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.

Pink ribbon month and carcinogens in products

It’s October and breast cancer awareness month. And every year some of us wish that there would be a discussion about carcinogenic and hormone-disrupting substances in products instead of selling these products under the pink ribbon label. I can’t find a word on the Swedish site about carcinogenic substances. In contrast, I think we need to discuss this issue much more. Such a discussion would benefit the companies that face out harmful substances proactively, before regulation forces them to do so.

Because even in the EU we have carcinogenic and hormone-disrupting substances in products. Sometimes it’s because we just recently found out the substances were harmful, for example parabens in cosmetics involved in breast cancer. And, after we have found out,  regulating them takes several years, as in the case of phtalates. Other times the substances are already forbidden but are still used repeatedly by companies. Yet other substances, such as BPA, are forbidden through REACH regulation but still allowed in food packaging, such as take away cups, because these are not regulated by REACH  but by EFSA.

Overall, EU might do a better job than the US in regulating harmful substances but is still far from perfect. Sometimes the replacements are not necessarily better than the original substance, as these researchers discuss. Interestingly, the researchers found that people eating out are more exposed to the harmful substances because for example restaurants use packaging not allowed for individual customers.

What else can we do? Be careful about personal care products. Avoid packaging when possible. Here I see the zero waste movement as an inspiration. Using refillable mugs, you avoid the BPA in paper cups. Shopping at the farmers market, you get your vegetables in paper bags instead of individually wrapped plastic. And obviously, not buying new stuff, when you don’t really need to, is not only cheap but reduces your chemical exposure too.

2017, the year without shopping

‘I own so many things, I probably don’t need to buy anything for the rest of my life’.

This thought hit me while looking into my wardrobe yesterday. Unable to shake off this thought, I made up my mind. I will only use what’s in my wardrobe for a year. Then I will see if it is true. If I really don’t have any need for ‘new’ items. If it is only desire, identity and social impulses that make me buy new things (which this podcast discusses so well).

I used to be a passionate shopper, although somewhere in the back of my head aware about the issues in the fashion industry. I guess I thought buying more expensive items meant less environmental and social issues. I’ve since learnt that it isn’t necessarily so. Price isn’t a good indicator of quality production.

I finally decided to do something with the knowledge I had. I took on a sustainable fashion challenge during Autumn 2015, and since then I only buy sustainably produced garments. You can find how I defined ‘sustainably produced’ here. Acting in new ways during six month efficiently changed my habits. Of course, I’ve had at least one relapse (staying away from the sales still requires self-discipline!). But otherwise, how I acted during the sustainable fashion challenge describes well my current purchasing behaviour. As a result, I buy much less clothing (maybe five in a year) and I’ve saved money, a bonus.

Since Autumn 2015, I’ve learnt a lot more about the textile trash issue in society. From what I’ve read, throwing or giving away what you’ve once bought is not sustainable. So personally, I want to limit my contribution to the textile trash problem. This means taking responsibility for what I own by using it, mending it or refashioning if it doesn’t fit anymore.

How will I practically manage a year without clothes shopping? I will use what I have and if there is a clear need for something, I am allowed to make it myself. Making it myself means knitting or sewing or some other technique I haven’t learnt yet.

But as visualised in my homemade ‘Sewarchy’, focus should really be on the lower parts of the pyramid: on mending what I have. Making new items from scratch should be rare events. Luckily I am a very slow maker. I am not able to sew or knit so many things in a year.

 

The only exception to the no-buying rule is gifts to others. And then I will aim for sustainably produced items.

Has anyone similar experiences? Please share your thoughts!