Earth Day 2023
In honor of Earth Day this year, we wanted to talk about something we hear about a lot in recent times - sustainability. What exactly is sustainability, and what does it mean? How do we practice it? Is it even worth it? (Hint: It is). Here at Dual Wield Studio, we strive to be as sustainable as possible, not only in our products but also with our people. We sat down with our very own Lauren Jordan to share what sustainability means to her, and how artists can practice sustainability in their craft.
What are some things artists should consider in the beginning stages of designing a new product in terms of sustainability? Any questions they should be asking themselves?
When folks think of sustainability, they usually think of the material the item and what its packaging are made from. This is an excellent starting point, but as you probably know, it’s much more complicated than this.
I think I fell into sustainability because it’s kind of the ultimate resource management puzzle, and I love puzzles. Sustainability ultimately refers to the triple bottom line, or the 3 P’s: planet, people, and profit. All three need to be thoughtfuly considered in order for a business to be truly sustainable. You may be using fully recycled materials but if you must use child labor in order to be profitable, you aren’t sustainable. If your employees are well-compensated with health care but all of your manufacturing is done in another country and toxic runoff is compromising local wildlife, you aren’t sustainable. The reality is that making anything is expensive, and if it is not expensive for you, it’s because it’s expensive for someone else.
- What problem am I trying to solve or need am I trying to meet?
- Who is this item helping?
- Would the creation or use of this item harm anyone?
- Who is making this item? Is it me, or someone else?
- How long do I need this item to last - do I need it to last beyond my own or the original owner’s lifetime?
Any sorts of raw materials that you tend to gravitate towards? Any you typically avoid?
When buying materials new, you can still avoid raw materials by prioritizing those made from recycled materials - this will at least ensure that this item had a life before it came to you!
If you must purchase raw or virgin materials, be thorough with your research. Where did the material come from? Who harvested it? How did those materials get to where you are purchasing them? Is there a more sustainable option that will meet the same need?
If you’re working with a manufacturer or supplier who is sourcing for you, they often do have access to both standard and more sustainable options, but you may need to directly ask for them. Unfortunately recycled or sustainable materials are usually more expensive and therefore not always a manufacturer’s first choice for pitching to clients.
When sourcing a manufacturer, is there anything creators should be looking for? Any red flags to look for in determining how ethical they may or may not be?
Sustainability is actually trendy right now, so a lot of businesses that offer sustainable options will be marketing those front-and-center. It’s easier than ever to find businesses that are at least claiming to be sustainable, but this also makes it more difficult to discern which are actually operating in sustainable ways and which are greenwashing.
Similar to sourcing materials, sourcing manufacturers involves a lot of research. Who owns and operates this factory? How many people work there, and what do their working conditions look like? Does this manufacturer have any certifications? Can you read any reviews about them online? Also - ask manufacturers about their COVID protocols - if they don’t take COVID seriously, that’s a good indicator they won’t take any other safety or sustainability concerns seriously.
I would prioritize genuine third-party certifications and credentials over carbon offsetting programs, because the goal should be to operate sustainably in all areas of your business, not just as a last step. Some sustainability-focused certifications or accreditations you may see include:
- 1% for the planet
- B-Corp Certification
- Fair Trade Certification
- Fair Labor Accreditation
- Fairmined Certification
- Leather Working Group Certification
- Better Cotton Initiative Compliance & Assurance
- Bluesign Partner
- Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) Certification
- Environmental Protection Declaration (EPD) Certification
Word-of-mouth and community are also valuable - find individuals you trust with values that align with yours, and share resources and information!
So much of sustainability involves giving a new life to items that already exist. How can artists integrate this philosophy into their work? Any examples come to mind?
I think one of the easiest ways is simply to go back to your old work, or even just your waste bin, and see if you can re-use those materials to create something new - much like you might look back on an old sketchbook for ideas. You can paint over a canvas and start fresh. You can re-package or group smaller items together into bundles or sets to help move slower-selling items alongside better-seling ones. You can cut up old prints that didn’t sell and use them for collage or packing fill on orders for better-selling items.
It doesn’t even need to be something you made, either. A lot of the cardboard inserts I use in my personal shipping are cut up from the cardboard boxes my cat’s canned food comes in. Ship your orders in cereal boxes, as long as the contents inside are properly protected. It’s fine!
Similarly, much of the conversation around reducing waste is focused around packaging and using reusable materials. Do you have any recommendations for low waste packaging options for artists and creators, or ways to reduce the amount of packaging used?
I believe the goal should be to use as little packaging as is required to safely deliver the item to the recipient. I am a fan of upgrading a required packaging element needed for shipping, such as branding mailers, packing slips or void fill, over adding unnecessary branded packaging elements to individual products. Not only are additional resources needed to create those packaging elements, but they contribute to the weight of products at each stage of transportation, increasing their overall footprint. Customers can also associate defective packaging with a defective product (even if the product itself is in perfect condition), and it’s frankly easier to avoid the entire issue if you can!
For instances where retail or shipping packaging is needed, I recommend prioritizing packaging made from recycled materials and/or with clear recycling instructions. The compostable and biodegradable packaging industry is greatly expanding, especially in the US over the last few years since China stopped taking our plastic waste, but at this time I can’t recommend it over the recycled options that are more affordable to small businesses in our industry.
A (US) Customer will have better access and more experience with recycling than with composting, and unfortunately the bioplastics used for compostable packaging are frequently thrown in with recycling, acting as a contaminant. However, compostable packaging can obviously make a lot of sense for small food or restaurant businesses where a composting system may already be in place for food waste. It really will come down to your individual business and the types of products you sell.
Any additional resources you’d like to share?
- The United Nations page on Climate Change is a great place to start if you want to learn more about climate change and global efforts to mitigate it. Here is also where you can read up on the Paris Agreement, the 2015 document that outlined all of the climate change-related goals of the United Nations.
- Youtuber Shelbizleee does wonderful digestible videos on complex sustainability topics like the Paris Agreement, as well as introductory videos on topis like different composting methods you can try at home.
- I recommend following Imani Barbarin’s Crutches & Spice, because no conversation on sustainability is really valid unless disabled voices are included.
- I would also recommend following the work of Aja Barber, a sustainable fashion researcher, writer, & speaker.
- Ellen MacArther Foundation’s Circular Design for Fashion released last year - it covers current projects and companies working towards circularity in the fashion industry with contributions from major fashion brands.
- Fabscrap is a textile scrap & waste processing organization that basically runs around NYC picking up textile scraps from various businesses, processes and sorts the materials, and then collaborates with artists and other businesses to re-use those textiles in new ways. You can also buy fabric directly from their site!
- The Material Exchange has been putting on some great free sustainable sourcing webinars for small businesses that I’ve found really helpful and informative.
- If you are interested in USA manufacturers specifically, a good place to start is Thomas.net, a directory of manufacturers and businesses across North America.
- The Council of Fashion Designers of America also has a great resource page including a materials hub, a manufacturer directory, and a very thorough Sustainability Resource Directory that includes resources on awards, grants, certifications, and policies.
- The previously mentioned Byte Size Treasure’s “Having a More Eco-Friendly Business”
- Climate Neutral’s The Brand Emissions Estimator (BEE) is a service that helps you estimate your business’s carbon footprint, helping you quantify business decisions and their impact.
- Some additional resources including non-profits to donate to or volunteer with:
- Intersectional Environmentalist - climate justice collective, with a podcast
- National Caucus of Environmental Legislators - has an interactive map for seeing what environmental legislation is in progress in each state
- Plastic Bag Laws.org - resources on plastic bag pollution and legislation in place to reduce it
- Plastic Pollution Coalition - non-profit dedicated to fighting plastic pollution
- Environmental Investigation Agency - investigative non-profit that exposes environmental crimes
- Stop Line 3 - petition to shut down pipeline 3 (and 5)
- Earth Justice - non-profit public interest environmental law organization
- Climate Justice Alliance - Communities United for a Just Transition to a regenerative society
- I’m also prepping for a One Year Sustainability Challenge series for 2024, which involves researching and writing a unique challenge for each month of the year, but also creating a huge database of sustainable resources. This is a work in progress, but you can find it at my website laurenjordan.art!
Each and every step that we can take to strive towards more sustainable practices, no matter how small, directly impacts our spaces and communities. With that being said, what will you be doing to honor the Earth this year?