What a nice surprise! I just emailed the folks at Pact to let them know I added them to the "Buycotts and Boycotts" section of this blog—as a buycott, since I love their underwear as well as their commitment to nonprofit groups and sustainable packaging.
And CEO Jason Kibbey wrote back to say that Wallet Mouth readers can get 20% off by using coupon code wm20. This is the first time I've ever been in a position to offer a coupon, so it feels a little weird, but seriously, if you need some knickers, go nuts. Pact is the most eco-friendly underwear maker I've heard of, and I can personally attest to the quality of its products.
I love it when pop culture and ethical consumerism converge.
Last weekend brought one of the best live-music shows I've ever attended: the Swell Season. The music was sublime, and speaking between the songs, Glen Hansard was as honest and unguarded as you'd imagine he'd be among a small group of friends, never mind the nearly full theater's capacity of 3,000.
At the merch table afterward, I was pleased to see that the band was selling organic cotton T-shirts (did you know that conventional cotton is responsible for some 16 percent of global chemical pesticide use?), canvas tote bags, and metal water bottles sporting their cool owl logo. Clearly this is a group interested in promoting greater environmental consciousness.
The water bottles particularly struck me, because I had noticed during the show that the band members were drinking standard bottled water. Wouldn't it be amazing to see major touring musicians sipping from reusable containers onstage instead of plastic water bottles? What a nice quiet statement that would make against bottled water's numerous problems (the wastefulness of its production and disposal, the health issues, etc.). I asked the guy who sold me my T-shirt to pass an encouraging word on to the band.
The following day, there was a coda to the theme. I heard a cool song on the radio called "Garbage," by Chairlift. I'll close by sharing some of the lyrics:
All the garbage that you have thrown away
Is waiting somewhere a million miles away
Your condoms and your VCR
Your ziploc bags and father's car
Dark and silent it waits for you ahead
So much garbage will never ever decay
And all your garbage will outlive you one day
You should sign a fancy signature to your messy messy portraiture
Because dark and silent it waits for you ahead
Making so much garbage each and every day
We make this shit for you to throw away
In plastic rooms in factories for you to dispose of as you please
Because dark and silent it waits for you ahead
A few points about the new law on lead and phthalates in children's products:
A minor furor erupted about it recently on my local parents' email list. Everyone is in favor of protecting kids from hazardous substances, of course, but people worried about some pretty important unintended consequences of the law's vague wording.
The Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act, which goes into effect on Feb. 10, applies to all products intended for people under age 13—including apparel. Under the law, all such products must be certified as complying with the new lead safety standard. Any untested items are considered hazardous and therefore illegal to sell.
Would secondhand stores like the one in our neighborhood where many of us outfit our kids be forced to send perfectly good used clothes to the landfill, and either stop selling children's clothes or go out of business because they couldn't afford the costly tests?
No, thankfully. This past Thursday the Consumer Product Safety Commission issued a press release clarifying that resellers are not required to do the costly tests. It will still be illegal to sell products containing lead, of course, so stores must carefully screen their offerings to guard against, for example, shoes adorned with lead charms.
However, there's more at stake here than used-clothes sellers. What must also be considered are the livelihoods of Etsy sellers and small natural-toy makers, like the guy I met at the Green Festival last year who complained about having to limit his line of wooden vegetable-themed figurines because he would have to spend money testing not only, for example, the jalapeño toy but also the lettuce one, even though they were made from the same materials, right down to the paint.
Here's a great Z Recommends post about the issue; it includes a bunch of actions you can take to help spur reforms before the law goes into effect, including submitting a comment to the Consumer Product Safety Commission.
Finally, there's the phthalates loophole. As this story details, this past November, three months after the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act was passed, a legal firm successfully petitioned the Consumer Product Safety Commission to apply the phthalate ban only to products manufactured on or after Feb. 10 (when the law goes into effect)—which means stores can keep selling phthalate-laden products for who knows how long after the law takes effect, and consumers have no way of knowing the items aren't free of the endocrine-disrupting chemicals.
So, the NRDC and Public Citizen have sued.
Lucky for me and other California residents, a new state law protects us from such shenanigans. As of this year, in the Golden State, it doesn't matter when the product was made; if it doesn't meet the safety standard, it doesn't get sold here.
Holy crap, I can't believe the spending spree that took place on Sunday. I blame Mr. Wallet Mouth.
We were walking down the main drag of our neighborhood, Mini Mouth snoozing away in the baby carrier on her father's back, when we passed our local eco-fashion boutique. We pass this place frequently—I stepped inside once out of curiosity but left after ascertaining that it was indeed as spendy as it looked—but this time there was something different: signs in the window proclaiming huge discounts within.
"Hey baby," he said, all casual-like. "Look at that coat. I'll bet it would look really cute on you."
"Meh. I don't need more clothes. Besides, it's too expensive in there."
"Oh come on, baby. Just go in and look."
Minutes later, we were inside, and he was going through the racks and calling me over to look at garments he knew I'd like. (I'm convinced that in an alternate dimension, Mr. Wallet Mouth is employed as a personal shopper to the stars.)
A litle while later, we left with a bag containing three treasures, all for me: a jaunty pair of pants, a completely impractical but lovely reversible hooded woolen cape that looks like something from The Lord of the Rings, and a pair of organic blue jeans made by a local company across the bay. Even though it had been marked down substantially, the price tag on the denim made me break out in a cold sweat. Now, granted, I seem to buy jeans only at Goodwill, and I've owned only one pair over the past 10 years, so I'm a little out of the loop on current prices. Anyway, Mr. Wallet Mouth convinced me that they were a steal. And besides, shouldn't a conscious consumer such as myself feel good about forking out for the locally made organic cotton jeans?
Well, yes... but maybe not as much as I'd like. After we got home, I unearthed OnEarth, the NRDC's magazine, and happened to find this article on eco-jeans. I wanted to call the company, Del Forte, and ask whether the metal components on their jeans are recycled and whether they choose dyes that are less harmful to aquatic life, but Mini Mouth never gave me a spare moment. Since the company's website talks mostly about the benefits of organic cotton and says nothing about all that other stuff, I'm guessing that the jeans' eco credentials are somewhat limited.
Oh well, nobody's perfect, least of all me.
Addendum: Del Forte Denim's website does refer to "the most cutting-edge wash development facilities in the country," so I have high hopes that the company's dyeing process is top-notch.
I recently read William McDonough and Michael Braungart’s Cradle to Cradle, and one of the many thought-provoking points the book makes is that sometimes what appears to be environmentally friendly reuse in fact isn’t. They cite as an example the use of recycled plastic bottles in such things as carpet and fleece clothing, because PET plastic contains antimony, a toxic heavy metal.
As I wear fleece from time to time, I’ve been idly wondering if I should jettison the stuff from my wardrobe. Now comes this Treehugger post on the subject. Apparently we don’t have to worry about wearing it, just manufacturing it.
A couple months ago, I blogged about Patagonia’s Footprint Chronicles site, which lets consumers see the path taken by five of the company’s products, from origin to distribution center. A new story on Fast Company’s website delves into how the project has “put the company’s design and manufacturing process under the
It’s an interesting piece, but I found it odd that the opening description—of Patagonia environmental analysis director Jill Dumain “investigating,” camera in hand, one of the company’s T-shirt suppliers—was never followed up on to reveal what the investigation was for. Had the Footprint Chronicles found a supplier with dirt on its shoes?
Nope, Dumain just told me. The supplier, Nature USA, is a good company. Patagonia is “looking at the impact of a variety of our garments, and the T-shirts made by Nature USA are on the list for next fall. It was just their turn.”
Oh well, no juicy skullduggery to report. But it’s good to know they’re on the lookout.
Last week I stumbled upon a fascinating story in The Independent about a man’s search for the origin of his “Made in Bangladesh”-tagged denims.
I expected Fred Pearce’s account of his Dhaka visit to include Dickensian details about penurious wages and abusive management, and it did—but there were also a couple surprises. Pearce had this to say about three workers he talked to:
[They] all came from
villages around Dhaka. Akhi had seven brothers and sisters. Back home
there wasn’t enough land, and certainly not enough work, to support so
many. So the families sent their young women to find jobs in Dhaka.
Aisha and Miriam, sisters-in-law, together sent home 4,000 taka a month
(about £30). The alarming truth was that these women, for all their
pitiful surroundings, were the rich ones in their families.
It reminded me of something I heard China Road author Rob Gifford say on NPR last year: that while the conditions in Chinese factories are often deplorable to Western eyes, many workers there are content to toil for long hours under harsh conditions, because their jobs represent the key to economic salvation. As peasants in the countryside, their prospects were far worse.
Later in Pearce’s story, he describes how the founder of a Bangladeshi advocacy organization supporting the rights of garment workers looks at the situation: “The jobs, poor as many were, empowered women. Western
consumers, she said, should be demanding better conditions for the
women of Dhaka, and above all should be willing to pay higher prices.
And retailers should stop competing on price. But please, she said,
‘don't stop buying’.”
It’s a great point, but how can we consumers send the message that we’re willing to pay more? Write to the big brands, I suppose, and support certification systems with labels that give consumers assurance about how wares are produced.
Of course, many manufacturers already have their own production standards and codes of conduct in place, but there’s often a disconnect between the standards and reality. Pearce’s story provides yet another example:
The buyers—the brands’ representatives in Bangladesh—make regular
inspections of the factory, the women said. But “they always inform the
owners first. Before they come, the managers come through the factory
with megaphones. We are told to prepare the factory, to clean up. And
they instruct us what to say about working hours and holidays and
conditions. We have to lie about holidays especially.”
I was excited to learn that the article is an extract from a book by Pearce: Confessions of an Eco Sinner: Travels to Find Where My Stuff Comes From. I’m adding it, and China Road, to my reading list.
Speaking of transparency, outdoor-sportswear maker Patagonia has pulled back the curtain on the environmental effects and manufacturing processes behind some of its clothes with a cool new web feature.
The Footprint Chronicles tells the life story of five Patagonia products, showing the path each travels from design through fabric acquisition and processing, and finally to the distribution center. Each stage of the process has a thumbnail photo that you can click on for additional reading or videos on specific factories, sourcing philosophy, etc. And each product’s page details the total distance it traveled, its CO2 emissions, the total amount of waste it generated, and its energy consumption.
It’s a pretty neat tool—it reminds me of Timberland’s Nutrition Facts–esque labels from a couple years ago, only with more detail. (Hmm, I wonder if Patagonia will ever put this info on its labels in some form?)
But I must confess that my first reaction to the data behind the curtain was tinged with disappointment. The Wool 2 Crew sweater, for example, travels a total of 16,280 miles (thanks in part to its wool’s origins in an eco-friendly New Zealand ranch), generating 100 times its weight in carbon dioxide emissions. As the webpage itself states, “This is not sustainable.” And the Synchilla vest, which is (happily) made from all recycled materials and is itself recyclable through Patagonia’s Common Threads program, still generates 44 times its weight in emissions, despite the fact that its mileage figure of 5,150 is significantly less than the crew’s.
First reaction aside, though, I applaud Patagonia for launching the Footprint Chronicles and being willing to give us the straight dope. That in itself speaks volumes about the company’s ethos—clearly, it’s genuinely interested in engaging with consumers on these issues rather than making vague claims of responsibility and then hoping no one asks for elucidation (like some companies). Personally, I’m more likely to buy a jacket whose environmental footprint I can know something about than one that’s shrouded in mystery.
Furthermore, it’s good for consumers to be educated about what a globalized economy looks like. Certain products may be better than others in certain regards, and certain companies may have a higher commitment to lessening their impact on the earth than others, but the fact is that most products zip around the globe, merrily generating waste, warming the atmosphere, and expending energy before they land on store shelves. The more people realize this, the more attention will be paid to making smart choices given the current realities.
One thing I was excited to see, in several of the Footprint Chronicles product pages, was reference to a third-party auditing firm. To get more details, I talked to Nicole Bassett, Patagonia’s social responsibility manager. Turns out Patagonia works with a number of different auditors, not just Global Standards (which is misidentified as Global Solutions on the website). “We want to work with local auditing firms as much as possible because of their knowledge of local law and language,” she said.
So are all of Patagonia’s factories being constantly audited? Not exactly. Bassett herself schedules the audits “when we want to know about a factory’s social compliance.” (I meant to ask how often that happens and what the triggers are, but didn’t). An audit is scheduled for each new facility that the company starts using, Bassett said, and she also checks on factories that have been in Patagonia’s supply chain for years.
While I had her on the phone, I asked why the Footprint Chronicles had such scarce information on the natural-latex components for the Honeydew shoes. The reason is that the shoes are actually made by a company called Wolverine. “We just don’t really have the expertise in shoes,” Bassett explained. “So we license our brand name to Wolverine,” and Patagonia simply hasn’t been able to get all the numbers from Wolverine yet. Bassett said she expects the information to be available on the next version of the Footprint Chronicles, which should come out in April, and should also include four more Patagonia products.
I’m not saying you should run out and buy a pair of sneakers to celebrate—after all, labor abuses are still rampant in sportswear manufacturing, as various Oxfam reports and analyses relate (check out these links to learn more). But it’s a far cry from the days when these companies refused to reveal their factory locations because of competitiveness concerns. (Of course, that’s still the case with many businesses, including über-greeny online store Gaiam.)
Any move toward greater corporate transparency concerning supply chains deserves kudos, in my book.
December 2010 I haven't actually bought anything from Po-Zu yet, but I appreciate their awareness of the fact that many vegan shoes are made of petroleum products and aren't necessarily better for the environment than leather footwear. Po-Zu seems to set a high bar for itself when it comes to ingredients and supply chains.
March 2010 After running out of dish soap, I started using our good old bars of Sappo Hill out of necessity. But you know what? Our dishes are just as clean, and when I pick up the soap at our grocery store, the only packaging on the bars is the price tag. And did I mention the soap is awesome? We love the oatmeal bar.
February 2010 TMI alert: If you're a squeamish guy, read no further. I'm done with tampons! Instead, I'm using the DivaCup.
January 2010 Mr. Wallet Mouth and I both love Pact. Its underwear is made of organic cotton, and the company donates 10% of its sales to worthy environmental causes. Not only that, but the company is serious about eco-friendly packaging. Each pair of undies comes not in a plastic bag but in a little cloth pouch made from fabric remnants. I'm also impressed with how responsive Pact is over email; when I asked a packaging question, I got a nice reply from the CEO.
December 2009 After reading about Skoy Cloths, the biodegradable paper-towel alternative, on Fake Plastic Fish, I bought a bunch for stocking stuffers and my own kitchen, and I'm now a fan. They're lasting a long time, despite repeated washings in the laundry, and they arrive with minimal packaging.
October 2009 I was already of fan of Straus yogurt (see June 2007), but now I love it even more. According to Michael Straus, a son of the company's founder, Straus yogurt "is made, cooled, and set in stainless-steel vats, unlike most yogurts, which are poured while still hot into plastic cups to cool and set." As someone who's concerned about plastics and chemical safety, I'm happy to hear that!
July 2009 I'm using a lot more baking soda now that I'm making more of an effort to clean the house in a nontoxic way. But from now on I'll be buying Bob's Red Mill, since Arm & Hammer engages in animal testing.
July 2008 Started feeling extra-good about buying one of my fave meat substitutes, Tofurky, after learning that its maker, Turtle Island Foods, is an independent, family-owned company (Unlike Boca Foods, which is a subsidiary of Kraft, and Morningstar, which is owned by Kellogg).
April 2008 I'm going to start buying my canned beans from Eden Foods, for two reasons: it uses custom-made cans that don't contain bisphenol A, and it's an independent, family-operated company.
February 2008 From now on, whenever I order takeout or ask for a doggy bag, I’ll make sure to avoid #6 polystyrene containers (and, of course, Styrofoam).