Friday 2 May 2008

Going green in the Textile World

Marcia Zaroff, founder of Under the Canopy USA is dedicated to providing the consumer with a fusion of fashion, wellness and social responsibility, and hence specialises in providing a range of “cool organic fashion” without compromising quality or performance. She stressed the significant link between organic food and organic garments: not only did they appeal to the same consumers, but 60% of the weight of the cotton harvest goes into food as oil. Her preferred fibres were organic and Fair Trade versions of wool, cotton, silk, angora and linen, but she did also use Tencel, bamboo, and seaweed. Dyes had to be low impact, indigo was recycled. All suppliers had to demonstrate social responsibility, fair labour policies and animal rights as core values. Miscellaneous points made:
  • The US consumer feels he has more impact on the planet’s health by buying the right things than he does by voting.
  • The organic fibre market was growing rapidly – at 44% pa between 2005 and 2010 according to the first line on a slide and at “an average annual growth rate of 116%” on the next.
  • Organic cotton was a $245million business in 2002 and will be a $6.8 billion business by 2010 - presumably at retail level.
  • Organic cotton sales more than trebled from 20 million in 2005 to nearly 70 million in 2007 - no units provided.
  • Organic cotton needs to be certified: some unscrupulous suppliers claim organic if they avoid pesticide spray for the year’s production.
  • Nike target 5% organic cotton use by 2010
  • every time we increase costs by doing the right thing we make more profit” (Patagonia Clothing).
Her company partnered with the Environmental Media Association, NRDC, the Rainforest Foundation, the Rainforest Alliance, the Soil Association, the Rodale Research Institute, Amnesty International, Stop Global Warming, the Waterkeepers Alliance and the CA Coalition for Clean Air.
Asked why she used bamboo fibre, Ms Zaroff said this fast growing weed brings an interesting new handle. Did she know it was viscose rayon made from bamboo pulp in one of the more polluting and environmentally unfriendly Chinese factories? No – she thought it came direct from plant. Another audience member commented that the Chinese are working on a new mechanical extraction process to make a bamboo bast fibre, but any fine fibre with a soft handle is made using the rayon route.
Asked about US Organic cotton she said US farmers find it hard to go organic: they lease the land and can’t invest in building soil quality. They also harvest mechanically – a process with a large carbon footprint. So if you want to buy certified organic cotton, invest in, and buy direct from farms - offshore.

Challenging Sustainability

Dr Alfred Strigl of the Austrian Institute for Sustainable Development recycled his Outlook 2006 paper and listed the challenges of the age of rising temperatures and sea-levels:
· 1 to 3oC average temperature rise by 2050.
· Sea-level to go up by 0.1 to 0.3 metres by 2050.
· More natural catastrophes due to more energetic climate.
· Water shortages due to run-off pattern changes.
· World population to rise from 6.4 billion now to 10 billion in 2050.
· Along with rising population come issues related to food and water, hygiene, energy, information, human rights, terrorism, mass migrations and disease.
New points in this talk:
· US credit market debt has been rising since 1950 and moved above 3 times USA GDP in 2005 ($33.6 trillion debt)
· US “Genuine Progess Indicator” (whatever that is) has been declining since 1970
· The 3rd world pays $135million/day interest on its loans compared with receipts of $57 million/day in aid.

The annual increase in population is equivalent to a new country the size of Germany while annual soil degradation means an area the size of Germany becomes unproductive desert. Food production is declining and the rate of loss of species, especially marine species means the natural food chain diminishes. Using a financial analogy, we’ve managed to live off the Earth’s interest until 1975, but since then have been consuming both interest and capital, and the capital reserves are now dangerously low. The Club of Rome “World 3” model predicts that by 2040, on a “Business as Usual” basis:
• Natural resource availability becomes critical.
• The persistent pollution index reaches 10 times the 2000 level
• Food availability peaks and starts to collapse
• Industrial output peaks and starts to collapse
• World population peaks at about 10 billion and collapses to 3 billion by 2100

Our only hope is that humanity is intelligent enough to deal with the problems it has caused by replacing growth targets with sustainability targets. Assuming an immediate “Earth turns around to Sustainability” basis, the same Club of Rome model predicts:
• Natural resource availability does not become critical until 2100.
• Industrial output levels off and stabilises at 2015 levels.
• Food availability declines slightly to 2040 and then increases as…
• Persistent Pollution Index peaks at 4 times the 2000 level and begins to decline from 2040.
• World population stabilises at around 7.5 billion.

The ability to feed the growing population is becoming critical. Actual world grain production per capita had been declining since its 1983 peak of 342 kgs/person and stood at 290 kgs/person in 2003. Assuming it is all used for food, and not as as source of bio-ethanol, this is enough to feed 2.5 billion people at US levels of consumption or 12 billion people at the average Indian level of consumption. Ocean Biomass (seafood availability) is now at 40% of the level of 1950 and on a business as usual basis will be zero in 30 years. Meat production now accounts for 20% of all greenhouse gas emissions, is totally unsustainable, and must decline.

On the bright side, a Sustainability Megatrend is beginning to appear in Germany:
· The land area used for growing renewable resources has increase eightfold since 1993 (to 1.6 million hectares)
· The number of “bio” or “organic” labelled products has increased from 1000 to 35,000 between 2001 and 2006
· Spending on organic foods has trebelled since 1997
· Ethical investments in Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Luxembourg are rising exponentially and are up tenfold on 1997.
· Sustainability issues are now reported in 2235 German company annual reports compared with 360 in 1997.
· The market for Fair Trade products in Austria is up 5-fold since 2002.
For Dr Strigl, a Lifestyle of Health and Sustainability (LOHAS) should be adopted by all if we are to avert disaster.