Saturday 24 August 2013

guest post : Olivia Golding : organic cotton

Today I'm delighted to bring you a guest post from up-and-coming fashion journalist, Olivia Golding. Enjoy!

What Goes Into Growing Organic Cotton?

Light and fluffy, cotton is a material that plays a major role in all our lives. It's highly likely that you're wearing something that has been made from cotton right now. What about that t-shirt on your back, or perhaps the jeans you're wearing?

It was around 7,000 years ago that humans are believed to have started growing cotton in the part of the world now known as Pakistan. Over the following millennia its use spread and today cotton is used to make two-fifths of all the world's textile products.

So many uses  
The reason that cotton is so popular is that it can be used to make so many things. Clothing items made from cotton can be found everywhere, but there are some more obscure items that also use the fibres attached to cotton seeds. These fine, silky strands known as cotton linters are used to add cellulose to products in order to stabilise them. For example, food manufacturers will add cellulose to items such as low fat ice-cream to ensure the dessert is still creamy when you lick it. It is also used in grated cheese to coat the individual strands to stop them sticking together and the product ending up as one big block. And that piece of gum you're chewing on… yep, it's in that too!    

Not quite so fluffy and nice

There's no denying that cotton is a great raw material and it is no accident that is has become so important in countries across the world. Unfortunately, producing cotton has a number of drawbacks. One of the main ones is that cotton is one of the most heavily sprayed crops in the world, with pesticides and herbicides used to help protect crops. Some estimates suggest the traditional cotton growing industry is responsible for almost a quarter of the world's insecticide use and a tenth of global pesticide use. There is also the issue of water usage as it takes more than 8,000 litres of water(1) to grow enough cotton to make a pair of jeans. The good news is that there are moves to curb the use of sprays that can harm the environment and wildlife. The supply of organically-grown cotton is increasing.

What is organic cotton?
Put simply, organic cotton is grown without the use of chemical pesticides or fertilisers. The overall aim is to produce cotton that has been grown in a way that has the least impact on the environment. Organic cotton farmers use compost and manure to build up fertility in land naturally, avoiding the use of synthetic pesticides. It's estimated that as many a 77 million people are poisoned each year through the use of such chemicals(2). It is always surprising to think that even though thousands of chemicals(3) have been used to turn a raw material into a finished product, so many parents will still put that material next to their child's skin. What's more, the production of organic cotton uses less water because organic systems mostly use rain fed water systems rather than artificial irrigation(4)

Better for the workers
Organic cotton is not just better for the environment, it is also better for the people working in the industry. According to the US-based Organic Trade Association, insecticides considered to be among the most harmful to human health, including Aldicarb, parathion and methamidopho, are in the top 10 list of most commonly-used insecticides by non-organic cotton growers(5). By removing such toxic pesticides from the growing process, workers in the fields are not exposed to them and the risk to health is nullified. And there's more good news for consumers, as businesses involved in organic cotton growing also tend to abide by other employment standards international labour standards(6), covering everything from fair wages and good working conditions to acceptable working hours and avoidance of discrimination. According to Jacqueline DeCarlo, author of Fair Trade: A Beginner's Guide, about 85 per cent of fair trade-certified coffee sold in the US is also organic. So by investing in organic clothing, consumers could also be having a direct impact on the lives of employees in developing countries around the world.

This post was contributed by Olivia Golding (hello!). As I've gotten older I've become more aware of the world that we live in and how we impact it, which is why I appreciated Lisa giving me the opportunity to write about the cotton industry! It's all about spreading the world, starting in little steps. I think that too many brands currently focus on the money - rather than how they source their material! That's why I'd like to mention Beaumont Organic - an ethical and organic clothing company. A brand that reflects my own views! I hope you enjoyed my post, thanks so much for listening.




Tuesday 20 August 2013

a green hybrid fling

The great American road trip, one of life's must-take journeys.

This summer my hubby and I could think of no better way to reacquaint ourselves with the land of our births than embarking on our own grand road trip of the lower 48. We were so excited to visit as many national parks, American sights and kitschy small-town USA cafes and shops as we could handle - and our tolerance is very high. And in America, with so many varying cultures thriving within her borders, and a brilliant Interstate highway system, a car really is the best way to explore.

America's love affair with cars began after the end of World War II, and throughout the 1950s this love expanded to incorporate hot rods, drive-in movies and drive-through restaurants, and Americans began to see their car as an extension of themselves, something adding to their identity. It was also during this decade that Eisenhower developed the concept of the Interstate highway system. Ultimately this love affair was enhanced by the suburbanisation of the nation, marked the beginning of the end of healthy inner-cities, and is responsible for 28% of America's total greenhouse gas emissions.

Thanks EPA for the statistics.

This meant we had to be very smart with our choice of road trip vehicle, especially with the distance we intended to cover!

At the start of our search I really Really REALLY wanted a Prius.  I mean, I'm the Sustainability with Style girl, what car is more sustainably stylish than the cute Prius hatchback?

But before we ran out and purchased the first Prius we came across, we did our eco-car homework to make sure we were getting the most ecologically-wise option on the market. I needed a life-cycle analysis of a hybrid versus electric versus diesel versus good fuel-economy 'regular' car - thank goodness for the LCA practitioners out there. . .

After reviewing many technical reports, I felt very comfortable selecting a hybrid vehicle. The latest LCA for vehicles suggests that electric vehicles have a slight advantage assuming a decent mix of renewable energy is used to charge the battery (this report from June 2012 is based on California's bill AB 32 that mandates 33% renewables in the energy mix by 2020), but since the vast majority of the miles on my car would come all at once on a road trip, where I would not have reliable charging stations at my disposal, let alone renewable energy charging, a hybrid seemed like the easy choice.

The next decision was also easy - it had to be pre-loved. No need to generate emissions and use new materials creating a brand new car just for me. Not to mention the cos savings! Thankfully there were plenty of Priuses (or is the plural Prii?) available at the Toyota dealer as certified used vehicles just coming in from lease, so I literally had my pick of the lot.

Sandy and I at Albion Basin, Utah before a hike.
And now, at the end of our great American road trip, and we've clocked over 11,000 miles in two months in our pal Sandy the Prius, and seen so many amazing sights and met so many lovely people.

But the eco-stats . . .

On average, with the car piled with luggage and camping gear, Sandy achieved great fuel economy of 47 miles per gallon (MPG). This number gets higher when we're driving without the luggage or when we're driving at slower speeds, say through Yellowstone National Park, where we averaged 54 MPG. I found a delightful webpage on which calculated for me how much money I saved in gas (or petrol) compared to a similar non-hybrid vehicle. Drumroll please . . .   

We've saved $581 in our first two months of Prius-ownership! That's a few sustainable fashion pieces right there, not to mention carbon offsets to make up for my travel habit.

Now that we're back in California for a little while, I hope to park Sandy for days at a time and limit my driving. I'll keep you updated on maneuvering public transportation in one of the most congested, car-loving states I know.

I'd love to know if you've had similar or different experiences buying and driving a hybrid or electric vehicle - drop me a line or tweet me about it @lisa_heinze.


PS - There is good news, with reports this year finding that car ownership is on the decline and people are generally driving less in this country, a trend that began even before the recession. Here's hoping public transportation can keep up!

PPS - Here's another great resource outlining various types of alternative fuels coming into the marketplace

PPSS - And here is a wonderful resource with many other links about different types of environmentally-friendly vehicles and fuel sources (thanks to some readers for sharing this one!)