Archive for July, 2012

SOCIAL ENTERPRISES: Giving Communities a Hand

July 24, 2012

Helping Hands. Image Creative Commons > @Iowa_Spirit_Walker

We’re big advocates of driving change by being the change. That’s why we are big fans of social enterprises. Specifically, we’d like to bring to light a wonderful organization that we’ve been fortunate to work with: Helping Hands Rewards.

Social enterprises put a spin on traditional revenue-generating businesses. On the surface, they operate like any other business, applying commercial strategies to maximize revenue and promote their brand. But unlike other companies, social enterprises are run by either nonprofit organizations or for-profit companies with the intention of earning revenue for the sole purpose of improving social and environmental standards.

In short, social enterprises prioritize improving human and environmental well-being as opposed to increasing shareholder profits. They strive to spur local economies and give well-paying, benefit-based jobs to workers within the neighbourhood. Profits are not distributed to individuals—they are pooled in a trust that goes to benefit the community.

We love social enterprises because they are a fantastic representation of “impact purchasing,” wherein what you buy has benefits beyond corporate interest. What companies like us gain from offering products made by social enterprises is the knowledge that every purchase has a direct influence on the workers, the community and the planet as a whole.

One of our key social enterprise supplier is Helping Hands Rewards. Helping Hands Rewards is a not-for-profit organization that partners with social enterprises and assists them with marketing and venture development, as well as helping them expand their business to incentive-based companies—including Fairware. Their mission is purely to help people earn a living and support their families. They represent some truly great examples of social enterprises, including Greyston Bakery, which makes the famous brownies for Ben and Jerry’s.

Helping Hand Rewards has connected us to two suppliers—Bright Endeavors and Chicago Lighthouse — for our social enterprise category. Bright Endeavors is a Chicago-based social enterprise that makes eco-friendly spa products and provides career training and jobs to young parents. Chicago Lighthouse, meanwhile, benefits visually-impaired people through its production of home accessories and promotional products. Helping Hands Rewards aids both ventures to reach their full potential as a commercial business and increase funding for their social incentives.

To really get the full impact of what Helping Hands Rewards does, it’s interesting and inspiring to read some of the stories of the individuals who have personally been given a “helping hand” by the organization. Want to learn more about Social Enterprises – check out the resources listed below.

Enterprising Non Profits

Canadian Social Enterprise Marketplace

Social Enterprise Alliance




ECO-SHOPPING: Organic Cotton vs. Conventional Cotton

July 17, 2012

Cotton Bail > Common Creative @virgohobbs

As we noted a few weeks ago in our post on Nature’s Path, there remains a fair bit of ambiguity around the word “organic” for the average consumer—particularly when talking about clothing. When we launched our new website this month, we wanted to make it easier for customers to choose organic by customizing a search for organic fibre products. We want to shed some light on why we are keen on this particular textile, and give some insight into the differences between organic and conventional cotton.

As far as sustainable textiles go, organic cotton is the most popular and most readily available. However, just as with bamboo, the question remains: how eco-friendly is it really?

The fact is conventional cotton crops use the most chemicals out of all other crops. Cotton attracts a wide variety of insects, making it the most pesticide dependent crop in the world. Cotton covers only 2.5% of cultivated land globally, yet it accounts for nearly 25% of the world’s insecticides and 10% of the world’s pesticides. To put that into perspective: nearly one-third of a pound of chemicals is needed to grow enough conventional cotton to make one single T-shirt.

Organic cotton minimizes the need for agricultural chemicals through methods that include crop rotation, intercropping, mechanical or hand weeding, and the use of mulches. Even the seeds planted are stripped of pesticides and are free of genetically modified organisms.

A popular misconception is that organic cotton crops require more water than its conventional counterparts, but this is not necessarily the case. By maintaining healthier soil, the farming of organic cotton requires less irrigation, because the plants are able to use water more efficiently. Also, increased pesticide use can seep into local streams and public water supplies. Aside from the obvious dangers this has on the environment, using contaminated water on cotton crops can actually slow its growth, requiring more water to speed up the process.

Though the advantages of organic cotton are clear, there is a major drawback. The largest producers of organic cotton are in India, Turkey, China and Africa—and the biggest consumer demand is in North America. As we discussed a few weeks ago, not all shipping methods are created equal—and the environmental impact of shipping via the ocean is far less than trucking a product from long distances within the country. Unfortunately, it is difficult to know exactly how an organic crop is transported from the farms to processing plants, and finally to retailers. Luckily, demand for organic textiles is growing and local production of organic cotton—mainly in North Carolina, California and New Mexico—continues to expand to meet that demand.

The emergence of organic cotton, as well as recycled cotton—a fibre we are also fans of—signals a shift towards a more conscious consumer base. However, no matter how many benefits there are to organic or recycled garments, the customer “care” phase of a garment has the harshest impact on the planet. Studies show that the everyday washing, drying and ironing of clothing account for 60 to 80 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions. Choosing to cut back on laundry, wash by hand, hang-dry, or stick to cold-water washing cycles makes a big difference, regardless of whether the garment is organic or not.


Use a solar powered clothesline > Creative Commons by @kittenishkitten

For more in-depth insight into organic cotton, please check out this wonderful posting over at the Textile Exchange. The author (Liesl Truscott) has done a remarkable job of gathering some very eye-opening facts and presenting a strong background on both organic and conventional cotton.

BRAND BUY-BACK: A Look at Eco-Cycology

July 10, 2012

Photo from Creative Commons; Lydia_Shiningbrightly

In a culture of consumerism, the lifespan of a product tends to be short and linear. It is made, sold, bought and then very unceremoniously tossed in the trash when it has been determined unusable or simply unnecessary. That is why we are thrilled by a growing trend towards eco-cycology. has listed eco-cycology as the 4th biggest trend of 2012. While the concept isn’t necessarily new, its rise in a time of economic woes reveals that consumers are becoming increasingly more aware of the financial value of their goods beyond their typical lifespan. Brands are taking this sentiment to heart.

So, what is eco-cycology anyway? It is best described as the recycling and repurposing of old products by its original manufacturers. Way back in 1990, Nike broke ground on this scheme (somewhat literally) through its Reuse-A-Shoe Program. To date, Nike has collected over 25 million pairs of run-down shoes, which have then been ground up to create a material that is used to make athletic and playground surfaces, as well as fresh, new shoes.

One of our clients, outdoor goods brand, Patagonia, has reclaimed 45 tons of old clothing to make 35 tons of new products through its amazing Common Threads Initiative. Their commitment to this philosophy is also evident in their general business purchasing as well. Fairware developed custom USB drives for Patagonia out of recycled wood pallets to help the company cut down on its paper usage and share video product knowledge with its dealers.

In fact, we’ve been happy to work with numerous brands that are moving towards reusing old products. To promote its Environment Foundation, Aspen Snowmass had us use pre-loved employee ski uniforms to make fun ‘up-cycled’ totes and messenger bags. And for Aveda, we used bicycle inner tubes to make durable, recycled (and cool) makeup bags.

It is our hope that eco-cycology becomes the norm rather than a fleeting fad. The possibilities for repurposing old products are endless, and it’s a movement that really makes sense from every angle. Brands can cut down on their environmental impact and material costs when developing new products that are designed to be re-purposed. Customers can really feel good about what they are buying, knowing that their purchase has given new life.

Environmental Impacts of Shipping

July 4, 2012

Photo by MIAMISM.COM Creative Commons

Running an environmentally conscious business with a global supply chain, we at Fairware are faced with the reality that shipping has an impact on the environment. But not all shipments have the same impact.

It is the general assumption that shipping from anywhere within North America will have a lesser impact than shipping from international locations. You may be surprised to learn that is not always the case.

We published a post a few years back touching on this topic in regards to buying glass water bottles that were made in China. We received great feedback on that blog post, and we’d like to take another look at the issues surrounding global shipping with our readers and clients.

So, why do we have this automatic assumption that buying from international suppliers will have a greater environmental impact? In short, it’s the distance. We imagine how far that product has traveled and the harmful emissions caused by its transportation.

Absolutely, the distance a product travels leads to an increased carbon footprint, but in fact, the mode of transport is often a greater indicator of its environmental impact. It’s no surprise that air transport is by far the most harmful, but what many people don’t know is that road (truck) and rail actually produces more emissions than container shipping via ocean.

Air transport produces nearly 60 times more carbon dioxide equivalent emissions than ocean transport, raising greenhouse gas emissions exponentially. Road (or truck) transport produces about 7 times the emissions compared to ocean transport, while rail produces double the emissions. HP does a good job of laying out this hierarchy in their 2009 CSR report.

Statistics aside, transporting by plane remains by far the quickest method of delivery, and often clients and customers are constrained by time when making a decision about shipping. We always urge clients to plan ahead—it really makes all the difference. Shipping should be a top priority discussed when buying a product from a supplier anywhere.

Being based in a port city like Vancouver, transporting a product from a supplier elsewhere in Canada via truck or rail sounds like the more efficient, eco-conscious and economically-sound move. But, if we can get the same product shipped by ocean from a global port city, we are actually reducing GHG emissions. This is not to say that we don’t make the effort to buy locally, there are many reasons beyond shipping to encourage that (check out for some great buy local insights).

The option isn’t always there to buy from suppliers based in our city. Like many businesses, we’re nestled in a global supply chain. Our efforts are focused on using modes of transportation that have less of an impact. We work with clients and supplier to raise awareness on the impacts of rushing their orders – both the costs to them and the environment.

For more insight into this topic, take a look that this very interesting piece on the carbon footprint of wine. The author of this post did impressive research and it is a compelling and important read.

Here are a few US and Canadian programs address these issues in the transportation sector:

US Smartway

Green Suppliers Network

The Canadian Program (ecoFreight) is now defunct but has information on past initiatives

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