The past few weeks I got sent links to articles in well established magazines that both pushed a rosy picture of sustainable fashion, as well as a depressing one. Ironically, the some of the SAME COMPANIES were featured in both. For example, Prada scored a F in one of the articles, while the other touted Prada for making their nylon fabrics out of plastic waste. What gives?
A couple of things:
1) The less rosy article by Fast Company is based on Stand.earth's methodology. Their methodology is focused on how well brands are attempting to shift their supply chains away from fossil fuel. So instead of scoring brands against an average, or against each other (which is what most methologies do), they score brands against one hard yardstick.
2) The more rosy W Magazine article is focused on touting brand's innovations to combat myriad sustainability issues, from GHG emissions to microplastics to ethical sourcing.
What's my take? I like Stand.earth's concept of focusing on fossil fuel use. They are correct in stating that- generally speaking- manufacturing tends to be the highest emitter of GHGs, and the majority of that is based on the energy used. Some greenwashing does happen when there is no evidence of changing the hotspots in GHG emissions. In addition, changing your supply chain is incredibly complicated because of all the pieces involved; brands that are trying to shift to renewable energy at every step of their manufacturing and shipping should be lauded.
On the other hand, sustainability (as I've explained to a lot of non-sustainability people) is much more than carbon accounting. The environment is a dynamic, non-linear system; fossil fuel is tied to water scarcity, land use, and biodiversity. Cotton, for example, is much more water intensive than many other fabrics, and organic cotton is better in this regards. At the same time, some may argue that synthetics have a longer lifespan than cotton. I could go into this incredibly complicated topic much more, but will save that for another post.
And to add to all of the above, sustainability's meaning has expanded in recent years to include social elements as well. It's not necessarily wrong for brands to try and pick the ones that resonate the most for their product and customer. Because honestly, sourcing cotton from regenerative farms that provide living wages is a way more engaging story than auditing far off overseas factories on their energy efficiency.
Both articles however point to the concept that brands are innovating at a rapid pace, while not doing enough at all. The truth is, none of us are doing enough, which is why we're in this mess in the first place. While it's great to applaud the innovative steps we take, and therefore raise enthusiasm and curiousity, ultimately we need to take approaches like stand.earth for a more robust measurement against reality's yardstick. I'd love to see a future where we take a measurement approach for all sorts of sustainability issues.
Excited to announce that I am officially an approved verifier for the Airport Carbon Accreditation program, which is a voluntary carbon management certification for airports, supported by the UN Environment Program and the International Civil Aviation Organization. The program assesses and recognizes continual performance improvements in carbon and energy management by airports.
Why would airports join the Airport Carbon Accreditation (ACA) program? Having conducted a number of GHG analyses, one of the main issues I always find is that clients are left with a "Now What?" question once they get their carbon footprints. The ACA allows airports to not only calculate their footprint, but depending on the level of accreditation, allows them to also map out a strategy for reducing their footprint. The program is easy to apply to, and is systemic in its way of ramping up mitigation goals that is specific to airports. I am always supportive of GHG programs that are industry-specific; these types of programs are uniquely able to maximize reductions in ways that value and understand that particular industry's needs.
For more information on the Airport Carbon Accreditation program, click here.
I’m a bit of a policy nerd, which is unusual for an engineer. But I love reading about environmental policies and understanding the way science and the public can eventually influence policy that affects large swaths of communities.
One piece of legislation I’ve been really excited about is SB 1335. Back in 2018, California passed a law (SB 1335) requiring disposable food service packaging items at certain California state facilities to be reusable, recyclable, or compostable by 2021. The reason this is very, very important: California will essentially be defining what makes a plastic recyclable, reusable, or compostable, and that’s bound to make a subset of plastic manufacturers, composters, and recyclers very unhappy.
The time has now arrived to craft the rule, which CalRecycle is doing. They’ve submitted drafts of the rule and it is now on its way to be approved. So what is CalRecycle defining as reusable, recyclable and compostable?
Reusable: The material must be able to be reused after 780 cycles in a cleaning and sanitizing process.
Recyclable: The material is collected by at least 75% of recycling programs statewide, have sufficient commercial value to be marketed for recycling, and is sorted and .
Compostable: The material is regularly collected for composting by at least 50% of organic waste recycling programs statewide and 50% of the compost facilities that accept mixed materials.
There are other provisions in the rule, such as allowing for takeback programs, which seem like they can help facilities that have a singular relationship with a composter or recycler who can actually process their items. Other provisions include PFAS bans as well, and more stringent floors after 2026.
So who is not happy with this rule? Some of them are below:
On my end, I’m curious where the 780 cycles for reusable came from, and will be interested in seeing how compostable plastics shake out with these new definitions. Although it’s a rule that affects only a subset of facilities, it’s the first of its kind in California and will likely affect bigger pieces of legislation (like single use plastic bans, etc) in the future.
Diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice (DEIJ) are terms that have come to the forefront of 2020.
Recently, I worked on a project with Hovland Consulting on diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice in transportation, with a focus on the U.S. and Europe. We conducted interviews and research to advise funders and non-profits on best practices in DEIJ issues.
Three key lessons I took away from the project were the following:
1) The terms are not interchangeable. There can be confusion among the terms. It's important to remember that justice is the outcome, while diversity, equity, and inclusion are pathways to achieve justice. There is also confusion between diversity and inclusion; inclusion is an approach to ensure that those new to the table or not traditionally involved feel welcome and are accommodated in terms of their time and culture. In turn, diversity should not turn into tokenism.
2) Create metrics for BIPOC involvement. We did a lot of research into how to measure the success of diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice measures. There are a myriad of ways to measure and track progress, and it's important to choose metrics that allow you to measure your project's success.
3) Equity should be focused on communities with less power. In determining whether BIPOC or low-income communities should be prioritized in transportation (or any policy realm), coalitions and organizations should carefully consider who has the least power and voice while balancing who would be most impacted by a prospective policy or program.