What does ‘sustainable’ even mean?

It’s rare that a term becomes such a key part of common lexicon in such a short space of time as sustainability. The term itself is derived from the Latin ‘sustinere‘, meaning ‘to maintain’, ‘to hold’ or ‘to support’. The word can now be found used widely in policy, commerce and economics, usually in a way that pertains strictly to environmental sustainability

It’s become widely used in the last 30 years in spite of (or perhaps because of) its multitude of potential definitions. For example, this catch-all term can be found explaining why you should buy a new dress, why a city council should build new properties or why a brand’s coffee is better than other coffees. But what does it actually mean?

Around 30 years ago, the World Commission on Environment and Development published Our Common Future, charting a path for development that “meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” This is essentially our current definition of environmental sustainability. However, the term has since come under fire for lacking any unified, definitive or quantifiable meaning – basically, it means nothing.

There is no doubt that the fashion industry requires movement in a direction that manages its demands on the environment without compromising what’s available for future generations. No one would argue that the fashion industry, responsible for 10% of global emissions, doesn’t require more investment in ‘sustainability’, but without any quantifiable definition of the term, what does this look like?

Various other terms within many industries are verified using third-party certifications and accreditations, meaning that a brand or business has to prove it is doing something to be able to use the term. The Soil Association, for example, is a UK-based charity that regularly reviews manufacturing processes throughout the supply chain to ensure a business is producing organic products. You cannot use the term ‘organic’ without being certified. The Global Organic Textile Exchange (GOTS), does the same for textiles, showing the buyer that the products throughout the supply chain have been verified by an external body as organic.

One issue with sustainability within the fashion industry is that almost all accreditations are voluntary. Rather than having regulatory standards, similar to those within the food industry and mandatory energy labels on EU white goods, accreditations are seen as ‘optional extras’, often used as a marketing tool rather than a baseline standard.

Because of this erosion of state power, brands and organisations within the fashion industry looking to become more ‘sustainable’ are left in a state of ‘choice paralysis’; there are a multitude of private-sector accreditations which all claim to provide certification of ‘sustainability’ in marginally different ways. And of course, because they’re private sector, all claim to be slightly better than their variants, yet none are government regulated. This isn’t to say they don’t all provide some benefit – many do in considerable ways – it’s just that the whole industry is open to confusion and lack of regulation, to the point that the consumer has a very hard time understanding what they’re buying into. 

Various voluntary initiatives available to the textiles industry – but by no means all of them

So what can we do?

With WOVN’s 2020 consumer report showing an 84% increase in the use of terms such as sustainable, ethical, Fair Trade and eco-friendly and an increased desire to shop from brands seen as ‘sustainable’, it’s important now, more than ever, to understand what this term really means. As brands cotton on to this fact, there’s an increasingly opaque arms-race to appear more sustainable, where being truly environmentally conscious is almost secondary to appearing as such.

There have been calls to incorporate ‘Carbon Labelling‘ on clothing, but of course being sustainable isn’t about simply releasing as little carbon as possible (in the same way that the health of a food item isn’t about being as low calorie as possible), but also things like wastewater reduction, ceasing the use of harmful chemicals, improving labour standards, using renewable materials, reducing waste textiles and so much more. While innovative, labelling like this would only solve a proportion of the problem, and potentially just become another method of greenwashing.

Accreditations will play an important role in the fashion industry’s road towards becoming more in balance with the environment, but there are serious changes that need to happen, including regulation of the regulators. Consolidating numerous similar accreditations into larger, stronger and more rigorous ones would be a powerful first step. 

Secondly, as a globalised industry, fashion requires international regulation. The majority of the textile industry has outsourced its negative environmental and social impacts to the Global South, affecting the people and habitats that can least afford to protect themselves, all the while making masses of money for the corporations residing in the Global North. This inequality simultaneously exacerbates the issues and hides them from view of the consumer. This means that it’s hard to know how what you’re buying is impacting the people who made the clothes, for better or worse. Because of this, we need international regulations throughout the supply chain, protecting both the environment in the world’s most biodiverse areas and those most affected by the industry’s indiscretions. 

In the meantime, companies must be more transparent about their supply chains, allowing the consumer to make their own decisions about what is ‘sustainable’ and what is not. After all, no brand is going to be perfect in all regards, certainly not while industry accreditations are such a minefield. It should be possible for the consumer to decide what matters most to them, and be able to accurately measure up brands to this standard. It is important that this doesn’t automatically disadvantage those choosing to become more transparent; while transparency may highlight areas requiring improvement, brands that choose to avoid transparency for fear of what it may show up should be penalised beyond those showing up less favourable elements within their supply chain. This is important because transparency is the first step towards accountability. Brands that doesn’t show the former will never have the latter.

Consumers, while requesting greater transparency and action from the worst offenders, should also realise that no amount of sustainable production will counteract buying clothes we don’t need. Buying less overall, buying secondhand, fixing what we already have and finding new homes for clothes we no longer wear will always be better than shopping, even from ‘sustainable’ brands. 

Further up the chain there should be incentives and clear direction for brands wanting to do better. This direction should be passed on to suppliers, with brands using their purchasing power to push suppliers to be better, and workers using unions to effect chain from the ground up. Large brands and conglomerates especially have huge amounts of power to effect change, and it’s time they were forced to do so. 

Over over 300,000 tonnes of clothing ends up in landfill in the UK each year – no matter how sustainable the brand, this can never be environmentally friendly.

TL;DR

  • There are many steps available to brands looking to become more sustainable, in whichever way they choose to interpret the term.
  • However, without quantifying what sustainability actually means, it’s going to be difficult for the fashion industry to ever reach the goal of being ‘more sustainable’ in any meaningful way.
  • Currently there is a mishmash of private-sector accreditations and certifications all with overlapping goals being regulated with varying degrees of success. Without unifying these standards and consolidating the accreditations that exist, it will be hard for consumers to be able to assess which brands are truly sustainable vs which are using accreditations as a facade.
  • As the fashion industry is a global one, it requires global regulatory bodies, which currently don’t exist. Currently it is beneficial for brands to outsource their labour and environmental harm to the Global South, which doesn’t have the resources to protect itself. International regulation could limit this harm.
  • In the meantime, brands should improve transparency of their supply chains to allow consumers to choose who they want to buy from. Brands should be congratulated for improving transparency, although not at the expense of action which is the obvious end goal (H&M is one of the most transparent brands but also one of fashion’s biggest polluters – transparency can’t come at the expense of action).
  • Consumers have the power to request greater transparency from brands, and also to stop buying from the biggest polluters. Shopping small businesses is a great place to start, but we should only buy what we really need. No amount of sustainability will make up for purchasing a wardrobe of clothes you never wear.
  • Large brands have huge amounts of purchasing power and are in a strong position to effect change. It’s about time they did so.

If you enjoyed this blog post and would like to read more, there is a great report on palm oil, fishing and textiles, all of which suffer the same lack of unified regulation – you can read it here. If you regularly read and enjoy my articles, please consider making a small contribution to the running of my blog.

What to do with your old trainers

As a runner, I have a permanent underlying guilt about the fact that I literally wear through my shoes in a relatively short amount of time. I run some tough trails, meaning that any trainers I own (trail shoes especially) undergo a fair amount of wear and tear, and usually break to the point of being unusable by 18 months in. At this point they are relegated to walking and gardening shoes, or thrown out.

My favourite Columbia trail shoes, which have been relegated to gardening and walking shoes after just a year

Of the 24 billion pairs of shoes produced each year, 90% are likely to end up in landfill. This is both due to the over-production of (often poorly-made) shoes, and the lack of widespread recycling systems. However, once your shoes make it to landfill, they will likely take hundreds or thousands of years to break down due to their plastic composition (PVC or EPA makes up 35% of shoes globally), all the while releasing toxic chemicals into the surrounding area. In landfill, due to the anoxic conditions, they’re likely to never properly break down at all.

Across the globe, we each buy approximately 2.5 pairs of shoes a year, with most of those sales happening in just 10 major markets. The average American buys over 7 pairs a year. The vast majority (almost all) companies selling shoes do not offer end of life solutions for their products, instead relying on landfill and pushing up demand for further consumption. However, 52% of shoppers in the UK said they’d be more likely to buy from a company if it offers an end of life solution, e.g. recycling or fixing, with 60% being willing to pay more for shoes that had this option.

With trainers the problem is further exacerbated, with experts suggesting that trainers get replaced every 500 to 750km (300-500 miles), which equates to 4 to 6 months for someone who runs 20 miles a week. Even if you eke out every last step from your shoes, they are not designed to last beyond their useful life so may tear or break within the year, and it can be dangerous to run on totally worn-out shoes, increasing the risk of injury.

So what can we do with our old trainers, once worn out or no longer wanted?

Donate

The best option is to donate unwanted shoes that are still usable. If you forget cosmetics, the majority of shoes we throw out are still perfectly functional in their job to protect feet. Better quality shoes can be sold via Depop, and others donated to charity shops. For running shoes, The Running Charity donates activewear to young people who would otherwise be unable to afford them. You can send your unwanted clothes and shoes in to them to be given a new life. Similarly, ReRun Clothing is another organisation that accepts unwanted running clothes, which are sold. All the profits go back into the running community. You can also buy secondhand and up-cycled products here! Find your nearest donation point.

Repair

Repairing shoes should be far more common than it is, with cobblers fixing all sorts of damage and wear on shoes. However, this is little harder on trainers, due to the complex support required. Speak to your local cobbler to see what they can offer. Very few brands offer reconditioning services, but Vivo Barefoot has just launched ReVivo, a service that repairs and re-sells old and unwanted Vivo shoes, providing lower priced options with a significantly reduced environmental impact. The shoes are often as good as new, proving that reconditioning and repairing trainers is not as hard as previously assumed, setting a precedent for the rest of the industry. This small family-run brand is showing that if they can provide end of life solutions for shoes, large brands should undoubtedly be able to too.

Vivo Barefoot are providing innovative options for unwanted or old vivo products

Recycle

The next best option for completely worn-out shoes is to recycle. Nike’s Reuse-A-Shoe scheme has processed 33 million pairs of shoes since 1993 when it launched. These shoes get recycled into surfaces for playgrounds, running tracks and other clothes. See where you can drop of your shoes. The company I:CO provides recycling services for brands in the US, partnering with brands such as Asics and Columbia to collect unwanted shoes and clothing in return for vouchers. In the UK shoe recycling can sometimes be found near supermarket superstores and specialised recycling centres. Many specialist running shops around the UK also have their own shoe recycling programmes – pop into your local one and see if this is something they offer. Runner’s Need is providing recycling bins as part of their Recycle My Run scheme in stores up to the 31st Dec 2020, giving a £20 voucher in return for a pair of old trainers. Don’t forget to tie your shoes together to prevent pairs getting separated!

Many specialist running stores provide options for recycling your old trainers

Although the above options are great, it’s worth remembering that it is impossible to be fully sustainable while simultaneously consuming at the rate we currently consume. Recycling and donating are great, but not if your’e only doing so in order to validate buying new shoes/clothes. As runners, we should be aware of the world around us, and the impact we have on it. Although running is a self-propelled sport, you can lessen or increase your impact based on the purchasing decisions you make.

However, the blame does not fall entirely on the consumer. There is a real dearth of beneficial end of life options for shoes globally, and brands have no real incentive to fix this. For an industry worth more than $200 billion in 2020, requesting further research into, and better options for a shoe’s end of life should not be too much to ask. While brands product ‘eco-friendly’ shoe ranges or styles here and there (e.g. Nike’s Space Hippie shoe, Adidas’ Ultraboost DNA Loop), the quantity is nowhere near enough to make even a dent on the non-sustainable plastic shoes created each year. If sustainable shoes and end of life options are available, why are we not insisting on them? It’s time to ask brands to do better.

What do you do with your old shoes once you’re done with them? Do you know of any brands changing the game when it comes to recycling trainers? If you enjoyed this article, please consider making a small contribution to the running of my blog.

Sustainable & Ethical Gift Guide 2020

Buying presents over Christmas time can be an absolute minefield for the average person and even more so if you’re trying to be conscious with your consumerism. The average British adult will spend £512.85 on gifts each Christmas, meaning nearly 27 billion is spent in the UK total at this time of year – imagine the positive impact this could have if it were spent purely ethically and sustainably, supporting small local businesses!

Here are some gift ideas – send this to family and friends if they’re unsure what to get you too. This post was written in collaboration with Hattie @hattie_eco – my research assistant and sustainability expert. Go and check out her Instagram!

Organic basics produces ethical and sustainable underwear and activewear

Clothes/Fashion/Accessories

  • Organic Basics – This underwear and activewear brand produces beautiful eco-friendly and ethically produced clothes in Europe. They use recycled and organic fabrics and regenerative agriculture to minimise environmental impact.
  • Lucy & Yak – Everyone’s favourite dungaree brand Lucy & Yak places supply chain transparency at the forefront of their production values. They publicly share information about their factories and commitment to people and planet. Oh, and their dungarees are awesome.
  • Made My Wardrobe – One of the most sustainable ways to have new clothes is to make them yourself. Gifting a pattern to sew your own dungarees costs only £12.50, or with fabric included it’s £63 and provides hours of meditative entertainment too.
  • Endless Wardrobe (second hand purchases) – The most sustainable item of clothing is the one you already have. This is the ethos of Endless Wardrobe, which loans out outfits for a fraction of the price they would cost new, to be worn and sent back – don’t worry, dry cleaning is included in the price! They also offer second-hand ex-rental clothes if you fall in love with something you’ve rented.
  • Amma Ski Lanka – This kickstarter provides employment and training for mothers through flexible, part time, fairly paid jobs within the textile industry. They also produce zero-waste ethical and sustainably manufactured garments. By pledging to this kickstarter you’ll be funding women in Sri Lanka to receive training, and you will be gifted various accessories in return, dependent on your donation.
  • Yala Jewellery – Black-owned B Corp accredited jewellery brand Yala produces stunning jewellery. A lot of gold jewellery is neither ethical nor sustainable, so Yala opts for brass and they are transparent about production methods.
  • We Are Meg – For the active but eco-conscious giftee, We Are Meg produces exercise accessories such as foam rollers and yoga blocks made from sustainably-sourced cork. They’re about about conscious recovery that’s good for both you and the environment.

Skincare/toiletries

  • Evolve Beauty UK – UK based organic skincare made in small batches. Their production studio is wind-powered and all their packaging is eco-friendly. All products are vegan and cruelty free.
  • Upcircle Beauty – Upcircle is a cruelty free and vegan skincare brand that upcycles waste such as coffee grounds into skincare. They were also winner of the 2020 Circular Economy Award, so you know you’re buying from a market-leading brand tackling some of the biggest issues facing the planet.
  • Narloa – Black-owned startup Narloa has been featured in the Evening Standard, Buzzfeed and Women’s Health, among others. Known for their beautiful face oils, as well as bath products, these are all, of course, vegan, nature-based and cruelty-free.
  • Bramblewood Soap – Homemade in Dorset, these soaps are the epitome of handmade luxury. And, as everyone is using a lot of soap at the moment, why not buy a few for friends and family?
  • Wild deodorant (subscription also available)  – Wild is an innovative deodorant brand fighting against our culture of waste. They provide refillable aluminium applicators and compostable packaging with a product that not only smells great, but actually works too! You can get 20% off from 3rd -5th December with the code FLORA.
  • With Love, Nature – If you’re looking for a beautifully packaged gift box, With Love, Nature is a great place to look. They offer luxury vegan and cruelty free products in eco-friendly packaging.
  • Shmood Candles – I wrote this post about my favourite vegan soy-based candles, but Schmood was launched more recently during lockdown. These sustainable candles smell delicious, and come with a spotify code for a playlist designed to match the scent. I recommend Chill Pill.

Online shops/marketplaces

  • Mosaik Education – Mosaic’s Christmas shop helps provide funding for refugees to access higher education. Just 3% of refugees access university, compared to 37% of global youth, and this NGO is looking to change that.
  • South Coast Makers Market – This Dorchester-based outdoor market provides a platform for independent businesses on the high street and handmade products. For anyone Dorset or Hampshire-based, they are hosting a 2 day market on 5-6th Dec and loyalty cards to provide discounts to local cafes, shops and restaurants, all of which are struggling in the current times.
  • Jamii – Jamii is a marketplace and discount card for Black-owned British brands, allowing shoppers to support a variety of small businesses, from face masks, to skincare, to art prints. They’ve been featured in Metro, Forbes and the BBC and are making quite the impression.
  • Know The Origin – This collective of ethical brands promotes transparency, sustainability and ethics, partnering only with brands that embody this ethos. You can buy a range of products here, in the knowledge that they are well made and ethically sourced.
  • Wearth London – Wearth is a great place to discover new sustainable products and brands, whether you’re looking for homeware, zero-waste accessories or even furniture. They really have something for everyone!

Make yourself

  • Bath bombs – self care is so important, especially at Christmas and especially this year. Bath bombs are easy to make, and homemade gifts show a little more care and thought has gone into them.
  • Vegan gingerbread men – Gingerbread lasts a surprisingly long time, and is perfect to gift at Christmas. It’s easy to make vegan – I have a recipe here!
  • Jam – Making jam at home allows you to get exactly the taste and texture you’re looking for. I personally find shop-bought too sweet, so love making my own. It’s also very relaxing.
  • Sloe/damson gin/whisky – not one for this year, but creating your own sloe or damson alcohol is both easy and charming – and who doesn’t love a bit of alcohol for Christmas! There are plenty of recipes online. Warning: they take time and by the time you’re done, you’ll probably want to keep a couple of bottles for yourself.

Subscriptions

  • Naked Sprout or Bumboo – Who knew loo paper would be such a luxury in 2020?! Getting a subscription service not only allows you to choose ethical and sustainable brands such as these, but also means you’re sorted in the event of another lockdown! These 2 UK brands provide bamboo-based loo paper that gives back – Naked Sprout provides water to school children in Kenya via Just A Drop, and Bumboo plants a tree for each box sold.
  • Leo’s Box – Certified B Corp Leo’s Box is run by 16 year old Lysander, but school studies haven’t stopped him creating a very well regarded eco subscription service that provides full-sized products form sustainable brands. They’re products you’ll undoubtedly need, so nothing is wasted, and it’s a great introduction to new brands at a reduced price.
  • Peirene Press – For the literature lover in your life, Peirene Press provides three books of world-class translated literature from around the world. Not only does this allow access to previously un-translated novels, it also supports various charities and gender equality work. The gift subscription also comes beautifully wrapped!
  • Oddbox – Food waste is a massive issue worldwide, with a third of food being chucked each year. Oddbox provides one solution to the huge amount of fresh produce that doesn’t fit supermarket standards for size or shape, paying farmers fair prices and shipping food across London and South-East England.

Food/consumables

  • Grind coffee compostable pods (also available as a subscription) – If you have a coffee machine, capsules can be problematic to recycle and wasteful. Grind provides Nespresso-compatible pods that can be thrown on your compost heap or out with the food waste. Everything is plastic-free and organic (and the packaging is beautiful).
  • Bird & Wild coffee – Coffee is often unsustainably and unethically produced, and without looking for certain accreditations, it can be hard to know what you’re buying. For the ground coffee lover, Bird & Wild is about as sustainable as you get for coffee.
  • Bax Botanics – For anyone looking to avoid the booze this year, Bax’s eco-friendly, fairtrade, zesty Verbena non-alcoholic spirit is the way to go. For more info on them and other favourites, see this post for the best alcohol-free spirits.
  • Tony’s Chocoloney – Aside from producing delicious, CHUNKY chocolate, Tony’s campaigns for ethically produced chocolate that does not use modern slavery or child labour – which unfortunately is more common than you might think. They have vegan and non-vegan options.
  • Doisy & Dam – Christmas can never have too much chocolate, so here’s another great brand. D&D sources their cocoa from sustainable farms, and as a B Corp, they are serious about transparency. They don’t use palm oil and are 100% vegan.

Charity initiatives/tree planting

  • Secret Santa Action for Children – For the person who has everything, make a gift to someone else in their name. Action for Children provides Secret Santa gifts for some of the 9 million children living in poverty in the UK. This allows them to have a hot meal, a place to sleep or a little gift this Christmas – you choose!
  • Treedom Trees – Gifts don’t have to be visible to make an impact. Treedom allows you to plant and name a tree around the world that will allow smallhold farmers to have an extra source of income or food source, all while soaking up carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. All trees are geotagged, so you can check in and see how your tree is doing! Use the code FLORA20 for 20% off whichever tree you buy.
  • Adopt an animal through WWF – This is the perfect present for a child or young relative that keep on giving through regular updates. This provides funding to keep that species safe, and you get a little welcome pack to show thanks.
Treedom supports smallholder farmers across the world and sequesters carbon too

If you enjoyed this post please do share and tag Hattie and me on Instagram! That way we can support more businesses and make more of a change. What are your favourite ethical and sustainable businesses – why not tag them on Instagram or Twitter to support them? Happy shopping!

Can wool be sustainable and ethical?

As someone who eats a plant-based diet, I might be considered the type of person who would avoid wool and other natural animal-based fibres from an ethical standpoint. However, as with almost everything in life, I find reality refuses to conform to the categories we attempt to put it in; veganism isn’t always more sustainable than a non-vegan diet, plastic isn’t always worse than glass and organic isn’t always better than non-organic. As with everything, I try to make my decisions based on the evidence in front of me – and as always, the evidence is rarely black and white, and always content dependent. 

Wool is one of the oldest textiles in human history, with clothing made from wool dating back 10,000 years from across the world. As with all products produced today, wool should be placed under heavy scrutiny to call into question its ethical and sustainable credentials, but as with all products, the answer often depends on a myriad of factors. 

How sustainable is wool?

One of the major benefits of natural fibres such as wool is that they are made from renewable resources, biodegradable and require minimal amounts of chemicals for processing. These are all issues that plague the majority of synthetic materials production, alongside the issue of microfibre release – where tiny pieces of plastic are released into our oceans eat time synthetic fabrics are washed. 

However, the majority of wool’s impact comes from the keeping of livestock on land that could otherwise be left wild, or cleared to feed the ever growing human population, rather than livestock (a notoriously inefficient method of feeding humans). The sustainability issues of wool come from the sheer quantity in which we want it, as this leads to large amounts of land clearing and environmental degradation, as well as greenhouse gas emissions. When combined with the eutrophication caused by large amount of animal faeces damaging local waterways, wool is on average one of the least sustainable materials when assessed pre-consumer

However, as with many fabrics, the method of cultivation makes a huge difference to its environmental footprint. Unfortunately the majority of tools used to assess the environmental impact of textiles, such as Higg Index, end pre-consumer, giving only a limited picture of real-world environmental impact. The consequence of this is that short-lived, low quality items are equated with better-made, durable products, simply because of the fibres used. With many fabrics, the majority of the difference in environmental footprint is dictated by the length of life of the garment and the number of times it is worn. This indicates that the consumer has a huge amount of power in altering their own environmental footprint, not only by choosing more sustainable fibres, but also by choosing to buy less overall, and keep what they own for a long time. Buying quality clothing is key to this, and as wool products tend to have long lifespans, the environmental footprint is considerably reduced over its lifespan. 

When you look post-gate at consumer use and end of life options, wool’s sustainability credentials start to improve. During its life, wool tends to need washing much less frequently than synthetic fibres, especially in sportswear as it has natural odour-resistant and antibacterial properties. After its longer than average lifespan, wool is also easily recycled unlike mixed-fibre synthetic garments, providing options for a second or third life. Aside from this, it also biodegrades both on land and in water, meaning that provided it is disposed of properly, it has extremely low impacts after its useful life. 

In conclusion, there are many ways in which wool’s sustainability credentials could be improved, from raising sheep through regenerative farming to methane gas mitigation. However, provided woollen items are worn for a number of years, environmental impacts could be minimal, and reduced further by 50% simply by wearing items more. 

How ethical is wool?

PETA claims that there is no such thing as ethical wool, and there are certainly ethical implications of raising animals for human use. In Australia and some other places around the world, there is a common but inhumane practise called mulesing, the practise of cutting away areas of skin on the buttocks, in order to prevent flystrike. This is often done without anaesthetic and can lead to death, or at least immense pain for the animal. Not only is this cruel, it is often also unsuccessful. The US has also been highlighted to carry out this procedure, through footage released by PETA.

New Zealand, on the other hand, has some of the best animal welfare standards globally, and the country’s Animal Welfare Act strictly prohibits mulesing. Choosing free-range, hand-shorn animals reduces lifetime stress and anxiety to the sheep. Similarly, it is also banned in the UK.

Because of the variation in animal welfare standards globally, it is important for brands to have transparency throughout the supply chain, all the way back to the farms their wool comes from. Without this, it is impossible to know how they are treated in order to choose brands wisely. To help with this, there are a number of globally recognised certifications and accreditations that provide third-party verification of humane and ethical wool production through regular audits. Examples of these include Responsible Wool Standard (RWS)Certified Organic WoolCertified Animal Welfare ApprovedCertified Humane® Label, the ZQ Merino StandardSoil Association Organic Standards and Climate Beneficial by Fibershed. Some of these also look at the environmental impact of the wool too, ensuring minimal environmental degradation in the raising of flocks too. 

On a side note, it is extremely important to understand what type of wool you are buying. Merino wool comes from Merino sheep, which are bred to have wrinkly skin to increase wool production. In hotter conditions, this can cause heat exhaustion and extreme discomfort, so ensure you buy your merino from sources accredited by ZQ Merino Standard or the Responsible Wool Standard. 

Angora ‘wool’ comes from rabbits, and if often harvested by plucking the animal, which can cause distress. In addition, 90% of the world’s angora comes from China, which does not have the same ethical standards as some other parts of the world. In 2013, many brands ceased angora product releases, after footage was released exposing the extreme animal cruelty existing in farms in China. Similar footage has been released from farms in France. Needless to say, while it is possible to collect naturally-moulted fur from rabbits for wool, it is hard to guarantee the ethical nature of this type of wool.

Cashmere (including Pashmina and Cashgora), made from goat’s hair,  has been linked to environmental degradation in Mongolia. In an effort to improve its sustainability credentials, brands such as Patagonia and Stella McCartney opt for recycled cashmere instead of virgin options. Cashmere’s environmental impact is roughly 100x that of wool.

TL;DR

  • Wool can be both sustainable and ethical, or neither, depending on where you buy it from, though of course your personal ethics will dictate in part what is deemed ethical. The bar has to be set very high to ensure both ethical and sustainable production.
  • As with most elements of consumerism, the sustainability issues of wool are derived from the quantities in which we consume it, not necessarily the wool itself.
  • Choosing brands that are transparent about their sources and can trace their wool to particular farms is the best option if you want to buy it – there are many places that do not produce ethical wool, and the practise of mulesing is still commonplace. If a brand does not specify no mulesing, do not buy from there.
  • Opt for wool that has been accredited and audited by a third-party certification, such as Responsible Wool Standard (RWS) or ZQ Merino Standard, to ensure its ethical and sustainable production as much as possible. 
  • Alternatively, buy recycled wool or second hand – this is always preferential when it comes to buying clothes.
  • Wool’s environmental impact is dictated for the most part by how many times it is worn. The longer the lifespan of a garment, the smaller its environmental footprint, and this is especially true of wool. 
  • Due to wool’s internal properties, it is both highly durable and needs washing less frequently than other fibres, improving its sustainability credentials. 
  • Wool has better end of life options than synthetic fibres, due to ease of recycling and being biodegradable. 

As with all things, there is no simple answer or perfect solution when it comes to sustainability. We should all be buying less overall and wearing for longer. With knowledge we can call for brands to do better, and choose great quality products that will last a lifetime and beyond.

What are your thoughts on wool? Would you buy it, secondhand or otherwise? Many thanks to Hattie (@hattie_eco) for helping research this topic! Go and check out her Instagram for more sustainability info.

The Ethical Implications of Black Friday

This year’s Black Friday takes place on the 27th November, between Thanksgiving and Cyber Monday, 30th Nov.

Despite growing concern over the ethical implications of Black Friday, 2019 saw transaction values increase by 16.5% and volume increase by 7.2% in the UK compared to 2018. In the US in 2019, Black Friday online sales beat all previous records, reaching $7.4bn, up from $6.2bn on Black Friday 2018, continuing the exponential upward trend of sales made on Black Friday, driven primarily by millennials

Black Friday is theoretically a great way to boost shop sales made each year – 30% of all retail sales occur in the month between Black Friday and Christmas, giving a much-needed boost both to online stores and in most years brick and mortar stores too. It also allows people to purchase goods they need and would otherwise not be able to afford, such as white goods and electronics. 

But what are the ethical implications of nearly 50% of items for sale being reduced each year for a weekend of mass shopping? How does this impact the supply chain and environment? Despite a slower increase in sales year on year in the UK vs. the US, there is significant harm caused by the surge of sales globally over the Black Friday weekend. 

Where does your money go?

One of the arguments for Black Friday is that is boosts the economy and benefits many brands and businesses. However, the companies most likely to benefit from Black Friday are those with the largest mark-ups on their items, who likely do not have great ethical credentials and who benefit from tax havens, thus not contributing to the economy as much as you might hope. According to ecommerce stats, shops with over $1bn annual sales see a 62% boost in sales over Black Friday, whereas smaller shops see only a 27% growth. In 2018, Amazon, Ebay, Apple, Sony, Currys and Missguided profited the most from Black Friday sales in the UK – these are hardly small brands struggling for profit. Amazon’s tax avoidance has been known about since 2012, as well as their operations which run through Luxembourg to avoid paying any tax in the UK, thus not actually benefitting the UK economy as much as expected.

Small, independent brands have to compete with low prices from mass corporations such as these year round, thus profit margins are miniscule even when paying full price. These companies cannot afford to cut prices further over Black Friday, and thus aren’t the ones benefitting from the increased spending. 

How can they cut prices so significantly?

When Missguided sells jumpers and dresses from as little as £5, it begs the question how much mark-up was on the products before, and how little the factory workers get when a dress sells for that little. In 2017 there were reports of UK garment factory workers being paid £3ph in Leicester – less than half the legal minimum wage at the time – in order to compete with clothing made in China and Bangladesh. Clothes made abroad often have even more significant problems, such as utilising child and/or slave labour. Worryingly, most brands these factories were producing for claimed to not even know that the factories were producing clothes for them, highlighting the need for transparency across the supply chain. 

If we are to have a truly sustainable economy, we need to accept that good quality, ethically made clothing cannot be bought for £5. Better quality clothing costs more and has lower profit margins, but also is likely to last longer and be cherished more. Cheap clothes encourage wasteful behaviour

Packaging problems

In recent years, shoppers have move from shopping primarily at brick and mortar stores to shopping online, raising the added issue of packaging. Many small items will be wrapped in mounds of non-biodegradable plastic packaging, often in a box inside a box. This mound of packaging will likely primarily end up in landfill.

Consumerist behaviour

This year, with most Black Friday shopping taking place online, stories of injuries and even deaths thanks to the commotion of Black Friday are likely to be limited. However, these are yearly examples of how consumerism brings out the worst in shoppers. We tend not to make good decisions when stressed – simple neurobiology – and so Black Friday is one of the worst days to make purchasing decisions. 21% of Brits purchased something on Black Friday that they later regretted, at an average of £83 per person. The pressure of Christmas looming, limited items for sale and other shoppers going wild means that it’s unlikely Black Friday will be spent purchasing goods we need, instead leading to panic-buying items we’ll never use.

Shop and factory workers

Nothing is free. However much you save on an item, there will always be a cost somewhere. Unfortunately, during busy times of year this is often passed onto the workers who create and package up items to be dispatched. Working overtime in factoriesdispatch centres and on the shop floor is gruelling, with reports of timed loo breaks or worse, nappies, as well as long days and unsafe working conditions. I personally received numerous messages when researching for this topic from retail workers who dread Black Friday yearly due to the horrendous behaviour of customers and stressful conditions in store. 

Returns

With the UK panic-buying millions of items that are not needed, the volume of returns in the month after Black Friday skyrockets. This costs the retailers considerable amounts of money, resulting in a dip in profits, which again harms smaller businesses considerably more than larger ones.

Reports have suggested that it can cost a retailer twice the price of delivery for a product to be returned to the supply chain. In addition, the environmental costs are huge. When a product comes back to the warehouse it has to reprocessed, cleaned, repaired, repackaged and made ready to be bought again. In total, it will pass through seven pairs of hands before it is back on sale again – at which point it may be reduced and further devalued, perhaps even ending up in landfill, with devastating environmental effects. All of the above, combined with the extra packaging and shipping emissions mean that returning items en masse is both bad for business, and bad for the environment.

Black Friday encourages us to buy things we don’t really need, getting caught up in the frenzy of deals ‘too good to turn down’. Even people who are aware of the above issues can get carried away with the aggressive marketing tactics used by many brands – if you’re online or in town, it’s impossible to ignore. Even Instagram’s replacement of the notifications button with the ‘shopping’ button (who even knew Instagram was somewhere to shop?) is an example of the lengths brands and businesses will go to, to encourage consumers to consume more than ever before. 

My Black Friday rules are to avoid all ‘big deals’ and instead support small brands and independent businesses to buy Christmas presents – it scratches the shopping itch while simultaneously benefitting businesses that otherwise lose out at this time of year to bigger brands. If I need something big (furniture, white goods etc.) I’m likely to wait for Black Friday (this year I’m moving house and will certainly be looking for goods I need in the sales), but otherwise I avoid the day altogether. 

What are your thoughts on Black Friday? Are you a fan? Do you partake or avoid it? If you enjoyed this article, please consider making a small contribution

How to care for your sports kit sustainably

Mud splatters, soggy shoes, dirt EVERYWHERE. As we move into the wetter months, one of the inevitabilities of spending lots of time training outdoors is the need to wash your clothes all the time. However, washing clothes is energy and water intensive, and 40% of clothes that we throw into the wash could be worn again.

Here are some tips to make the most of your workout wardrobe and ensure your clothes last as long as possible, as sustainably as possible.

Only wash your clothes when dirty

You might be tempted to throw your kit in the wash after every trip outdoors, but there’s a chance they don’t actually need washing each time, especially items such as leggings and outer layers. Over washing clothes can shorten their lifespan and release microfibres into waterways, damaging aquatic ecosystems. For clothes somewhere between clean and dirty, consider using an antibacterial spray such as Day 2 to reduce odours and make your clothes last an extra day.

Use a guppy bag

The washing of synthetic fibres is assumed to be the primary source of microplastics in the oceans, with 640,000 – 1,500,000 released in each wash. Guppy bags trap microfibres released by synthetic fabrics, which activewear is full of!

Don’t use fabric softener or tumble dry

Fabric softener can ruin activewear and reduce their sweat-wicking ability. Tumble-dryers can also damage activewear and use large amounts of energy, so air dry your clothes where possible, or dry on a low-heat setting.

Pre-treat stains and wash cool

One of the main reasons that ‘hot washes’ (40 – 60 degrees) are recommended is to remove stains. By pre-treating your clothes (I have found this Ecover stain remover to work well), you reduce the temperature it needs to be washed at, and ensure the worst stains still get removed. Washing clothes in a 30 degree cycle rather than 40 degrees uses 40% less energy and is less likely to damage clothes or fade colours. This saves money in the long run, both in bills and also having to buy new clothes. Always use liquid detergent for cooler washes and don’t add more than the recommended amount, or it’ll build up. Liquid detergent cleans better than powder and goes further. Check out sustainable products you can use for your laundry.

Add vinegar

If you’re worried about odours, add half a cup of white vinegar to the wash load and this will neutralise odours.

How to clean your trainers

Trainers and trail running shoes can generally take a pretty good battering, but avoid damage by removing excess mud when returning from a mucky run. I tent to wait until they’re dry and then hit them together outside to remove the worst of it.

To wash: If you have coloured trainers, remove white laces before putting them in the wash, or the colours may leach. Remove insoles and then place the trainers and insoles (if washable) into a pillowcase and into the wash. Wash on a cool wash with a towel or similar to stop them flying around the washing machine. Dry them in an airing cupboard or somewhere warm, but not on the radiator or tumble dryer – excessive heat will ruin them.

Images by Caylee Hankins

What are your top tips for taking care of your activewear sustainably? Any secret tricks? If you enjoy my posts regularly, please consider contributing so I can keep this page up and running (no pun intended).

World Environment Day – increasing biodiversity from home

Biodiversity loss has been highlighted as the third biggest risk to the world both in terms of likelihood and severity this year, ahead of infectious diseases, terror attacks and interstate conflict. Let that sink in. 

As we sit in the midst of a pandemic, it is easy to look only inwards, turning our backs on the changes that need to be made in our world for humans to continue thriving. However, now, more than ever, it is outwards that we need to look and wonder how we got ourselves here in the first place.

Biodiversity is the abundance and variety of life on earth. Humans are entirely dependent on biodiversity for the air we breath, food we eat and water we drink. Almost half of global GDP – around €40 trillion – depends on nature and the services it provides.

The recent COVID pandemic has brought to light just how much this is true, with scientists positing that the increased incidences of viruses such as Ebola, Bird Flu, Dengue Fever and COVID are exacerbated, if not caused, by biodiversity loss, deforestation and the illegal wildlife trade.

Today is World Environment Day, an international awareness day built to engage and motivate environmental action within governments, businesses and the general public. Each year WED has a theme, focussing efforts on one element of environmentalism in an effort to educate, share resources and make a difference.

This year’s theme is Biodiversity, a term which has seen the light of day more and more in recent years. The United Nations even labelled 2010 to 2020 the ‘decade of biodiversity‘, implementing strategies to improve it worldwide. However, a recent report by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), found that nature is being eroded at rates unprecedented in human history, leading to the acceleration of climate change and demise of our natural world. Businesses are also not doing anywhere near enough, with most countries on track to miss the targets of the Paris Agreement.

“The more one thinks, the more one feels the hopeless immensity of man’s ignorance”. Charles Darwin, More Letters of Charles Darwin, 1903.Apt, but today we don’t have ignorance as an excuse.

Climate change, biodiversity loss and our own wellbeing are all intrinsically linked. Biodiversity loss in Europe alone costs the continent around 3% of its GDP each year, around £400m pa. It is in our best interest to do as much as we can to prevent further loss of the natural world, and start rebuilding where we can.

Biodiversity loss is not only an environmental issue, it also impacts upon many of the UN Sustainable Development Goals, including those tacking food security, poverty, peace, justice and development. As mentioned by Sir Robert Watson, chair of the IPBES, biodiversity is “a security issue in so far as loss of natural resources, especially in developing countries, can lead to conflict. It is an ethical issue because loss of biodiversity hurts the poorest people, further exacerbating an already inequitable world. And it is also a moral issue, because we should not destroy the living planet.” (Guardian, Nov, 2018). Closer to home, biodiversity in green spaces is inextricably linked to mental health and wellbeing for all of us.

“This is the assembly of life that took a billion years to evolve. It has eaten the storms – folded them into genes – and created the world that created us. It holds the world steady”. E O Wilson, The Diversity of Life, 1992.

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This destruction of ecosystems has led to a million species (500,000 animals and plants and 500,000 insects) being threatened with extinction, potentially many more (UN). Figure from Guardian 2018

 

But what can we do from home?

I would argue that most of us interested in the natural world generally already know ways in which we can help, from changing to a green energy provider, cutting back on travel, switching to an ethical bank and changing to a meat-free diet, and it’s just a case of enacting this. However, there are many more small ways to improve biodiversity from home.

Unfortunately, the COVID pandemic has turned our sights away from many parts of the world where threats to biodiversity are greatest, from illegal bycatch in fishing vessels and the deaths of those who regulate this, to the deforestation of sacred indigenous land in Sierra Nevada, Colombia, to make room for tourism (you can support a petition to end this illegal activity here). Because of this, it is important to look not only in our own backyards, but also what we can do to support efforts across the globe.

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While many backs are turned due to COVID, sacred regions within Sierra Nevada, Colombia, have been invaded and damaged by tourism projects and mining. Sign a petition to end this.

Close to home:

Leave wild spaces around your home.

  • If you have a lawn, leaving it for longer between mowing, or avoiding mowing patches altogether. This will not only improve the biodiversity of the plants, but also provide shelter for small mammals and insects.
  • Consider piling up wood, stones and garden cuttings to provide homes for more types of insect and mammal, as these are becoming rarer with the loss of woodland and increased obsession with ‘clean’ spaces. Composting organic matter also increases bacterial, fungal and other decomposers, providing a healthier garden all round.
  • Providing bird feed and water in your garden will also provide vulnerable bird species with a better chance of surviving harsh winters and being able to raise more young. Offer a mix of food for the widest variety of birds and provide protection from cats where possible!
  • Planting a window box with flowers that pollinators love can help maintain biodiversity in urban spaces. Having greenery at home is also great for your mental health!

Shop eco friendly.

Understanding how food and other crop production impacts the environment is a huge topic that deserves an entire literature review of its own. However, there are a few small steps we can make to ensure everything we buy is as biodiversity-friendly as possible.

  • Buy organic where possible. This does not always make a difference, but many of the farming practises that are intrinsic to organic farming (prohibition/reduced use of chemical pesticides and inorganic fertilisers, sympathetic management of non-cropped habitats and preservation of mixed farming) benefit local flora and fauna. On average, organic farms have 12% more biodiversity than equivalent non-organic farms. Look for the Soil Association label to make organic shopping easier. 
  • Buy shade-grown or bird-friendly coffee. This is vitally important as coffee is grown in some of the most biodiverse but rapidly changing environments, meaning that it can either support or harm endemic wildlife. Here’s how you should choose your coffee.
  • When buying furniture, only buy FSC certified wood. The FSC holds businesses to a standard that helps them carry out sustainable management practices to ensure forests thrive today and in the future (FSC).
  • Buy from ethical clothing brands. The fashion industry is immensely polluting, encourages deforestation, and if the fashion industry were a country, its emissions would rank almost as highly as the entire European continent. This is evidently bad for biodiversity. Buying less and choosing ethical companies can reduce your impact. Brands such as Veja are leading the way in supporting, rather than exploiting, the ‘guardians of the forest’ in the locations they source their materials, working with locals to promote biodiversity, instead of simply deforesting as many other brands do. Have a look at Good on You and EcoAge for other brand recommendations.

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Further afield:

Donate, support, fund, share.

We can make changes in everyday life and do what we can to maintain diversity, both close to home and further afield. However, the work of charities, NGO and certain businesses takes this a step further, keeping an ear to the ground to call out environmental injustices, hold governments to account and support local communities around the world. Here are just a few – comment your favourites below!

NGOs

  • Traffic, a NGO, supports efforts to end the illegal wildlife trade and combat wildlife crime. They focus on educating governments on sustainable wildlife management and regulation systems, reducing reliance on poaching and unsustainable trade. Donate here.
  • Amazon Watch works with indigenous people to protect large swathes of the Amazon rainforest. Recent research demonstrates that while the world’s 370 million indigenous peoples make up less than five percent of the total human population, they manage or hold tenure over 25% of the world’s land surface and support about 80% of the global biodiversity. Protecting Indigenous people is protecting the environment they live in and vice versa. Donate here.
  • African Biodiversity Network (ABN), a UN accredited NGO, accompanies Africans in voicing their views on issues such as food and seed sovereignty, genetic engineering, agrofuels, biodiversity protection, extractive industries and the rights of small-holder farmers. They ‘focus on indigenous knowledge, ecological agriculture and biodiversity related rights, policy and legislation’. I cannot find anywhere to donate but do check out and share their work!
  • National Biodiversity Network works closer to home (UK) to record and analyse data collected about UK wildlife, enabling conservation efforts to be focussed on areas that really need it. Knowledge is power! Donate or join here.
  • Cool Earth work to end deforestation and environmental degradation in rainforests, some of the most biodiverse places on earth. Rather than exerting top-down control, they work with local people to help them benefit from protecting their surrounding forests. Donate here.

Businesses

While NGOs and charity organisations are excellent, some estimates suggest they receive only 10% of the funding needed to avert a biodiversity crisis. Engaging the private sector to fill in the gaps is a necessary and productive next step.

  • Treedom supports biodiversity by allowing people to purchase native trees and plant them in small, sustainable agroforestry systems around the world. Trees contribute to biodiversity by providing shelter, food and homes for animals, insects and other plants, increasing the number of pollinators and natural pest predators, like birds (thereby supporting the pollination of the world’s crops), capturing CO2, preventing soil erosion and much, much more.
    The trees people sponsor with Treedom support smallholder farmers and their families, providing either food or an added income source. For transparency, all of their trees are geolocated and photographed, and customers receive regular updates about their tree and the project where it is planted.
    Treedom have planted over 1.1 million trees across 16 countries, offsetting over 340 million kgs of CO2 and providing food security and income for over 66,000 farmers. If you’d like to purchase a tree or two, the code FLORA10 gets you 10% off! Please do let me know if you buy one, as I’d love to share 🙂
  • There are many re-wilding projects also happening in the UK, returning deforested woodlands to their former diverse glory. You can learn more about rewilding projects here.

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Trees are vital for maintaining biodiversity and ecosystem health, but also are excellent for your mental health too! Photo Johny Cook.

 

Nature provides us with everything we have, and we cannot afford to lose more biodiversity on this planet. While we may have long ago destroyed much of the biodiversity in the UK, there is still a chance to make an impact with our actions and reverse some of the damage, both close to home and further afield. The best time to at was yesterday. The next best time is now.

Many thanks to Hattie Webb for helping research this post – there was SO much more I could have put in, but in the interest of people actually getting to the end, I have saved this for another time. I hope you enjoyed reading! Please share it if you found it useful, tagging @foodfitnessflora and @hattie_eco on Instagram. Do add any ways you have found of increasing biodiversity, as well as any charities you like to support. Thanks for reading!

Sustainable paints

Week 9 of lockdown – how’s it going for you? What activities have you taken up, or is keeping afloat taking enough time as it is? With many of us still staying at home, working sporadically and lacking in social life, our views have turned inwards to our homes. Having worked our way through countless banana breads, sourdough starters and home haircuts, more and more people have chosen to use this time to make their living spaces more homely. It’s not a surprise either – usually we have real life to distract us from peeling wallpaper, outdated sofas and other DIY jobs that need doing, but when you pass those things everyday, they become harder to ignore.

Repainting is one of the easiest ways to redecorate without fear of electrocuting yourself, or having heavy objects fall on you. It’s simple enough for anyone to do with a bit of planning, but makes more difference to the feel of a room than almost anything else.

Excitingly, I’m also planning on moving home after summer, finally aiming to live with my partner, who I’ve been with for 5 years now, but whom I have never lived with full time. We’re hoping to be able to redecorate as soon as we move in, but want to do so as sustainable and ethically as possible. You can think of this article as a bit of research for myself, but hopefully it’ll help you too!

 

What makes some paints unsustainable? 

Needless to say, paints contain large numbers of chemicals, many of which are bad for both the environment and ourselves in large quantities. Research suggests that professional redecorators are considerably more likely to contract lung cancer, due to the volatile compounds and formaldehyde present in many paints and other building materials. Ingredients such as  vinyl resins, synthetic dyes, petrochemicals derived from oil, acrylics, formaldehyde, and ammonia can contribute to health issues, especially if you are prone to asthma or eczema.

Aside from the effects on indoor pollution levels, the production of paint and the ingredients therein can also have disastrous environmental consequences. Producing just 1L of conventional paint can produce around 30L of toxic waste, including solvent emissions that damage the ozone layer, and greenhouse gas emissions, whose effects we know all too well. Disposing of paints can also cause issues. Many are hazardous and cannot be disposed of in normal household waste, unless they are totally dried up. Some eco-friendly paints can be composted and/or recycled, reducing their environmental footprint. Here’s some information on how to dispose of your paint safely in the UK.

 

What are eco-friendly paints?

Currently, there is no standard for any paint company to call itself ‘eco-friendly’. Guidelines laid out by the EU have loose restrictions on volatile compound levels, but regulations do not separate out ‘eco-friendly’ and ‘conventional’ paints. Because of this, it can be hard to know if the ‘eco-friendly’ paint you are buying really is much better than cheaper conventional products.

Ethical Consumer, a site that explores the ethical and environmental credentials of companies, suggests looking out for certain terms when choosing paints. ‘Generally, plant-based, water-borne paints are the best buy, followed by plant-based, solvent-borne ones with natural solvents. Try to avoid those using titanium dioxide.’

Eco friendly paint companies also take into account the emissions and environmental impacts of paint production, not just the paint itself. The carbon footprint any toxic byproducts of production contribute to the paint’s overall environmental impact, so is important to bear in mind.

 

Best brands

Auro

Created in 1983, Auro was a pioneer of eco friendly paints, cleaning products and stains. Their paints are petrochemical free and the source all their raw materials from sustainably managed sources. Ethical Consumer highly rates their ‘gloss paint’.

 

Earthborn

Earthborn are the only UK brand to carry the EU ecolabel flower accreditation, showing their commitment to a circular economy and lower environmental footprint. Their paints are water-based, petrochemical free and breathable, making them suitable for a wide range of walls.

 

Lakeland Paints

If you’re an allergy sufferer, UK-based Lakeland Paints may be for you. Lakeland uses organic, non-toxic, no odour, volatile-compound free and are accredited by the British Allergy Foundation. All there packaging is also 100% recycled and/or recyclable.

 

Farrow & Ball

Farrow & Ball was the first in the industry to change their entire range to water-based paints. These are also low-VOC (volatile compounds), low odour and accredited by the Toy Safety Standards, meaning they’re even safe to use on children’s toys. The packaging is 100% recyclable, too.

 

Little Greene

Little Greene manufactures their environmentally friendly paints here in the UK. They have water-based, low VOC options, or oil-based options, made from sustainably sourced vegetable oils. Their wallpapers are either FSC or PEFC certified, meaning they come from sustainably managed forests, and for every tree cut down, another is planted. Their paint tins are made from 50% recycled steel and are fully recyclable.

 

Eico Paints

Eico paints was the only company I found that promised to use 100% renewable energy (geothermal and hydropower). Their production process is carbon positive, and their paints are low to no-VOC and low-odour, making them popular with allergy sufferers. They have a huge variety of colours, too!

 

Compulsory race tees – time to get shirty?

One of the highlight of signing up to many races around the world is the free branded race t-shirt that you get as part of your entry. It’s a memory, something to be proud of, and really makes you feel like you’re getting the most out of your (often pretty expensive) race fee.

 

However, people are increasingly questioning the necessity of race tees at every single event. While for many it may be their first race, or a special occasion they want to remember, for so many others it is just another t-shirt that will never be worn, adding to the pile of other t-shirts from other races.

In terms of sustainability, having compulsory race tees is a big no-no. Often made from synthetic materials originating from non-renewable resources, each wash releases microfibres into our waterways, and the energy, manual labour and chemicals used to create each and every t-shirt contributes significantly to many of the challenges we face in reducing our environmental footprint. One polyester t-shirt emits 5.5kg carbon, and although cotton t-shirts are better in terms of emissions (2.1kg), they also require much more land and water, both precious commodities in the regions cotton is grown. If the fashion industry was a country, its emissions would rank almost as highly as the entirety of Europe – it is clear that we need to change the way in which we consume clothes.

So what can we do? Here are some options for what to do with when faced with an unwanted race t-shirt (or any other sports kit for that matter!).

Image above: some shocking statistics about our athleisure, taken from ReRun

 

Opt out of tshirts

Some races now have an option to opt out of t-shirts and other race peripherals. Think twice about whether you need another race t-shirt, or if a medal might be memory enough. Some people live for race tees, and if you know you’ll love and wear it, go for it! But if you don’t feel strongly about it either way, it might be best to opt out.

Trees not Tees

Some race entry forms do not allow you to sign up without choosing what sized t-shirt you want (whether you actually want it or not). Thankfully, a company called ‘Trees not Tees‘ works with race organisers to start providing the option “I don’t need another T-shirt – please plant a tree for me instead”.

Rather than the race spending money on a t-shirt that will never be used, the money instead goes towards planting a tree on a patch of land in Scotland, contributing to rewilding the area with native vegetation. If your race entry didn’t allow you to opt out of t-shirts, why not email hello@treesnottees.com to let them know. If you have an email contact for the race you’re signing up to, send that over too – the following year you could have contributed to the planting of thousands of trees!

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Trees not Tees are doing amazing things in the name of sustainability

ReRun

ReRun is a Community Interest Company dedicated to up-cycling and rebranding old (or even new) sportswear, selling them for a fraction of their original cost. Their goal is to raise awareness of the waste generated by buying new clothes, and to extend the life of all the clothes we have. Even just a few months of extra wear can reduce the waste footprint of each item. Clothes can be taken to specific drop-off locations around the UK before being sent where they are needed.

Even the most worn-out clothes are put to good use – un-sellable clothes are donated to refugee/homeless projects and the profits from all sales go back into the running community.

Too Many T-shirts 

If you would like to keep all your t-shirts (‘for the memz’), but know that you’re unlikely to wear them all, ingenious company ‘Too Many T-shirts‘ offers a service that sews them into a throw/blanket/duvet for you. This way, you have a functioning addition to your home (perfect for wrapping up in after a long run) and are able utilise and enjoy up to 40 t-shirts at once.

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Image courtesy of Too Many T-shirts

Wear before you race

In colder races, it is commonplace to wear and then discard items of clothing at the start line. This saves carrying around extra weight you don’t want, or arriving at the start line completely freezing (this brings back memories of Tokyo marathon, and it’s no fun). Thankfully, many races are now collecting discarded items and donating them to charities. If you like to do this, why not wear an unwanted race t-shirt to the start line before donating it – just double check they are donated rather than discarded at your particular race!

The Swap Box

This community project based in Cornwall aims to extend the life of pre-loved (or even unused) sportswear, allowing runners to donate their own clothes, and/or swap items with other local runners. Sadly this is only available in Cornwall (currently) – the shop pops up Penrose Parkrun every 3 Saturdays, and can be found at numerous other local events.

Runners Renew Programme

This isn’t strictly for t-shirts, but I thought I’d add it here as I get asked a lot what to do with old trainers. The Runner’s Renew Programme collects secondhand trainers (and other bits of kit) and donates them to women. This initiative also breaks down barriers for many women looking to get into running. Shoes and other sportswear can be expensive, so donations such as these can be invaluable to those in need. DM them on Instagram to get involved!

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Runner’s Renew providing some much needed trainers!

Freecycle/local charity shops

You’ve received your race tee and race pack at home, and want to ensure it doesn’t end up in your drawers, unused, but many people struggle to find the time to send off to the above initiatives. As a last option (and one that is significantly better than chucking your clothes, or having them sit unused), try putting up clean t-shirts on freecycle, a website that offers free items to anyone who is willing to collect them. This means that someone who is in need of a sports t-shirt can come and relieve you of your burden, and you are doing good in the process. An alternative to this is donating to your local charity shop.

 

I would love to know whether you opt in or out of race tees, and what you do with all the ones you have been given! I’m sure there are loads of other great initiatives out there, and if we all called for more responsibility from race organisers, the difference we could make to the sustainability of our sport would be immense.

 

Looking for more information on sustainability in the running community

Exhausted – The effect of air pollution on running

What is green energy and can it save the planet?

8 environmental influencers you should follow

 

Come and find me on Instagram for more

Seven Worlds, One Planet – what can we do to help?

The latest episode of BBC’s Seven Worlds, One Planet left viewers devastated and reeling, after the true impact of poaching was seen so starkly on screen. Mountains of confiscated tusks were piled up, representing just half of the elephants killed in Africa in just one year.

“Elephants have used their great intelligence to help them survive Africa’s driest times for millennia, but today they face an even greater threat,” said David Attenborough, before appearing next to the two last remaining Northern White rhinos in the world, destined for extinction.

This series has been one of the first BBC-Attenborough collaborations to lay out, from the very beginning, the plight of the many incredible animals shown, thanks to climate change. They even showed the filming process, where the effects of anthropogenic climate change are evident to each and every film maker. Viewers’ hearts were in their mouths when the team were able to finally capture some footage of elephants in a clearing, before being shot at by nearby poachers. The result of the shooting was an elephant’s death, showing all too clearly how stricter regulations and more anti-poaching patrols are needed to make an impact on the incessant desire for elephant tusk, rhino horn and numerous other animal body parts, especially in the East.

So what can we do from here? Other than never buying products originating from the wildlife trade (furs, many traditional medicines, ivory jewellery etc) there are many charities doing great things to make an impact, and with a little more funding from each of us, real change could be made.

 

The best conservation charities around the world

David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust

I applied to volunteer at DSWT in my final year of school, for my year off before university after seeing them in a programme about elephant conservation. Unlike many ‘rescue’ centres, DSWT is guided by real biologists and works with locals to find what is really needed on the ground. Despite the fact they never responded (I don’t think they work with gap year students, probably for good reason), I’ve been a massive fan since.

The DSWT doesn’t only work to protect elephants. Understanding that species don’t exist in isolation is key to conservation efforts, and DSTW work to safeguard habitats known to house many animals, not just umbrella species like elephants and rhinos.
Donate now. 

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International Rhino Foundation

The International Rhino foundation has been working to protect rhinos for around 25 years to ensure the survival of this impressive yet heavily persecuted animal. They work across Africa and Asia where the primary conservation efforts are needed. The charity works with local anti-poaching efforts, who personally protect each remaining population of rhinos. Here the problem is multi-fold – not only are the rhinos being hunted, they are also unable to regrow their population due to increasingly fragmented habitats and tiny population sizes. Just a few weeks ago, the last remaining Sumatran rhino in Malaysia died out. These conservation efforts are sorely needed.
Donate now.

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Recognise this lonely Sumatran rhino from episode 2? Its species has since become extinct in its native Malaysia.

WWF

The World Wildlife Fund is one of the oldest and most popular conservation charities out there. They work across the world and across species, aiming to maintain species diversity (more important than any one species) and habitats, from preserving the health of waterways to protecting forests globally. Their impact is extensive and thorough – a good choice if you want to make a difference wherever scientists decide it is needed most.
Donate now.

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WWF works with political parties globally to tackle wildlife loss

Marine Conservation Institute

While the plains of Africa and rainforests of South America do require significant help when it comes to conservation, marine wildlife is also severely threatened by climate change. Previously thought of as untouchably vast, people are now realising that our oceans are not only incredibly vulnerable, but also key to ecosystems on land and the survival of life on Earth. The Marine Conservation Institute uses science to catalyse international conservation efforts, and aim to have protected at least 30% of the world’s oceans by 2030 (currently the level is under 5%).
In December, Patagonia is matching every donation made to the MCI, so now is the time to donate!

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Currently, only 5% of the world’s oceans are protected. MCI suggests over 30% is required to have significant positive impacts on biodiversity.

Jane Goodall Foundation

Jane Goodall is a conservationist and biologist who ventured into Africa in the 1960s to learn more about great apes. In 1900 there were more than 1 million chimps living in the wild. Nowadays there are fewer than 340,000, and that number is rapidly declining. Using the vast amount of data collected by the Jane Goodall institute, the charity is able to inform conservation efforts and restore important habitats for our close cousins. I am a fan of the JGF because it is evidence-based, and uses chimpanzees – our closest living relatives – to protect areas that may otherwise be exploited, thus protecting countless other species at the same time.
Donate now.

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A graph taken from Jane Goodall Foundation, showing how conservation efforts have helped increase Chimp habitat.

RSPB

Conservation is not only required for large, fluffy animals half way across the world. Here in the UK, many birds, both endemic and migratory, require all the help they can get to survive and thrive. With the loss of almost all forest cover in the UK, as well as an increase in extreme weather events, the RSPB works to conserve rare species and lead on policy change. Donating to this charity closer to home could have noticeable impacts in your own back garden or local park.
Donate now. 

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Nature documentaries have the power to be a huge force for good. Past documentaries have been criticised for glossing over the human impacts on nature, and showing solely the most beautiful, untouched parts of each ecosystem. However, watching documentaries such as these can increase willingness of viewers to make lifestyle changes for the better and increase public awareness of the issues, even encouraging policy change and charitable donations.

People in the UK can watch Seven Worlds, One Planet here.

If you’d like to make more of an impact, why not consider learning more about fishing, ethical banking and green energy?