Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Environmental Impact of Clothing Revealed

It's not easy finding information on the waste products, the energy used, or the carbon dioxide produced by your favorite shoe manufacturer or clothing company, but that's exactly what Patagonia (you know, the expensive but generally well-made and stylish outdoor adventure clothing company) does on their site, called the "Footprint ChroniclesTM ."

Of course not many of us really want to know. But this winter I'll be working with students at a local high school building a website that focuses on the environmental impacts of their favorite outfits. When I came across the Patagonia site, I knew I had my model.

They highlight a few key products (an organic cotton t-shirt, a waterproof shell, a wool sweater and a leather shoe,) covering the major categories of textiles, and provide details on the carbon dioxide production, energy use, and waste production.

For example according to the site, fiber for the cotton T originated in Izmir Turkey, traveled to Bangkok for spinning and sewing and then on to Reno, Nevada for distribution, traveling 14,100 miles, and generating 27 pounds of CO2 (remember this is a gas!), ten ounces of waste, and using enough electricity to power an 18w compact fluorescent bulb for 72 days.

After trying in vain to gather information on the ubiquitous Crocs ( a couple of emails to Tia Mattson their public relations manager asking questions about recycling and the chemistry of crosslite (PCCR) the primary material - only left me waiting by the phone for her call which never came), the apparent openness of Patagonia was a welcome find.

Of course, ever the skeptic I tried to find the holes. What about tanning? What about other toxics surely used in dying processes? Well, I couldn't find much on dying, but on their discussion page, readers did raise questions about tanning, and, the "localcrew" responded to reader's comments with seemingly honest and useful information. Patagonia also notes that although they still use PFOA in their "Eco-Rain Shell" they are seeking alternatives to the persistent environmental contaminant. Finally, a closer look at endpoints like "waste generated" reveals that this includes only solid waste, and not liquid or hazardous waste.

At the very least, it'll be a great place for students to begin, for in addition to maps and videos of manufacturing locations, they also provide detailed references which include several websites on Life-cycle analysis for various materials, energy use, and CO2 emissions.

Check it out, and thank you Patagonia for doing (at least part of) my howework!


Theresa and Sarah said...

It is so scary to know about the toxic chemicals and pesticides put into clothing manufacturing! It takes 1/3lb of pesticides just to create one cotton t-shirt!!!! I have been shopping for organic clothing because I don't want those toxins on my skin anymore. Here's a good shop for the ladies Thanks for writing about the impact of toxic clothing.

HaloforSale said...

Really is scary, 9 of the 15 top pesticides known for human carcinogens are used in cotton production in the United States. 25% of the world pesticide use is for the manufacturing of cotton clothing which is an estimated 300 billion dollar a year industry. I have recently chosen to only wear organic as well and have founded a clothing line called where we plant a tree for every item purchased, a donation is made to Free the Children, and only organic fibers are used.