Archive for the ‘Product Research’ Category

Putting it all together

January 16, 2013

Collaboration

Many of us can attest to the fact that collaboration in just about any area has benefits almost everywhere, all the time. Despite the fact that the promotional product industry is worth about $20 billion a year, it’s a bit of an undone jigsaw — a lot of people are doing their thing in small groups that don’t get many chances to communicate and connect with each other. That’s why trade shows can be so great: they’re full of the kind of energy and creativity that emanate from an atmosphere in which large numbers of people have convened in the same place with many of the same goals. Trade shows are occasional, however, not the business of every day. We need more.

The development of social media and different tech platforms is helping to bridge that communication and collaboration gap among innovators in the industry. We’re excited about the aims of some of the outfits involved in this movement, and about the potential here. Promokitchen.com consists of a group of industry leaders who have launched a platform for the sole purpose of sharing and collaborating. From their technology articles to their podcasts, they’re sharing great content — including a podcast by Denise on sustainability — and bringing the industry together.

Another site, Commonsku describes itself as “a next generation CRM, order management, and social collaboration tool for the promotional products industry,” and it lets suppliers and distributors connect like never before. We’re really happy to see folks like these surface in the cyber sea to throw us all lifelines and get us on-board together, and 2013 should bring more of them to the surface.

It’s really heartening to think about the powerful ties that Fairware and its colleagues will be able to forge in the near future. We’re hopeful, and we’re working hard to fuel that hope — because that’s the kind of work that’s never wasted.

EXPLORING SUSTAINABLE ALTERNATIVES PART 2: DEGRADABLE VS. BIODEGRADABLE VS. COMPOSTABLE

September 26, 2012

From Flickr Common Creatives via @cobdogblog

Last week, we posted a piece on bioplastics and the problems that arise from improper disposal of bioplastic and plastic products. Primarily, we touched on the misconceptions regarding labelling. Labels are sometimes misleading and the terminology used is often confusing. We love that so many clients and customers are coming to us looking for sustainable alternatives to common materials like plastic. That’s why we want to further explore the differences between degradable, biodegradable and compostable to better manage waste and to make the most of these eco-friendly options.

The Environment and Plastic Industry Council states that the term “degradable” broadly implies that the product will break down into smaller pieces naturally, over a (vague) period of time. “Biodegradable” is the process that takes place after degradation, when the particles are consumed by micro-organisms, resulting in water, carbon dioxide or organic matter.

“Compostable”, meanwhile, refers to degradable materials that—under proper commercial or home composting conditions—turn into usable compost or humus that enriches the soil and returns nutrients to the earth. These products leave no toxic waste behind and the process takes between 90 to 180 days.

So, how do you actually dispose of these products properly?

As we mentioned in last week’s post, most municipalities in Canada and the US still lack the proper means to compost and recycle. Between that and misleading terms, well-intentioned customers are becoming frustrated.

With the help of some wonderful sources, including the Green Office, we’d like to clear some things up:

 

  • Compostable products must be disposed of in a proper industrial composting facility. If such facility is not available, these products can be disposed of in the backyard or in a home composter, though it will take longer for the products to fully disintegrate. Improper disposal of compostable products in the recycling bin will actually contaminate the recycling process.
  • Biodegradable products are most often thrown in the garbage. While this should theoretically be okay as these materials are thought to just “break down”, it’s really not. Landfills are basically built to entomb waste and therefore lack the microorganisms and oxygen to break down these materials in a timely manner. Until there are proper processing facilities for biodegradable materials—like in California and Washington—these materials should be disposed of through a composting facility. But again, with the green bin program only just taking off in major cities, most municipalities make it next to impossible to properly and efficiently dispose of biodegradable products.
  • Recyclables should always be disposed of through the municipal curbside garbage program—those blue bins that are handily available almost everywhere. If there is no access to these programs or blue bins, services like Earth911.org help locate drop-off locations.

 

As customers are becoming more inclined to choose products that are environmentally-friendly, eco-conscious consumerism has become a hot button for advertisers. While the Federal Trades Commission’s Green Guide regulates how companies can use the terms “degradable,” “biodegradable” and “compostable,” customers are still advised to beware of “greenwashing.” This is when companies deliberately lead consumers to think their brand is “green”, without actually being so. The next generation of green products can also be labelled oxo-biodegradable, hydro-biodegradable, photo-biodegradable or water soluble. With more and more terms being thrown into the game, companies are getting away with branding their products improperly—or even just making up terms that sound eco-friendly.

Recent amends to the Federal Trades Commission’s Green Guide and the Canadian Standards Association and Competition Bureau have tightened regulations on companies using these terms and require that environmental claims be made clear, specific and verified. Any claims made must now be backed up with evidence.

But, as with everything, it is up to the customer to use discretion when buying—and to always read labels correctly and to use and dispose properly. And let’s not forget that waste—any waste—should be reduced. Cutting back the purchase of one-time-use products and reusing or repurposing is always the best choice when thinking green.

EXPLORING SUSTAINABLE ALTERNATIVES: A LOOK AT BIOPLASTICS (Pt. 1)

September 18, 2012

We talk a lot about sustainable alternatives to commonly used products here at Fairware—from re-purposed and recycled items to organic textiles. It’s actually quite amazing how many options there are when making a conscious choice to buy better products.

Take plastic for instance. From plastic containers and packaging to utensils and bottles—so much of what we come across in everyday life  is made from plastics and they can have a devastating impact on the environment, human health, species maintenance, and the ocean.

First, let’s talk about what makes common plastics so damaging. Common plastics are obtained from petroleum, which significantly increases the production of greenhouse gases and makes the plastics reliant on fossil fuels. Aside from what these plastics take from the environment during manufacturing, there is the major issue of what they leave behind. Some common plastics such as Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) and Polystyrene are notable for the hazards throughout their life-cyle.  The production and disposal of some plastics can threaten the life of ocean species and animals, but also humans.

So, in short: the production common plastics is threatening our environment and health. Yet, their uses are vast and the need for plastic is unavoidable.

Enter bioplastics or biopolymers, promising to be a safer, environmentally responsible alternative. While there are other types of “biodegradable plastics” on the market, for the purpose of this post, we’re looking at bioplastics such as PLA are plastics that are derived from renewable living sources, such as vegetable fats and oils, corn starch, potatoes, and rice. And as with most innovations, they’re bring opportunity and have risks. We explore both below:

But the biggest draw towards bioplastics is in its lifecycle. Most—though not all—bio-materials disintegrate rapidly in commercially managed composting processed. In theory, this means there are less harmful waste left in our ecosystems. Bioplastics that are not biodegradable are used to make non-disposable items such as cell phone casings or car interiors. The objective of these bioplastic applications is the use of sustainable, renewable resources in production rather than the end of life biodegradability.

According to some studies, bioplastics account for a whopping 42% reduction in carbon footprint. However, that’s not say these studies haven’t had their fair share of disputes. For example, Environmental data from NatureWorks, the only commercial manufacturer of PLA (polylactic acid) bioplastic, says that making its plastic material delivers a fossil fuel saving of between 25 and 68 per cent compared with polyethylene, in part due to its purchasing of renewable energy certificates for its manufacturing plant.

There remain critical changes that need to be made in the bio-plastics game. Powering farming machinery and irrigating crops rely heavily on petroleum as an energy source. There are also concerns around the use of genetically modified organisms in agricultural feedstock production and using a food based crop for fuel.  Finally, there is a major lack in composting and recycling infrastructure. Cities like Seattle and San Francisco have successfully implemented proper composting and recycling infrastructures. Without this infrastructure, most bioproducts end up as trash in a landfill. The emergence of a third party certification agency (BPI in the US) tasked with certifying a manufacturers claims regarding compostability to international standards will help to standardize what is and isn’t suitable for municipal composting.

Getting consumers on board is the first step towards implementing the proper production and composting infrastructure needed to make the best of bioplastic technologies. The first step comes in helping consumers understand the environmental, human and economic impacts made by their purchases (no small task, we know). But confusing labels often mislead consumers. Take “bio-based,” for example, sounds like a product branded like this would be biodegradable, right? Actually, this is not necessarily the case.

“Biodegradable,” meanwhile, does not always mean compostable, but rather that the product will eventually disintegrate. Bewildering labeling is actually a major factor of improper recycling and composting – it’s confusing to say the least. We are going to further into the FTC Guidelines on compostable vs. biodegradable vs. degradable in our post next week, so stay tuned for that!

Like all new, sustainable technologies and initiatives, there is good and bad. The development of bioplastics shows a promising push towards renewability and compostability. But there needs to be continued consumer education of how these products are properly used as well as adequate means to compost and recycle these bioplastics before this technology reaches its full potential.

CYCLE OF LIFE: A LOOK AT GRANFONDO AND CYCLING CULTURE

August 30, 2012

 

We’re big fans of cycling at Fairware. As part of our commitment to healthy, active lifestyles and reducing our own daily environmental impact, we’ve tried to make our workplace cycling friendly. So, when RBC approached us to pitch on creating a product for the rider gift bags that are given to all riders participating in the RBC GranFondo KelownaRBC GranFondo Whistler, and some of the riders participating in the RBC GranFondo Banff – we were psyched.

As cyclists, we knew what we’d want to receive in our rider gift bags. In fact, our co-founder and CEO had already signed up for the 2012 RBC GranFondo Kelowna ride.  In collaboration with the RBC team we landed on a custom branded cycling multi-tool. It was functional, practical and on brand – a true ‘product with purpose’.

GranFondo—loosely translated from Italian means “big ride”—has been a major cycling event across Europe for decades. Participants of varying skill levels sign on for a 100 km-plus ride that tests their physical endurance and their love of the sport. This isn’t an everyday bicycle ride—the route is made up of steep hills, long distances and hordes of other bikers fueling a friendly competition. It is an epic showcase of the growing road biking trend in North America.

We have talked a lot over the past few months about the environmental impact of transporting goods. Making a switch to ocean shipping or local sourcing is one thing, but our obligation to the environment must run deeper than how we run our business. That is why we encourage our staff to implement our corporate mission in their everyday lives.

According to the WorldWatch Institute, a short six km bicycle ride keeps nearly fifteen pounds of pollutants out of the air we breathe. Greenhouse gas emissions from private motor vehicles have risen 35% over the last two decades in Canada. The population, meanwhile, has only grown 19%. Smaller cities such as Kingston, Ontario account for higher emissions than metropolitan cities like Montreal, which recorded the lowest per capita emissions of GHG.

This statistic may seem surprising, but Montreal has always been a trailblazer in encouraging its locals to keep their cars at home. It was one of the first cities to incorporate bicycle lanes in its downtown core. And to give everyone access to a bicycle, the fantastic BIXI Montreal —a bicycle rental service that runs like ZipCar with members being able to borrow a bike at their convenience—has dozens of stations across the city.

Vancouver, British Columbia—where our Fairware office is located—is also leading in its push towards a bicycle-friendly infrastructure. Bike lanes and a moderate climate make it easy for locals to ride to work instead of drive – and some workplaces are taking note. We have equipped our office with indoor bicycle storage and showers—additions that have further helped our staff make the smarter choice of how they get to work. Adding an ‘office lock’ for unexpected trips and a tire pump have helped as well (and there has been lobbying for an ‘office bike’).

Denise uses her RBC multi-tool to set her cleats on her fancy new bike shoes.

With the RBC GranFondo Whistler taking place on Saturday, September 8th, spots are still available if you want to ride! We hope to see these type of events grow (with more scheduled for 2013), and continue to show participants and observers alike that a commute by bike is not only better for your health and the environment—but also a quick, efficient and rewarding way to get to your destination.

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.

SILICONE WARS: Is Silicone Rubber Safe?

June 26, 2012

Silicone Pint Glasses

Brightly coloured silicone has been trending for years as a safer and more aesthetically pleasing alternative to Teflon or plastic products. Being curious types, it’s prompted us at Fairware to question: Just how safe is it, really?

Silicone is heat-resistant synthetic compound made from naturally occurring resources including carbon, hydrogen and oxygen in combination with silicon atoms. http://grist.org/living/2011-12-19-ask-umbra-is-silicone-cookware-safe/ The rubbery material has been popping up rapidly on store shelves, particularly in the form of cookware, water bottle nozzles, and a variety of other products that come in direct contact with food and drink. Manufacturers maintain that is it safe, and Health Canada backs the material as having no reaction with food and beverages. http://www.davidsuzuki.org/what-you-can-do/queen-of-green/faqs/toxics/is-silicone-bakeware-eco-friendly-and-safe/

There are plenty of bright sides to this versatile material, including its low toxicity, low chemical reactivity, and low thermal conductivity. It also emits no hazardous fumes and it is non-biodegradable, making it technically recyclable—though many recycling centres unfortunately still refuse to accept it. The leading manufacturers of silicone-based products belong to four non-profit organizations that deal exclusively with promoting the safety of silicone from a health, safety, and environmental perspective. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Silicone

Despite the green light from Health Canada and its four non-commercial organizations, there are still concerns. The use of silicone in cookware is a relatively recent, and there remains very little research to debunk worries of possible long-term side-effects on health and on the environment. And the stamp of approval from Health Canada is, frankly, a little dubious. Non-stick Teflon cookware, for instance, has been deemed safe for humans by the government agency, despite causing cancer in test rats.

So, there is really no concrete answer to the question of safety surrounding silicone – while it is clearly a less toxic material than many on the market, questions remain. It is our hope that the increasing use of silicone in products will prompt further and more stringent testing—and that consumers will continue to demand more insight into the products they buy.

 

Bamboozled? Getting the facts on Bamboo Textiles

June 11, 2012

We’ve re-posted this from 2010 because it’s still a good primer on bamboo & it’s still a material that people have lots of questions about.

At Fairware we’ve had plenty of interest in apparel with bamboo content. In addition to being easy to care for, soft and silky, bamboo fibers have been loudly touted as the newest and greatest in eco-apparel.

But there are conflicting facts about the environmental attributes of bamboo textiles so we’ve taken a closer look. The following is based on our online research and we welcome your comments, input and suggestions.

Bamboo: The Plant

The premise that bamboo textiles are eco-friendly is largely based on the sustainability merits of the plant. Part of the grass family, bamboo is the fastest growing plant on Earth (giant kelp is second). Instead of taking centuries to mature, like hardwood, bamboo can be harvested after only 3 to 5 years.

Bamboo is also self-sustaining with an extensive root system that sends up new shoots each year. This substantially reduces the need for intense cultivation practices. The large root system also helps prevent soil erosion and improves the water-holding capacity of the watershed. With sufficient rainfall, bamboo crops don’t require irrigation. (more…)

Responsible Education

July 19, 2010

We’re happy to feature the following guest post from Mary Hanlon, Founder of Social Alterations, an education lab for responsible fashion design.

It is no secret that human rights violations run rampant behind the seams of the mainstream apparel industry, while environmental destruction remains unchecked (alongside unchecked environmental degradation). Seeing responsible education as the first point of intervention, at Social Alterations (SA) we’ve set out to design interdisciplinary learning resources and tools that strive to mitigate these wrongs; SA is a transdisciplinary, service-based learning organization, an education lab for responsible fashion design.

SA Co-Founder, Nadira Lamrad, on what organic cotton means to her at the 2010 Fashioning an Ethical Industry Conference in London, England

We deliver key insights into the social, cultural, environmental and economic impact (both positive and/or negative) of fashion products and systems. At SA, we argue that designers and design educators have a responsibility to consider the social, cultural, environmental, and economic consequence and impact (positive or negative) of fashion products and systems. They can do this during the design process by understanding the way in which their product interacts with each of these categories through every phase of that products life. This is arguably the toughest design brief out there, (more…)

Sustainable Purchasing & Eco-Labels

May 16, 2010

Flickr / schizoform

A couple weeks ago I attended a Metro Vancouver Community Sustainability Breakfast. The focus of this month’s session was sustainable purchasing and eco-labels. Metro Vancouver did a great job in selecting speakers. The panel featured Trevor Bowden from Big Room Inc., Tim Reeve of Reeve Consulting and Bob Purdy from the Fraser Basin Council.

Ecolabelling.org

The session started with a ‘big picture’ description of eco-labels by Trevor Bowden. Big Room Inc. is the creator of ecolabelling.org, a website which hosts a database of all the eco-labels available on the marketplace. It’s a really helpful, free tool which anyone can use to look up a specific eco-label and find out the type of products it covers, the length of time its been in existence, how products are verified, links to additional resources and more. Basically it allows visitors to judge eco-labels on a variety of merits, and determine which programs are in line with their concerns.

So many eco-labels to consider…

Given the great number and range of eco-labels currently in action (ecolabelling.org tracks more than 300 different programs!) Trevor suggested breaking them down into categories based on the number of environmental attributes and life cycle phases a label covers. Energy Star, for example, is considered a single stage, single issue label since it looks at consumer use of a product and the amount of energy the item consumes. Ecologo on the other hand is a multi-stage, multi-issue label since it examines the manufacture, use and disposal of products and a variety of environmental attributes.

When choosing an eco-label, a good starting point is considering what the largest impacts of a given product will be. For example, with a new computer, certified sustainable packaging isn’t nearly as valuable as a logo recognizing low energy consumption or clean production.

Characteristics of a good eco-logo

To further simplify your eco-logo choices, Trevor shed some light on the characteristics of good ones, including:

  1. Independent 3rd party verification of claims – A party other than the manufacturer or certifying body has verified the claims. A study from Yale University showed the most trusted eco-labels are validated by environmental groups. Not surprisingly, the least trusted are validated by industry.
  2. Life-cycle based – The entire life of the product is considered
  3. An open and  transparent standard development process
  4. Publicly available standards

An additional characteristic Trevor raised is the level to which an eco-label is “future proof”, meaning that as new standards and science develops, the eco-label is able to adapt and change.

The International Standard Organization (ISO) has put together a group of standards for governing environmental labeling. You can read more about it on the ISO website.

Eco-labels for purchasers

While these guidelines and tools are helpful, without a deep understanding of the field and exposure to constant updates, it can still be tricky to choose an eco-logo program that represents your organization’s needs.

(more…)

The high cost of cheap T-shirts

January 19, 2010

Photo: Johnnie Utah/Flickr

This post by Siel Ju originally appeared on the Mother Nature Network.

Learn how that $3 T-shirt could be creating water shortages, trade imbalances and environmental pollution.

In his book Ecological Intelligence, Daniel Goleman argues that even organic cotton T-shirts aren’t necessarily very eco-friendly, since they can still be shipped all around the world to be sewn together in sweatshop conditions before being chemically dyed in a polluting facility. Of course, conventionally grown cotton T-shirts still fare much worse under eco-scrutiny, especially those grown and made in China.

Just how ecologically damaging those “all-natural” T-shirts are has been laid bare, thanks to a feature article in the latest issue of Miller-McCune magazine. In “Can China Turn Cotton Green?” Chris Wood takes a close look at a study conducted by the International Institute for Sustainable Development in Winnipeg, Canada, that drew from an international network of experts to look at the cotton T-shirt manufacturing process.

Read the rest of this article on Mother Nature Network >


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