Archive for the ‘Opinion’ Category
AlertNet have released a special report “Hungry World“. We heard about it via Nourishing the Planet, who featured the article “Top 10 Food Trailblazers” in their newsletter recently. The report includes articles on a range of issues to be considered when we think of feeding the world in 2050, such as Africa feeding the world; Growing food in cities; Land grabbing for food security, and food commodities speculation. As well as the articles, the report also features a “package” of videos and a series of blogs. It’s all too much to try and include here, so follow the links and explore!
From “Discussion round up: sustainability in the fashion business” by Jenny Purt:
What should the priorities be for the apparel business?
Labour conditions, water footprints, fibres and carbon.
An initial step would be for companies to make a concerted effort to adopt a few fabrics that are more sustainable but which may cost 5-10% more in base price. This would cause a chain reaction in the rest of industry. As big brands source more responsible textiles for their collections, there will be a bigger volume of orders which will lower the overall manufacturing cost (and therefore retail price), making the product more accessible to the mainstream market.[...]
How can companies increase sustainability throughout their supply chains?
In order to implement systemic change, there must first be a market for sustainable products, and currently that is quite small. Companies need to heighten customer awareness of where clothing comes from, how it is made and the social and environmental impact of its production. One panellist commented that there is a market for sustainability but currently consumers just don’t know enough. The first step is internal transparency.[...]
Can collaboration help?
Sharing best practices is a key element for change in the industry. Sharing knowledge is critical because the clothing industry is very complex and there is not just one answer. Only through collaboration at different stages of the supply chain we can find solutions.
How can brands bring ethical fashion into the mainstream?
While there are some super-premium ethical fashion brands, the market lacks stylish, affordable clothes from well-known high-street brands. One of the problems is that many ethical fashion companies do not get the exposure of the big, non-ethical brands because they cannot afford PR representation which is the engine house of the fashion industry. This means while there may be editors and stylists who would like some of the ethical fashion being produced, they are not exposed to it in the same way they are to big labels. The Mintel report in 2009 showed that some consumers would buy ethical fashion if prices were lower. However others said they would not trust cheap ethical fashion.[...]
What steps are being made across the apparel industry to encourage people to value quality and longevity over quantity and trends?
Mainstream retailers saw a “flight to quality” during the last recession. This means customers moving away from the cheaper, value products to more design-led and added-value pieces. This could be an interesting way of moving mainstream fashion to more sustainable sources if we can demonstrate real design value in ethical alternatives.[...]
Is organic cotton a sustainable solution?
There are a whole range of viewpoints on organic cotton with the most controversial being that farming cotton, organic or not, is not a sustainable option due to water availability. With many man-made fibres starting to mimic the touch, feel and handle of organic cotton, we will start to see cotton production levels falling and replacement fibres taking centre stage. The WWF recently produced a report on cotton highlighting the work done by the Better Cotton Initiative and the wider issues surrounding cotton production.[...]
Adopting more than one fibre type
Made-by has created an environmental benchmark for fibres which compares 23 fibres and ranks them on their sustainability impact. The organisation works with brands to develop a sustainable fibre strategy, swapping less sustainable fibres for those that are more sustainable.[...]
How can brands communicate sustainable approaches to consumers?
M&S [Marks & Spencer] is a leader in terms getting the message of its sustainability strategy out to the public but there are also other big brands doing some really interesting things. For example, Nike’s apparel eco index has now been released as open source. The company has also integrated its sustainability team into its business innovation lab with the ethos of “business as normal”. Puma are well known for its Clever Little Bag campaign, getting rid of shoe boxes and using a reusable bag instead. The sports company is also working on product development with eco scorecards and converting more of their range to sustainable materials, including cotton made in Africa. It is key for a brand to find an appropriate product and lexicon to communicate their approach to sustainability [...]
How can companies change consumer behaviour?
One panellist said that some of the best examples have come from the laundry sector. Procter & Gamble’s Ariel Turn to 30 campaign has been successful in raising awareness around washing at lower temperatures to save money as has Persil’s Small and Mighty washing product which is designed to clean in 30 minutes. There have also been encouraging examples in the apparel industry with Patagonia developing closed loop recycling for their fleeces and Tesco’s collection and redistribution of used school uniforms through British Red Cross a few years ago.[...]
How can businesses work with suppliers to increase sustainability?
Panellists agreed that talking to suppliers is key to getting internal transparency. One panellist said that in her experience suppliers are quite knowledgeable and enthusiastic about traceability and sustainable materials. If a business has an existing supply chain, a life-cycle-wide assessment of the overall impact might help identify the weakest areas in the chain. An initiative such as the Sustainable Apparel Coalition’s could help identify what issues to start chipping away at.[...]
What comes next for the fashion industry?
One of the major trends will be securing resources, raw materials, energy and water to run factories. Cotton prices have gone up over the last 12 months with factories in Bangladesh suffering four or five power cuts every day. With rising energy and water bills all over the world, even the big brands will struggle with these issues. Companies should see these challenges as an opportunity for more sustainable designs. The sector will face even tougher competition as suppliers from emerging countries establish their own brands and export to international markets in parallel with their work as contractors. New rules must be set and a common and clearer understanding about what is and is not sustainable is needed.
Key issues are:
- Consumer behaviour change – especially in how we clean and dispose of clothes.
- Making sustainable development desirable.
- Climate change adaptation – as the planet’s temperature changes, consumers needs from clothes will change.
Read the full article by Jenny Purt on the Guardian.
Source: Sustainable Cities Collective
Photo by Chuck Wolfe
From “Confronting the Urban Mirror” by Chuck Wolfe:
To my mind, one of the most compelling features of a provocative urban environment is a place where people watch people—which becomes a small-scale human observatory. Such places are often indicative of safe public environments, including active streets, corners and squares. They are particularly prevalent in cultures where neighbors readily interact, and the seams between public and private are softer than zoning setbacks, while still allowing for a private world.
The sustainable cities we seek should include small places, where, as here, when the bustle of life begins in the morning and evening, people interact with facets of the city around them. I suspect that workable density, in the city of the future, will abound with the types of spaces readily ascertainable from cities of the past. We need places where we sit on the edges of the public realm and look in the mirror, to be reminded of who we really are.
Read the full article and check out the delightful photos by Chuck Wolfe on Sustainable Cities Collective.
Posted in Opinion by Kate Archdeacon on May 31st, 2011
What if Nike advertised the way that local government advertises Notices of Application?
From the transcript:
How often do we hear that people just don’t care? How many times have you been told that real, substantial change isn’t possible because most people are too selfish, too stupid or too lazy to try to make a difference in their community? I propose to you today that apathy as we think we know it doesn’t actually exist, but rather, that people do care, but that we live in a world that actively discourages engagement by constantly putting obstacles and barriers in our way.
Local politics — schools, zoning, council elections — hit us where we live. So why don’t more of us actually get involved? Is it apathy? Dave Meslin says no. He identifies 7 barriers that keep us from taking part in our communities, even when we truly care. (Recorded at TEDxToronto, October 2010, in Toronto, Ontario. Duration: 7:05)
Watch the video on TED here – the video seems to run out before the end of Dave’s talk, so read the transcript to get the final few seconds.
“… a lot of what makes cities great is not just their efficiency, but the inefficiencies that also make them attractive and livable.”
The densification of cities and the ways to do so is an ongoing topic of interest here at Sustainable Cities Net. This article, “The man who thinks Manhattan isn’t dense enough” by Kaid Benfield via Sustainable Cities Collective caught our attention because it shows the complexity of the issue, even among “experts”.
Here are some extracts from the article:
New York County, which comprises all of Manhattan, is the densest county in America, at 71,166 people per square mile. It is twice as dense as number-two Brooklyn (which, incidentally, is followed by two more New York City counties, Bronx and Queens, at numbers three and four, respectively). Manhattan is over four times as dense as number-five San Francisco.
This makes me wonder about Ed Glaeser, a libertarian economist who is the latest hero of some of my new urbanist friends, who have been promoting the heck out of his upcoming speech at their annual meeting. Glaeser thinks Manhattan could be so much better if, you know, we just got rid of some of those pesky rules that get in the way of building still more density. I’m not exaggerating, and I’ll give some examples in a minute.
[...] Glaeser’s current book is called The Triumph of the City. It has received a lot of attention and praise, not least because its author is an intellectual who does his homework and packs a lot of detail into his writing.
[...] He previewed the book in The Atlantic, in an article called “How Skyscrapers Can Save the City.” Here’s Glaeser’s pro-density argument in a nutshell: “The magic of cities comes from their people, but those people must be well served by the bricks and mortar that surround them. Cities need roads and buildings that enable people to live well and to connect easily with one another . . . in the most desirable cities, whether they’re on the Hudson River or the Arabian Sea, height is the best way to keep prices affordable and living standards high.”
It’s basically about efficient use of land, and I agree with much of it, though personally I think there is a lot of room for more density in most American cities and suburbs without making it all about skyscrapers. I also agree, to an extent, with other points Glaeser makes in that article and in the book about overzealous NIMBYs and over-prescriptive zoning. But here’s the rub: a lot of what makes cities great is not just their efficiency, but the inefficiencies that also make them attractive and livable.
[...] Before leaving the topic, I want to return to a point I made earlier, because it’s important: Glaeser is right in his central points about cities and density. They are good for both the environment and the economy, so part of me is glad that his views are getting attention. My issue is with the lack of nuance and the failure to give enough credit to the benefits of preservation and environmental protection, both of which enrich our well-being and that of cities.
Read the full article by Kaid Benfield on Sustainable Cities Collective.
I AM A CLIMATE SCIENTIST By Dan Ilic
“In the media landscape there are climate change deniers and believers, but rarely are those speaking about climate change actual climate scientists.”
This (clean extended) rap from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s (ABC) Hungry Beast features some real, vocal, climate scientists responding to the posturing of climate change deniers in the media – check it out for some sweet relief if nothing else. There are a couple of versions around with varying degrees of adult concepts so be aware if little ones are watching with you. KA
From “Information Technology: Coming to a Food Policy Near You” by Mari Pierce-Quinonez:
There are currently dozens of smartphone and internet apps designed to bring good food to tech-savvy consumers. You can now type in your location, the type of food you want and immediately get both directions to the best restaurant to go and the story behind the food they’re serving. If buying food in bulk to cook at home is more your thing, beta versions of a wholesale purchasing app is now available by invitation. Or if you want to grow your own, there are applications to aid you in planning your garden, sites to find a yard if you don’t already have one, and mobile apps with maps to fruit-bearing trees on public property. But the food system is more than foodies finding their next fix: the modern tech-movement goes beyond consumer-oriented apps. Food advocates and academics are using technology to connect the food system dots and are making good food policy decisions easier.
In the past, federal policymakers kept track of their own program-specific data: how many acres of farmland they had preserved, the nutrition status of the US population, the amount of vitamin D available in a particular type of milk. By moving everything online and opening this data up to everyone, all sorts of sophisticated policy recommendations can be made. The USDA’s Food Environment Atlas was released last year to much fanfare for the interactive maps that could show the state of the national food system. Much more exciting was the fact that this data was all available for download, and the site continues to act as a datahub for food policy advocates. Advocates and technophiles are using this data to produce reports and visualizations that help rally support as they begin to mobilize around the 2012 farm bill.
Read the full article by Mari Pierce-Quinonez over on Projects To Finish Someday.
From Let No Man Say It Cannot Be Done by Lester Brown:
We need an economy for the twenty-first century, one that is in sync with the Earth and its natural support systems, not one that is destroying them. The fossil fuel-based, automobile-centered, throwaway economy that evolved in western industrial societies is no longer a viable model—not for the countries that shaped it or for those that are emulating them. In short, we need to build a new economy, one powered with carbon-free sources of energy—wind, solar, and geothermal—one that has a diversified transport system and that reuses and recycles everything. We can change course and move onto a path of sustainable progress, but it will take a massive mobilization—at wartime speed.
Whenever I begin to feel overwhelmed by the scale and urgency of the changes we need to make, I re-read the economic history of U.S. involvement in World War II because it is such an inspiring study in rapid mobilization. Initially, the United States resisted involvement in the war and responded only after it was directly attacked at Pearl Harbor. But respond it did. After an all-out commitment, the U.S. engagement helped turn the tide of war, leading the Allied Forces to victory within three-and-a-half years. In his State of the Union address on January 6, 1942, one month after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, President Franklin D. Roosevelt announced the country’s arms production goals. The United States, he said, was planning to produce 45,000 tanks, 60,000 planes, and several thousand ships. He added, “Let no man say it cannot be done.” No one had ever seen such huge arms production numbers. Public skepticism abounded. But Roosevelt and his colleagues realized that the world’s largest concentration of industrial power was in the U.S. automobile industry. Even during the Depression, the United States was producing 3 million or more cars a year.[...]
In her book No Ordinary Time, Doris Kearns Goodwin describes how various firms converted. A sparkplug factory switched to the production of machine guns. A manufacturer of stoves produced lifeboats. A merry-go-round factory made gun mounts; a toy company turned out compasses; a corset manufacturer produced grenade belts; and a pinball machine plant made armor-piercing shells.[...]
The point is that it did not take decades to restructure the U.S. industrial economy. It did not take years. It was done in a matter of months. If we could restructure the U.S. industrial economy in months, then we can restructure the world energy economy during this decade. With numerous U.S. automobile assembly lines currently idled, it would be a relatively simple matter to retool some of them to produce wind turbines, as the Ford Motor Company did in World War II with B-24 bombers, helping the world to quickly harness its vast wind energy resources. This would help the world see that the economy can be restructured quickly, profitably, and in a way that enhances global security. [...]
One of the questions I hear most frequently is, What can I do? People often expect me to suggest lifestyle changes, such as recycling newspapers or changing light bulbs. These are essential, but they are not nearly enough. Restructuring the global economy means becoming politically active, working for the needed changes, as the grassroots campaign against coal-fired power plants is doing. Saving civilization is not a spectator sport.
Inform yourself. Read about the issues. Pick an issue that’s meaningful to you, such as tax restructuring to create an honest market, phasing out coal-fired power plants, or developing a world class-recycling system in your community. Or join a group that is working to provide family planning services to the 215 million women who want to plan their families but lack the means to do so. You might want to organize a small group of like-minded individuals to work on an issue that is of mutual concern. You can begin by talking with others to help select an issue to work on. Once your group is informed and has a clearly defined goal, ask to meet with your elected representatives on the city council or the state or national legislature. Write or e-mail your elected representatives about the need to restructure taxes and eliminate fossil fuel subsidies. Remind them that leaving environmental costs off the books may offer a sense of prosperity in the short run, but it leads to collapse in the long run.[...]
Read the full article by Lester Brown on the EcoBuddhism site.
From “Community composting – here one day, gone the next” by Russ Grayson:
“…A new technology or new approach to doing something had a greater chance of long-term success when it comes as a package containing the technology + a clear plan for its maintenance + the training of those who will take over and use it.”
What had started as an innovative idea of local people came to an end when, one warm Wednesday afternoon in late March 2011, the City of Sydney removed the community composting installation in Peace Park, Chippendale. The removal reminded me of something I had learned some time ago at a place not very far away.
Technology transfer: a three-legged construction
In those days I worked for an international development NGO operating in the South Pacific and what I learned still makes a lot of sense to me. We worked in village food security and small scale, sustainable farming systems using the LEISA (Low External Input Sustainable Agriculture) approach, however the NGO—then based only hundreds of metres away in the University of Technology, Sydney, though 14 years in the past—also did village micro-hydro electrification.
It would have been easy for the NGO to have come in to some Solomon Island village and install a micro-hydro system, turn on the lights and leave. That approach was not unknown when it came to development assistance work by government programs and even by small, community based NGOs. Instead, those in the NGO were savvy enough to know that technology transfer, to be done properly, comes as a three legged structure. That technology transfer structure is this: a new technology or new approach to doing something had a greater chance of long-term success when it comes as a package containing the technology + a clear plan for its maintenance + the training of those who will take over and use it. It’s a simple enough proposition but it’s all too often ignored. The lesson has stayed with me and it came to mind when I started working with the City of Sydney where I collaborate with the City’s waste projects co-ordinator on community composting trials.
Gone, but a reboot is coming
Community composting is a new idea both to communities and to local government. Neither have tried it before. Solutions are being developed and trialled as we go. There are no instruction manuals. The City and local people installed a community composting system consisting of seven Aerobin composters (one for each day of the week) in Peace Park in inner urban Chippendale that is within easy walking distance of Sydney’s busy Railway Square.
That day in late March, the City in agreement with the local people who had been maintaining the system removed the seven Aerobins of the community composting facility. The reason? Cockroaches. Multitudes of cockroaches. The community compost had gone from a good idea in local resource recovery to a public health issue. There had been the comment from locals about odour and flies, though these may have been not the common house fly but vinegar flies and other flying insects that appear during composting as part of the decomposition process.
From “The omnivore’s other dilemma: expanding access to non-industrial food” by Bob Comis:
A couple of years ago at a farmers market, a woman approached my stall, a little apprehensively. She looked old and beaten down. Her face was weathered and worn. Her hands looked rough and gritty. But, it was clear that she was younger than she looked. Her clothes were poor. Her jeans were worn thin around the knees and had faded spots of dirt here and there on her thighs. Before she even said a word, I imagined a life of hard work and hard times for her. She came over to the stall and without looking up at me started looking over the meat case, and then after a moment, she fingered the edge of the price sheet for a moment and then picked it up to take a closer look. As she looked, I waited, without saying anything, wondering how things were going to go. I had long ago stopped stereotyping people. Yes, I had imagined a hard life for her, but that didn’t mean that she wasn’t willing to pay half a day’s wages on pasture-raised, local pork, or grassfed lamb. I’d been surprised by too many people to make that mistake again. She carefully placed the price sheet back on the table and placed the small orange wee-bee little pumpkin paper weight back on top of it.
Then for the first time, she looked up at me. I smiled. “Hi,” I said. “Hello,” she said, and then as we looked at each other silently for a moment, I was taken very much by surprise. Her eyes quickly welled up with tears; one slipped out and slid slowly down her cheek. She raised a hand up and wiped it off. “I’m sorry,” she said. “Don’t worry about it,” I replied. “It’s just … it’s just that I am so frustrated.” I didn’t say anything. It was clear that she wanted to speak her piece. After a moment, still with tear-filled eyes, she said, “You know, I want … ,” she wiped another tear away, ” … I want so badly to stop eating grocery store meat. It’s terrible. Terrible for you. It tastes terrible. It’s all full of crap, hormones, drugs, and God knows what.” I nodded. “But this,” she said, sweeping a hand over the meat case, “I just can’t afford it, any of it.” “I’m sorry,” I said, a little uncomfortable and slightly embarrassed.
I looked away from her, around the rest of the farmers market. The people at the market were not monolithically well off, or white. It was not just soccer moms and exuberant well-off foodies. But, it was close. I didn’t know what to say. I had often been confronted by people over the price of my meat. “That’s ridiculous!” “So expensive!” “Phhftt!” One old lady even said, “you should be ashamed!” Little did she know that I already was, always had been. I had set out in farming with a mission, to offer ethically and ecologically raised meat at the lowest price possible, low enough even for people like the woman standing in front of me at that moment. But, I quickly discovered that this was a pipe dream.
I couldn’t sell pork chops for less than $7.00/lb. and keep the farm going, and even at that price, my wife would still need to continue subsidizing the farm. The low-volume, direct market system makes it impossible. The costs are simply too high. USDA slaughter and butchering alone doubles the cost of getting the animal to market. A lamb has $3.00/lb. of small-scale, local slaughter and butchering in it! A pig, $2.00/lb. The woman standing in front of me had no idea how angry and frustrated I was. She had no idea that her tears were my tears.
I had set out to make meat broadly affordable, but instead, I was selling exclusive, high-priced meat to the well-off.
Read the full article by Bob Comis on Grist, to find out more about scaling up and calling for a commitment from supermarkets to local food.