Economic ‘degrowth’ during Corona

The economic activity has decreased dramatically during Corona. We see it in our everyday life since we’re not consuming the way we used to, for example going to shows, eating out and traveling. Neither are we producing the way we used to and are instead working from home at a different pace, on temporary leave or asked to use saved vacation days. GDP, gross domestic product, summarises our consumption and production and has thus decreased during Corona. To be precise, Swedish GDP decreased 8.6% in the second quarter of the year. It is the largest single quarterly drop in modern history in Sweden, larger than the last financial crisis. We have, during Corona, a form of degrowth of our GDP.

Degrowth of economic activity is an interesting phenomenon. There are those that think GDP degrowth is at some point inevitable. In fact, GDP growth in western countries has slowed since the 1960th, especially GDP per capita. Degrowth might at some point become our new normal. A key question in a future without GDP growth is how we will finance the welfare state, which this research project discussed. Consumption taxes is one of the state’s largest income sources. Decreasing consumption and production means decreasing tax revenues. Even without actual degrowth, a slowing GDP growth might mean that the welfare state cannot expand anymore.

There are, however, those that consider degrowth desireable. One of my summer reads is the book “Degrowth: a vocabulary for a new era” by editors Giacomo D’Alisa, Federico Demaria and Giorgos Kallis. I was curious about the book after reading a Harvard Business Review article by related scholars, encouraging companies to embrace the degrowth movement. Reading both the book and HBR article, you see that the degrowth movement is diverse, partly incoherent, what we sometimes call an umbrella concept i.e. it joins together a range of more or less coherent ideas. Some of these ideas are basic income, back to the land and occupy movements. Some of the degrowth proponents even want to abolish capitalism. Others, like Thomas Roulet and Joel Bothello in HBR are really proposing circular economy ideas under a trendy degrowth heading. As you might suspect, there is a clear political left wing tendency, especially in the book.

I find it really valuable to discuss these ideas about limited economic growth in a serious way. While many are critical of expanding production, pursuit of growth and misuse of our natural resources, few outline what the alternative would be. In this sense, the Degrowth book is a bit of a disappointment as it suggests trendy ideas that I’m sure may appeal to conscious young middle class people in western cities, but are unlikely to be embraced the rest of the world. Similarly, the scenarios sketched out by the KTH-lead researchers in the Formas project ‘Futures beyond GDP growth‘ are also more utopian than pragmatic. In my opinion, good solutions for stagnated GDP growth are still missing.

Moreover, as Giorgos Kallis notes in his chapter, if you enforce self-limitation, simplicity and equality from the top, citizens will not be loyal to the ruling power. Arguably, the reason our voluntary simplicity during Corona has worked so well is because it is perceived as something inevitable, caused by an uncontrollable virus. If political leaders had asked us to limit our consumption this way, even for the benefit of the climate, not everyone would obey. On the positive side, we have now experienced a level of voluntary simplicity and some of these habits might survive after the Corona crisis. It would be interesting to study.

On the pessimistic side, despite the sharp reduction of economic activity, CO2 emissions during this period have not decreased sufficiently. It underlines what the book also highlights, GDP degrowth is not a solution in itself. GDP as a measure does not tell you whether the economic activity that has decreased is ‘good’ or ‘bad’ for the climate. Simply put, despite the reduced economic activity, CO2 intense activity has not decreased sufficiently during Corona. However, there are likely some activities, with only limited climate impact, that do not need to decrease to the extent that they have during Corona.

Three myths about the circular economy

A circular, rather than linear, economy may be the solution to many of our environmental problems. A circular turn requires businesses to rethink how their business operations are organized. When striving for circularity, businesses have to take into account where their resources come from and what happens to their products after use, i.e. the end-of-life of products. This is all good. Since the circular economy has become so popular lately, however, we also find some myths within this debate. I’ve found at least three.

  1. Renting or leasing is more circular than owning. Circular companies sell services (or ‘functionality’) rather than products. This is not universally true, as Agrawal, Ferguson, Toktay and Thomas (2012) have shown. Renting or leasing is not automatically more environmentally friendly. Moreover, changing your business to a service instead of selling a product may be costly for the business, as discussed at a workshop for Vinnova-funded research projects in January. Most importantly, whether you own or lease a product says nothing about the circularity of the product itself i.e. if it is recyclable. The electric scooters that people rent are a prime example of this fact.
  2. Companies need a ‘circular business model’ to become circular. To the opposite, in our Vinnova research project, we found that most companies did not change their business model. Instead, they collaborated with others to achieve circularity for some part of their business, to achieve circular packaging or waste flows, for example. In many cases, companies depend on markets for circular materials, what some call ‘open loops’.
  3. Circularity is achieved through technical solutions. We definitely need technical solutions but they also require that customers and consumers behave a certain way, in order to close the loop. For example, when products have been used, they have to be returned somehow to be able to be reused or recycled. Financial incentives, such as deposit-refund systems, are efficient and get customers to return used products, but convenience is equally important and not least learnt social behavior. Thus new technical solutions have to be matched with necessary behavioral change to work. This is quite often overlooked in the circular economy debate.

The latter point is also what Anna Kremel and I study in our new Formas research project in collaboration with Returpack, Kantar SIFO and Ungdomsbarometern (read about it in English here).

My slow fashion year 2019 in review

It’s a tradition now, to summarise my slow fashion year. I started this tradition the first year of my no-shopping challenge and while doing so I also made a wardrobe audit i.e. calculated all the clothes in my wardrobe and put them into an excel sheet. Since then, I have a very good overview of what I own and keep track of how much is added to and leaves the wardrobe each year. But my wardrobe statistics do not stop there, in fact this was just the beginning. The second year without shopping I started keeping track of how much time I spent mending clothes each month as well as how much money I spend at the dry cleaner (paying for mending and cleaning) and also at the shoemaker.

As if this was not enough, during 2018 I also started using the app Cladwell, inspired by slow fashion guru Elizabeth Cline. This app took my wardrobe statistics to another level as I now know how many times I wear each item in my wardrobe, which colors I wear more and which combinations of clothes I wear the most. I log my outfits, as on the picture, in the app daily and check my statistics unnecessarily often (so proud that I wear 98% of my wardrobe!).

Do you need all of these statistics and apps to do slow fashion or for a year no-shopping? Of course not. It’s absolutely not necessary. I didn’t start this way either. But on the other hand, if like me, you are the type that enjoys numbers and statistics, or also admired Alicia Silverstone’s computerized wardrobe in Clueless in your teenage years, then go ahead and do a wardrobe audit and/or use a wardrobe app that keeps track of the wardrobe and suggests outfits for you. Slow fashion should be fun and stress free. Not shopping reduces stress and saves time for me. The app helps me to get creative with what I own and to come up with outfits I didn’t think of before.

So what did I learn from all these numbers and tracking, what happened in my wardrobe during 2019? On the inflow side, I made two items. I sewed an Ogden cami in some silk fabric I bought and a Twiggy dress from a torn Laura Ashley duvet and dyed it with onion skins. I didn’t knit anything for myself, quite an achievement for an avid knitter. I was gifted some stockings from family members who know that this is always welcome as I don’t shop but wear a lot of stockings. I inherited four items from my mom. New this year is that I bought a bit of underwear for myself, choosing more sustainable alternatives such as Swedish Stockings. As I noted at the beginning of this year, it’s silly to ask others to buy for me just to keep the no-shopping record. Moreover, this year, like previous ones, I overestimated the need to buy clothing and apart from underwear, I’ve kept the no-shopping habit. In total, 28 items were added to the wardrobe, which is similar to last year.

On the outflow side, 38 items left the wardrobe, 8 more than last year. I sold a few items (on tradera, on commission at second hand stores and Vestiaire Collective) and gave a few to family members. I recycled some (mainly stockings in Swedish Stockings recycling program). I wore out and threw away 25 items (always after already mending), which is also similar to last year. I unravelled two knitwear, using this tutorial, and recovered the yarn so I can use it to knit with. In total, I am finally under 540 items, at 538, in my wardrobe, which feels like an achievement. At this rate, I will wear out my wardrobe in 54 years’ time, by the age of 90.

In the mending department, I spent approximately 3h mending during the whole year. It’s half the time I spent mending last year. This is very much a sign that my mending pile is now of a reasonable size. When I got interested in slow fashion, I had years of accumulated mending needs, i.e. lots of clothing in the wardrobe that needed mending in some measure. These past two years, it’s seemed as if mending is never ending. At some point, I decided to prioritize clothes in season when mending, as a season could go by and I couldn’t wear certain items because they were stuck in the endless mending pile. But, finally, things have changed and I’m up to date. I only have three or four items waiting to be mended, also an achievement.

As for outsourcing of mending and cleaning, I have spent 3800 SEK at the dry cleaner, also less than last year. A big part of those 3800 SEK went to changing the lining of a 1980s coat I once inherited from my mom. Basically, I could have bought a new cheap coat at the same price but chose to hand in the old one to get a new lining. It’s a decent coat, made in England, you couldn’t get that today for the 1600 SEK I spent on the lining. In terms of shoe repair, I only spent 500 SEK which is also less than last year.

To summarise, my friends, things are looking good. I am getting closer to a manageable size wardrobe that I might even wear out during my lifetime. I’m getting closer to a number of items that might actually fit in my cabinet and drawers. I wear most of my clothes on a regular basis. I spend very little money and time on the wardrobe. When I do spend time on it, it’s because I enjoy sewing/knitting things for myself. And, to tell the truth, I have been looking forward to writing this review of my wardrobe/slow fashion year for months. It’s one of my favorite end-of-the-year things to do. So big thanks to you people who read and ask how my no-shopping commitment is going, as I love to tell.

Happy new 2020 to you all!

Can sustainability reports regulate companies’ conduct?

Browsing articles in the research journal AAAJ the other day, I noticed that my own article, published over a year ago, was on their list of ‘most read in the past 7 days’. This fact made my week. It is more than great when your research matters to the research community, however, sometimes there are learning point for non-academic society too. Rereading the paper, I do think there are points in the paper that could be interesting for non-researchers as well. Hence this blog post.

In recent years, it has become mandatory for large companies to produce a sustainability report each year. In Sweden, it became mandatory because of an EU directive. The idea behind this kind of regulation is that the company’s sustainability report will inform its stakeholders- such as customers, local community, employees and investors- about what the company does in relation to sustainability issues such as climate change, human rights, anti-corruption etc. The stakeholders can then use this information, if they are unhappy with what the company does, to exert pressure on the company. The stakeholders can thus hold the company accountable for its actions. In this way, corporate conduct is regulated; the company will want to change its corporate conduct because of the stakeholder pressure. It is called ‘civil regulation’.

Interestingly, there are a number of cases in the research literature, specifically studying sustainability reporting, where civil regulation does not work as planned. There are cases of stakeholders, for example NGOs, that receive the sustainability reports and read them but do not feel equipped to exert pressure on the company. The company reports and the stakeholders receive it, but there is no civil regulation taking place. The company can continue with business as usual.

Reviewing these cases of ‘failed’ civil regulation, I try to explain why the reported information may not be enough to produce such civil regulation. My article argues that we, in these cases, tend to overestimate the ‘power’ of information and confuse it with knowledge. I use the example of ESG investor analysts, i.e. analysts that focus on how companies handle sustainability issues such as energy consumption, pollution, human rights etc. These investors do attempt to hold companies accountable for their unacceptable sustainability performance, a practice the industry calls ‘company engagement’. In my study I find that when the analysts do so, not all information is alike and the analysts rely on several other types of information, for example from consultants and media, plus many other types of resources such as theories, calculations etc. to show that they know what the company does and how it should change its practices.

Consequently, I argue that we need to carefully distinguish between information and knowledge. Information, such as sustainability reports, may indeed contribute to knowledge but is rarely enough on its own to hold the company accountable. We cannot assume that if someone has information about someone’s actions s/he will be able to hold this person accountable. What kind of information we hold matters: where it comes from, if it contradicts or confirms other accounts. It matters how it is used, together with other resources or to disprove other statements. Moreover, in some cases other resources other than information, for example theories, helped the analysts to hold the company accountable.

This study does not, however, show that sustainability reports are not useful for regulating companies’ conduct. It just illustrates that information in the form of a sustainability report is not enough on its own. If we construct this kind of reporting-based civil regulation, like the EU-directive, we should not overestimate the power of a single source of information. In this context, empirical studies such as the one in AAAJ can inform us about the role the reported sustainability information plays in practice.

Sustainability news of the week

There are so many interesting sustainability-related things happening so this post will summarise some of the ‘sustainability news’ from this week:

Swedish radio started a discussion about researchers’ flying habits. Apparently, Swedish universities (especially Karolinska Institutet, Uppsala and Lund) stand for a large part of the flight related CO2 emissions  from  public  authorities. Students at Lund university have called for professors to practice what they preach i.e. to reduce the climate impact of universities. It was also noted that research funders currently do not encourage environmental friendly travels.

Some positive news: the worlds first 100% recycled nylon stockings was launched today by Swedish Stockings. Previously, the stockings contained a small amount of new material.

Also very promising: Swedish researchers at Chalmers are working on constructing batteries with common and ready available metals such as steel. The switch from fossil fuels to electric batteries will, as batteries are designed today, require lots of rare earth metals. New battery design could make us less dependent on these rare metals. This is a good thing because, as you might know, there are lots of social problems around the mining of some of these rare metals such as cobalt.

Lively discussion of the week: researchers debating the climate impact of meat. A large group of researchers at Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU) wrote that ruminants, such as cows, have an important role in food production in Sweden and criticized the life-cycle analyses the climate calculations often are based on. Today Chalmers researchers responded. The SLU researchers study animal husbandry, whereas the Chalmers researchers belong to a space, geoscience and environment department at Chalmers. Despite this fact, the engineers accused the agricultural researchers for speaking about things “outside of their expertise” when discussing food and climate impact. The engineer researchers, one of them a former animal rights activist, also called the SLU researchers “animal researchers”. The debate is getting heated.

Swedish sustainability manager of the year was awarded yesterday to Anna Denell at Vasakronan. My researcher colleague Tommy Borglund was part of the jury.

While Tommy was handing out prices, I attended the release of SB Insight report of the Nordic market for circular economy. The report shows some interesting trends, for example that the awareness of what circular economy is is much greater in Finland than in Sweden.

Yet other researchers at Örebro University spend their days studying microplastics in Swedish lakes. There were higher concentrations in the inflows to the lakes, for example in Stockholm and Mälaren, than elsewhere. We often think of microplastics in the sea, however, they are also present in our lakes.

Other water news came from Water aid that released the report “Beneath the surface” highlighting how our imported foods, clothes and other products contribute to water scarcity in other countries.

A third year of no-shopping?

Two years have passed without any clothes shopping on my part and you might wonder if I am embarking on a third year. Truth be told, I am wondering too. I would like to continue another year without shopping, these past two years have been a joy. When shopping is not an option you don’t even enter stores and don’t have to investigate if a potential purchase is a sustainable choice. You don’t need to worry about whether you really will wear that thing as much as desire tells you that you will. Lots of energy, thinking and money saved. Such a relief. And, as a bonus, I have gotten creative with my rarely worn clothes to find combinations and outfits where these things do work after all. So these two no-shopping years have been truly great for me and my wardrobe.

However, less than a month into the new year, I violated the no-shopping rule. I simply had to buy nylon stockings because it would be silly, frankly, to ask somebody to buy them for me just to keep the no-shopping record. As I’ve written about before, to me the purchase or financial transaction is not really the problem, it’s acquiring things you do not need. So, this year, I’m allowed to buy recycled nylon stockings from Swedish Stockings. And, if the urgent need arises, I might be allowed to buy other things too.

This, however, is murky waters and arguably more difficult to navigate. Shortly after buying the Swedish Stockings, I thought I needed to replace an item that is slowly getting worn out. I started googling what to replace it with and, as a result, fashion adds started popping up all over my internet. After not being able to sort out what would be a sustainable replacement, I, annoyed with the adds and fruitless time spent googling, returned to my closet only to find that I did in fact already own something similar enough that a purchase was not really warranted. Surely, I am not the only one who can’t memorise everything that’s in the closet? Now that shopping suddenly is an option again, if there is a need, I imagine there will be several similar situations this year. And how do you decide if there is a wardrobe need anyway? Murky waters.

Entering 2019, I’m proud to say that my mending pile is smaller than it’s ever been. This is a result of the 7h and 14 min I spent mending last year, on average 36min/month. I also spent 4900 SEK during the year at the dry cleaner/mender, ca 400 SEK/month. This is something I could potentially reduce if I got better at sewing buttonholes, hemming and thinking twice before dry cleaning clothes. On the other hand, sometimes it’s worth getting help rather than not gettings things done at all. I also spent 1600 SEK on repair at the shoemaker, an unavoidable cost.

Despite not shopping, my wardrobe experienced an increased in- and outflow during 2018. In total, 29 items entered the wardrobe, mostly things I inherited from family members. Six items I made, either knitted or sewed, for myself. While, as I concluded during last year’s wardrobe audit, I logically don’t need to make any clothes, I have enough as it is, these items still ended up becoming favorites. So while I need to be mindful of making too much or too fast, a little might be ok, I tell myself, as sewing and knitting is also a recreational practice. I do my best to only source sustainable fabric and yarn or, even better, use what’s already in my possession. For example, I sewed two Ogden camis last year, one from fabric scraps and the other from an old Laura Ashley pillow case and I very much love both of these.

As for the outflow, 30 items, I sold a few (which I’ve written about before) and wore out the rest. So not shopping does have a slow accumulative effect where things do get worn more and, eventually, even worn out. Overall though, I’m still in the ‘upper end’ of wardrobe size with 540+ items. And my prediction is that I’ll stay there for quite some time.

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Is globalization to blame for our environmental problems?

Following the debates in the newspapers, it seems globalization is to blame for a lot. It’s often described as the root cause of some of society’s big problems. Globalization causes inequality, financial crises, unregulated multinationals that act freely on a global scale, environmental pollution etc. An assumption in these debates is that globalization exists. However, few of us take the time to define what we really mean when we say globalization.

This however, is not how we do it at the introductory course ‘Companies and society’ which I teach at Örebro University business studies bachelor program. In the course, we review three perspectives on what globalization is and discuss whether it’s a good thing and lastly the students write a report on a company in the food sector as an example of globalization.

Teaching this course has fundamentally changed my view of globalization. While I used to assume that globalization is a fact, I don’t anymore believe we have ever had globalization. In fact, nowadays I concur with the ‘historical perspective’ on globalization i.e. that the economy, mobility and trade has, throughout the history, been highly international but never global. Even today we know of a few tribes who are undoubtedly isolated from the rest of us. Some countries are very interconnected, but not others. So maybe internationalization is a better word, if this is what we really mean?

Unlike me, however, most students agree with one of the other two perspectives on globalization in our course book: that globalization is a fundamentally new phase in recent history or that the term at least captures some critical new aspects of modern times.

Nevertheless, when the students investigate companies and globalization, they capture some of the acute sustainability issues in the food industry today. Thus not only do the students learn about globalization and read quotes from Stiglitz and others, they also get up to date on current sustainability issues in the food sector, such as how the industry calculates climate impact of chicken meat. Chicken is often argued to be a climate smart meat choice, but, as the group thoughtfully discussed, it depends on how you calculate and whether you include the climate impact of the feed (often imported soy). I have written about the fallacy of CO2 calculations on this blog before. It’s often overlooked that there are multiple ways to calculate climate impact of food.

Another group discussed the use of imported palm oil, often from Indonesia, in food products. By now most of us know that palm oil should be avoided or at least certified if we use it. However, this group of students highlighted that palm oil requires less land than other kinds of oils that could replace it and thus that the sustainability consequences are not clearcut. Clearly, we don’t want to use more land than necessary for food production. So there are both positive and negative environmental consequences of palm oil. How do you trade off one environmental consequence against another?

Two other groups discussed fish, a food that is rarely recognized as an environmental problem. One group mentioned how the fish feed used in aquaculture drives overfishing of the seas, something I have written about here before. The other group instead focused on sustainably caught fish, MSC certified fish, but that the company ships it half-way around the world for filleting by hand in China and then back to Scandinavia. While this seems illogical, the group explained that it means more of the fish can be used compared to machine filleting.

Overall, we learned a lot not just about globalization but also about how and why companies act as they do. Some of these behaviors seem unreasonable as an outsider. However, we need to identify not only the consequences of these ‘global’ corporate behaviors but also understand the rationale behind them. There is a reason and context to why the company started doing things as they do. Only when we understand this can we find alternative solutions.

Companies and science: some take aways from the Monsanto trial

US multinational Monsanto has been involved in countless trials for its products and most recently its popular weed killer Roundup. The lateste trial, the Johnson cancer case, concerns a school groundkeeper and was the first to take the weed killer Roundup to trial. The trial got a lot of publicity, especially after Johnson famously won. Supposedly, this ‘win’ opens up for further trials on cancer and Roundup and is thus bad news for Monsanto. It is also bad news for German pharmaceutical company Bayer, that just recently acquired Monsanto. 

Aside from the fact that this widely used weed killer, Roundup, might cause cancer, the case is interesting because it reveals how Monsanto was actively working to shape the science around its product. During the trial, letters were released that revealed many examples of such questionable science-business practices. As one example, Monsanto appears to have been involved in ghost writing i.e. that the company writes text and then asks academics put their name, as authors, on it. As one of the revealed examples, Stanford researcher Mr Henry I. Miller wrote a piece on Forbes’s website in 2015, based on a Monsanto draft and failed to mention any involvement by Monsanto thereby violating Forbes policy for authors. The Forbes piece in question was written in response to the findings of the International Agency for Research on Cancer, a branch of the World Health Organization, that had just labeled glyphosate (ingredient in Roundup) a probable carcinogen. 

Another incident concerns the retraction of research that is unfavorable for the company. In 2013, while he was still editor of the journal ‘Food and Chemical Toxicology’, Mr. Hayes retracted a key study damaging to Monsanto that found that Roundup, and genetically modified corn, could cause cancer and early death in rats. Later, it surfaced that Mr Hayes had had a contractual relationship with Monsanto. This piece in the NYT covers most of the story. This article by science journalist Paul Thacker is also worth while.

What can we learn from this in terms of business and sustainability? Certain companies will inevitably have a strong interest in research, for example to show that their products are safe and effective. In my opinion, the fine line between science, corporate interests and corruption is a key business ethics issue for these companies that the management needs to handle. If not, when such business practices fail, it may show up as cases of unethical business practices, corruption or in the worst case, as for Monsanto, as legal cases. The EU regulation on non-financial reporting requires large companies to report on their anti-corruption and anti-bribery policies and practices. For companies with a large stake in science, how to avoid this kind of unethical incidents should be accounted for in this section.

Moreover, as a take away for us as researchers, we cannot be naive regarding the very strong incentives certain companies may have to meddle with science. While uncovering such cases may feed the publics distrust in science and media, e.g. the fake news debate, not uncovering biased or in worst cases incorrect research may risk the whole scientific system as such.

Regarding questionable retractions of research papers, to my mind full transparency is to not actually retract a paper but to let it remain with proper commentary for example as to why the research findings or methods are questionable. Paper retractions may otherwise, if we are not very careful, become a tool for censorship.

Re-homing: how to give things you don’t want a new home

Re-homing means making sure that the things that leave your home gets a new home and don’t become waste. Post-Christmas is prime re-homing season as gift giving often means that people receive things they don’t need. Interestingly, while minimalism and decluttering has become trendy,  most people still buy gifts for others. It’s as if we feel inadequate if we don’t give to others. Right before Christmas, the Minimalist wardrobe blog even published a series on how to decline Christmas gifts, which caused some controversy.

This past year, I’ve tried and tested quite a few re-homing strategies and here are my thoughts and experiences.

Charity shops. There’s a lively debate around charity shops and whether things donated there do get a new home. What is clear is that we send an increasing amount of clothes to charity (30 ton of textiles per week in the case of Swedish Stadsmissionen). Is there a market for this enormous amount of clothes? The short answer is, no, there is not a market for these amounts of clothes locally so large amounts are instead exported to developing countries and sold there. There is a debate around whether this export of used clothing is good or bad. On the positive side, it is better for the environment that the people in developing countries use used clothing instead of new. However, some African countries argue that the large import of used clothing has harmed their national textile industry and thus tried to imposed tariffs on imported used clothes. As a result of pressure from and dispute with the US, it seems only Rwanda actually introduced the tariff. As I am not currently part of the charity shop market (I don’t shop at all) and it is uncertain if clothes to charity shops do harm or good, I avoid sending clothes there.

Giving to friends and family. This is where a large part of the clothes that enter my wardrobe comes from. However, be prepared that friends and family might give things back eventually. This is not necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes clothes are only right for you in a certain stage of life and then right for someone else. One of my favorites in this category is an old trench coat that my grandmother, mom and I have all worn. I cherish this coat.

Swap days. This is on my to-try-list. It’s as it sounds, you swap some of your clothing for someone else’s. In Sweden, Naturskyddsföreningen arranges a national clothes swap day every year. This year it’s April 6th, mark your calendars!

Reselling online (for example Blocket.se in Sweden, Finn.no in Norway). Usually there is a set price for the add, depending on the site, whereas you decide the price for what you sell although potential buyers might try to bargain. I’ve bought clothes this way (before my shopping ban), for example ski jackets etc. If you buy from someone local you can try clothes on before you buy. Also works well for furniture I find.

Selling on commission.  You get a part of the price and the commission store or site also takes a part. You set the price for the clothes together with the store/site. When selling on commission, you have to find the right outlet for your item. For example, selling clothes from French label Isabel Marant on French site Vestiairecollective.com worked really great but for example Italian brands did not work as well there. Selling a Filippa K dress in the Filippa K second hand store in Stockholm also worked great- it sold fast and I got a good price (and the store is super nice! Couldn’t all brands have their own second hand store?) So for commission, it’s worth considering the audience you will reach and if they are interested in what you’re selling. There are good venues for selling used books on commission too, for example Swedish Bokbörsen or the used books on Amazon. com, I use these a lot.

Auctioning. You set the starting price and the site usually takes a percentage of the final price. I’ve mainly used Swedish e-bay site tradera.se which worked great, for example for selling a pair of Converse Allstars, probably because it’s a rather standardized product where people know their size. Selling clothes has been more difficult, but it still got sold. Tradera is really excellent, however, for buying and selling homeware across the country and things that can easily be shipped. For more expensive things there are also the classical auction sites Bukowskis, Auktionsverket, Barnebys and Blomqvist in Norway etc. I’ve mostly bought furniture and glassware here.

The benefit of the online services is that it’s very easy to search for exactly the brand and size you’re interested in. There is also a bigger market with even international sellers and buyers. And you don’t have to search through a second hand store. The benefit of an actual store or buying from someone local is of course that you can try it on.

However, there are more items on my re-home-list than I have time to re-home. Reselling takes time and effort (finding out where’s the best market for this item- there are so many different reselling channels). So this is a great reminder to not acquire things I am uncertain of.  Eventually re-homing these things will just be work.

When re-homing, you also risk getting rid of something you might need or find useful in the future. There is usually also a loss of financial value when reselling clothes, rarely will you get more than you initially paid. Selling something and later buying it again new is not wise financially. On the other side, wearing something you don’t really like just for the sake of it when someone else might cherish it doesn’t really make sense either.

There is also a bit of a social movement push towards having a small wardrobe, being minimalist and the fact that some of us have less space than we would maybe need. As my non-minimalist sister says, maybe I don’t need less clothes but a bigger wardrobe so it doesn’t feel so crowded!

On the picture: the Filippa K second hand store in Stockholm, an excellent corporate initiative.

Steering businesses towards a circular economy

As I have previously blogged about, the students in my master course ‘measuring sustainability’ at NHH have analysed and proposed indicators that H&M and other fashion companies can use to steer their business towards a circular economy. We are very thankful to H&M and sustainability manager Luisa Book for collaborating with us on this case. The topic is very much of the moment as an increasing number of companies, just like H&M, aim to become circular but then also need appropriate tools to help steer their operations in this direction.

Some of the indicators the students proposed, such as amount of recycled material out of total use of materials, are maybe not new but are crucial when a circular business is the target. Moreover, the number of times a material can be recycled needs to be monitored in order to make sure that recycling is not just a prolonging of a linear path (see Circular Flanders great illustration of this to the left). In an ideal world, materials can be recycled indefinitely.

The students also argued that it is key to keep track of collecting initiatives i.e. when brands collect used or discarded products. How much of what is sold returns to the company for recycling? Moreover, companies need to monitor what happens with collected garments- are they recycled into new garments or in fact only downcycled (used for other less valuable products)?

One reason materials cannot be recycled is because the materials are contaminated for example by chemicals that hinder recycling. The students here proposed to measure the use of such chemicals or substances. By monitoring, the company can also try to minimize such use. To know if the product is made with substances that might hinder recycling, you need proper information about what the garment is made of and how it is made. Here the students proposed that H&M could develop more elaborate tags with information about the item which could help the customer to take care of it and, eventually, facilitate the recycling of the garment.

Another point that is crucial to circular operations is to keep the materials in the processes. In the textile industry, a lot of fabric gets wasted and does not end up in any garment. Consequently, some students suggested to measure the amount of material that ends up in a garments in relation to total amount of materials used. Ideally, all materials used should end up in a garment. Similarly, the students also identified microplastics as a threat because it means that small amounts of plastic fibers continuously leave the circular flow and non-renewable materials are subsequently lost.

Another aspect commonly discussed in the context of circular economy is the slowing of the circle i.e. the prolonging of a product’s life span. Here the students reintroduced the idea of enabling users to repair their clothes, for example by making sure all items come with threads or buttons necessary for repair or providing repair services in stores. The company can track both the use of repair services and number of items that customers could repair themselves.

I hope that H&M and other companies will find the students work helpful. How to measure a circular business is really at the forefront of both practice and research. In fact, two research colleagues and I just last week got financing for a project on circular business practices by Vinnova. That the students managed this task so well and were able to develop these very helpful indicators show, to my mind, that we at University teach students useful and up to date skills. We educate students that can in fact contribute to and improve current business practices.