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Sustainability

The True Cost of Clothing

Published on Greenbiz.com, Dec. 12, 2012; Author: Richard Mattison

“Past True Cost columns have relied on generic product data. This month, we provide a case study based on actual product data following the work PUMA has done to identify the environmental price tag of its products.

PUMA wanted to understand whether its efforts to develop more sustainable clothing products had in fact been making a positive difference after all environmental impacts across the full product lifecycle had been taken into account.

The PUMA Product Enviromental Profit and Loss (EP&L) analysis compares a pair of PUMA’s conventional Suede sneakers versus a pair of PUMA’s soon-to-be-launched biodegradable InCycle Basket sneakers.

The analysis takes account of the environmental impacts caused by greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, waste and air pollution, as well as the use of natural resources such as water and land along the entire value chain, from the generation of raw materials and production processes to the consumer phase where the product is used, washed, dried, ironed and ultimately discarded.

The results of this analysis confirm that PUMA’s focus in creating a sustainable footwear alternative was not in vain. The enviromental impacts of the conventional PUMA Suede sneaker amounted to €4.29 ($5.61) per pair, while those of the InCycle basket sneaker were only €2.95 ($3.86) – around a third less environmental damage across the product lifecycle.

How was this acheived?

Previous EP&L analysis of PUMA’s operations and supply chain identified that its environmental impacts were mainly concentrated in the raw material production and processing tiers of PUMA’s supply chain. This provided important focus areas for environmental optimization.

Greenhouse gases. Substituting the conventional PUMA Suede leather uppers for a combination organic cotton and linen led to significant GHG savings for the InCycle sneaker, as the GHGs associated with rearing cattle for leather production far exceed those related to cotton farming. Further GHG savings resulted from a switch to organic cotton which avoids the use of GHG-intensive synthetic fertilizers. And finally at the end-of-life, the InCycle Basket has the lowest GHG emissions because it is 100 percent compostable, whereas the traditional PUMA Suede is not currently recyclable and cannot be composted due to chemicals used in the production of the Suede. The PUMA Suede will ultimately end up in a landfill or incinerator.

All tallied, GHG emissions from the production, consumer use and end-of-life of the PUMA InCycle sneaker cause around 35 percent less environmental costs from GHG emissions than the conventional PUMA Suede.

Water. The InCycle sneaker outperformed the PUMA Suede with 21 percent less water consumption. This can be linked directly to leather, which requires more water during the tanning and processing phase than cotton. The PUMA InCycle sneaker does, however, have a higher water cost during the raw material phase since organic cotton farming is more intensive than cattle ranching.

Land Use. Choosing which country products and services are sourced from has a direct impact on land use valuation, since this relates to the types of ecosystems that are affected. The analysis found that the InCycle sneaker has a 20 percent reduced enviromental cost from land use because a far larger area of agricultural land is required for the production of leather, in particular related to cattle farming, than for the production of cotton.

Waste.  When analyzing waste generation throughout the product life-cycle, the InCycle sneaker creates approximately one third of what the PUMA Suede generates. The main savings are at the raw-material production and processing stages, where cotton generates far less waste than leather. Additionally, due to the compostable nature of the PUMA InCycle, there aren’t any environmental costs associated with waste at end-of-life.

Air Pollution. The PUMA InCycle sneaker has a 14 percent higher environmental cost related to air pollution than the PUMA Suede because the energy required to convert cotton into thread and weave it into fabric is higher than the energy necessary to process leather.

However, applying a financial value to these competing environmental costs quickly revealed that the negative air pollution impacts were easily offset by the much more significant savings in other areas.

Focusing on Waste

To clear the waste that 100,000 pairs of conventional sneakers cause during the production process and the consumer life, 31 waste disposal trucks are needed. Now consider this against the billions of sneakers made each year – around 21 billion pairs in 2011 alone – and you will begin to see the tip of the iceberg of what needs to change.”

To read more and understand the impact of true cost accounting, read the rest of the article here.

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle for the Holidays

Tis’ the season for gift-giving, gift-receiving and, as a consequence, waste generation. Here’s some tips to consider that will put a greener-tinge to your holiday season.

  • Many thousands of paper and plast shopping bags end up in landfills every year. Reduce the number of bags thrown out by bringing reusable bags for holiday gift shopping. Tell store clerks you don’t need a bag for small or oversized purchases.
  • Wrap gifts in recycled or reused wrapping paper or funny papers. Or use a used brown grocery bag you/your kids decorate for the occassion. Also remember to save or recycle used wrapping paper.
  • Give a gift card. More than two-thirds of American consumers purchase at least one gift card as a holidy present for a loved one. They’re appreciated, they never expire, and they require no fancy gift-wrapping.
  • Say “Happy Holidays” over the phone or internet. An estiamted 2.6 billion holiday cards are sold each year in the United States, enough to fill a football field 10 stories high. If every family reduced thier mailing list by just one card, the nationw ould save 50,000 cubic yards of paper. If you have Internet access, consider sending electronic holiday cards this year. Check the selection at commercial sites like hallmark.com, bluemountain.com, or 123christmascards.com.  You can also check charitable support groups like care2.com or conservation groups like The Nature Conservancy.
  • Repurpose old holiday cards – donate your old cards to a nursery or day care center for arts and crafts projects. Or, cut up cards to be used as gift tags, bookmarks, greeting cards, placemats, or decorations. Used cards, especially those with large pictures to cut out, can also be used as decorations. Just put a hole at the top of the card and knot a piece of string to lace through the hole to hang on next year’s Christmas tree, door handles, etc.
  • Recycle that tree. Nationwide, an estimated 15 million used Christmas trees end up in landfills. Remember to recycle trees locally or turn them into mulch for water conservation and weed control in the garden. Reuse branches to make colorful holiday wreaths and separate the pine needles from tree branches to create tree-scented sachet bags. Or, consider an artificial tree or a “living” tree that can be replanted in the yard.
  • Make room for new gadgets and toys. Outgrown toys, clothes and furniture may be donated to charitable groups like Goodwill Industries, The Salvation Army, American Cancer Society, or many local shelters and thrift stores.
  • Shopping for a new cell phone? Americans ten to upgrade their cell phones every 18 to 24 months, and the U.S. EPA estimates Americans discard 125 million old cell phones annually, creating 65,000 tons of waste. What’s more, the old phones contain hazardous materials- including mercury, cadmium, and arsenic – that cannot be accepted at landfills. Look up cell phone recycling on the Internet and you’ll get back both sites where you can sell your phone as well as organizations that gratefully accept your old cell phone donation.
  • Buy reusable batteries. About 40 percent of all battery sales occur during the holiday season. Consider purchasing rechargeable batteries instead as they can be used again and again. And don’t forget:  at the end of their life, rechargeable batteries need to be properly recycled and not discarded in the trash. Check out call2recycle.org for battery recycling locations in the area.  
  • Consider the durability of a product before you buy it as a gift. Cheaper, less durable items often wear out quickly, creating waste and costing you money.
  • When buying gifts, check product labels to determine an item’s recyclability and whether it is made from recycled materials. Buying recycled encourages manufacturers to make more recycled-content products available.
  • Turn off or unplug holiday lights during the day. Doing so will not only save energy, but will also help your lights last longer.
  • Recycle packing peanuts. Check with local postal shipping stores to see if they will accept foam peanuts for recycling. Call “The Peanut Hotline” at 800-828-2214 to find the nearest location, or check the Plastic Loose Fill Council website for a drop-off location near you.

Sources:  U.S. EPA and Cal Recycle