastic pollution. They don't carry much info on leather, wool, or down sourcing. And I'm sure if you noticed in the news in February this year, there were reports that came out that one of their suppliers in China was using of a Muslim minority in the region in forced labor situations. And there have been numerous reports over the years of Nike using underpaid labor and forced labor situations in factory suppliers.
On another social aspect, they refused maternity leave and pay for female athletes until a recent outcry. So that, I mean, that's kind of unsavory. And as for the environment they're part of the Better Cotton Initiative but they have not committed to 100% sustainable cotton.
They’re a part of the Leather Working Group, but it does not indicate how much leather is sustainably-sourced. And Nike stated that they will attempt to source from non-mulesed sheep but are not transparent about it.
The next big company I wanted to touch on is Adidas. Adidas also owns Reebok. So as for sustainability practices, they've partnered with organizations like Parley, Sustainable Apparel Coalition, Better Cotton Initiative, Bluesign, Leather Working Group to name a few. And they have a sustainability road map with a team of 70 but this team of 70 also controls Reebok, so those are two huge companies that only has a team of 70 people working on sustainability. They do use 75% upcycling from ocean plastics and have made high-efficiency designs and low waste patterns to reduce the amount of textile and fabric waste.
When it comes to ethical humanitarian and animal practices, they have no info on leather, wool, or down sourcing. Not all of their measures are backed by science. They, again, they use polyester, like Nike, which contributes to a ton of microplastic pollution. And, like Nike, they’re a fast fashion tycoon so they're contributing to creating a lot more clothes that aren’t actually going to be bought by the consumers. At the very least, they were apparently able to disclose the most information about Labor traceability whether it was good or not and they have committed to being 90% PFC free, which is the perfluorinated chemicals as I had mentioned before.
And they have received decent rankings on their attempts on the environmental front and just for their attempts not for actually accomplishing those things but for having some guidelines and some clear-cut guidelines. The only thing really different that I found about Reebok was that they made a sneaker in 2018 from cotton and corn. So other than that, not too much different.
Fabletics, the reason I really wanted to talk about this, because my friend Barbara reminded me that fast fashion and these horrible things going on inside of it are happening. Fabletics was really hard to find out any information. They really hid a lot of their stuff. They had a very bad rating on goodonyou.eco. You know they don't really have a ton of sustainability things in place. I looked at their website all that they really mentioned was they have achieved Net Zero greenhouse gas emissions but they didn't say in what aspect achieved this. They also mentioned that 100% of their stores are climate neutral, maybe that's what the Net Zero greenhouse gas emissions are referring to. But they don't really have many brick-and-mortar stores here, they have less than 50 in the US which is their main market so not a huge feat if you ask me.
And they have no other information or clear sustainability targets. They have this fun page with like Kate Hudson smiling and like running on a beach saying like sustainability is really important to them and stuff, but literally no information about how it's important to them or what they plan on doing. They kind of just pride themselves on, again little accomplishments. And when it comes to ethical and humanitarian practices there is absolutely no information whatsoever on sourcing, manufacturing, laborers. I couldn't find anything. I looked pretty hard and, you know my friend last week asked them, messaged them, contacted them asking them and nobody had any answers for her either.
Puma is not too terrible. They're making a start when it comes to their sustainability practices. They actually have science-based targets. They aim to be transparent about cost to the environment and public records that they plan to release more regularly. And they are measuring the outputs of most of their important waste like land use water consumption, Etc. They’re working with an external company, a third party, to measure these accurately and they hold annual conferences with Harvard and the UN Global Impact on how they can be more sustainable.
They are part of the Better Cotton Initiative, Leather Working Group, Responsible Down Standard, Bluesign, and Better Cotton Initiative to name a few. However you know they are fast fashion tycoons. They're outputting too much product for the market. They're not 100% transparent on all environmental factors and raw material use and, again, there's really not much information on laborers or working conditions or wages. They mentioned that they like to follow the local local laws and regulations.
Under Armour is the last company I'd like to talk about today. They are really not looking so good. As for sustainability practices, they have a very long excerpt on their website, a long multi-page informative paper about sustainability and ethical manufacturing, humanitarian practices, but there's like no real numbers. It's just kind of like a long long long page of buzzwords and I mean they really had no real clear-cut targets I could find for sustainability. No great deadlines or committed targets.
The only real goal I could find with like a number attached to it was to reach using 15% of recycled polyester by 2020. Which lags so far behind these other companies, even Nike. They just use a ton of buzz words too, it just I don't know, kind of gave me the chills. I don't want to hear that you're seeking to do something, or you’re looking to do something, or you hope to do something. I don't want hopeful measures, I want guarantees.
They are a part of the Leather Working Group. They have an internal team that assesses factory and worker conditions which is not a good look. And ironically, they are a part of the Fair Labor Association. they tout this so much but I went onto the Fair Labor website and looked at their most recent reports which were from 2018. I didn't have to look too far, I mean so many of their factories had so many workplace violations. From not providing pencils and writing utensils to the complaint box at the factory, all the way to not having proper fire extinguishers, and people being forced to work for long hours beyond the law.
And they have no requirements that are clear targets that support humane working conditions and wages. And they're only transparent on approximately 70% of their vendors so of all of my research by far, Under Armour seems to be doing the absolute worst. They really don't seem to be caring so much, it kind of seems to me like they're acknowledging the topic and subject at hand but not actually taking any initiative to make a change.
Let's go for a quick drink break. Make sure you get one too because we need to stay hydrated out here.
All right and we are back. So let's get to our favorite part, ethical alternatives. How can we make better choices? This is tough. This turns into a game of picking the lesser of evils and I really hate that that's what we are left with as consumers but there aren't many companies that have perfect marks on all of these issues. And everything that I'm telling you right now may not give you clear-cut guidelines on where you can and cannot buy from. You know you're still going to have to kind of look up the companies you support and purchase from on your own a little bit.
If you're looking to purchase new clothes look for companies that have transparent sustainable and human rights policies. You want to see clear-cut goals of reaching sustainable and ethical targets. Things like partnering with other companies and organizations for data and metrics is a big plus. Look for B-corp companies, which stands for benefit corporation companies. These are companies that use the population, the people, the environment, alongside their investors, to make decisions and they're not just for their own self gain. You also want to look for some sustainably-sourced natural fibers. You want to look for recycled or upcycled fabrics and synthetic. Sustainable manufacturing processes without the use of toxic chemicals, dyes, and finishes.
You want to see Fair Trade and Fair Labor certifications. Be careful on the wordings here because a company might say that they require all manufacturers and suppliers to meet local and global labor laws but that usually means they're likely using sweatshops in forced labor situations. Because otherwise we wouldn't be talking about this in the first place if the local laws in that area were good enough to support humane and environmental conditions. They don't have to be 100% transparent about this stuff. You know many big companies use buzz words and things that make them sound like they're doing better but they actually aren't really doing much. The company might say that they use sustainably-sourced cotton but do they use 100% sustainably-sourced cotton? Do they have a goal to meet 100% sustainably-sourced cotton?
These are the kinds of things you want to look for. So I went ahead and looked for some ethical companies that sell activewear for men and women. Keep in mind that these products might be a little pricier.
Patagonia, they have tons of goals to reach a 100% sustainability and they're involved with a lot of different organizations and third parties to help with more sustainable and ethical practices. They did not do so well with ethical cotton sourcing though unfortunately with 100% sustainable cotton. But if you have to have a big name for something Patagonia seems to be the most sustainable. And some companies that you may not have heard of, I didn't know if these companies but - Wolven, that's w-o-l-v-e-n. Pact. Organic Basics. Yoga Democracy. Soul Flower. And Threads 4 Thought. Check out some of the products they're offering at the prices, these are some great alternatives to your favorite clothing.
And you know, the last thing that you can look into doing if you're buying new clothing is invest in timeless pieces and clothing articles that will last you through many years and style changes. I think the most other most important thing you can do is buy second-hand. Those are my tips for this week. Unfortunately it's very heavy user based. If you want to buy from a company you're going to have to look up their practices yourself, but I figured I would take care of some of the biggest ones.
Now for the Eco activity of the week! I just turned my compost pile for the first time! Yep, next week we're going to talk more about composting in your area. Whether you have a compost pile at your dispense or you don't, we're going to talk about how you can compost your food scraps.
Thanks again for listening, I hope this provided a bit of clarity to you and your shopping needs and you feel comfortable with researching and supporting greener businesses. Please feel free to reach out to me with topics that you're interested in hearing. I would love to hear from you send me an email at [email protected]. Follow me on Facebook and Instagram by searching Eco Go Go Podcast. Special thanks to Richie for all the show tunes you're hearing and Bronson for the artwork. Until next time, have a green week!