ECO360 TRUST™ REshirts: Putting The Living Principles into Practice
By Oya Demirli Executive Director, The Institute for Sustainable Communication
The new Living Principles website provides a valuable set of conceptual tools and community building capabilities for design professionals, but there is still much work to be done when it comes to raising awareness and providing simple examples of how each of us can put the principles of design for sustainability into practice. Toward that end The Institute for Sustainable Communication (ISC) challenged itself to rethink a media product using sustainability principles.
ISC is a nonprofit organization that was founded 2002 to raise awareness and build capacity for the sustainable use of print and digital media. Recently we challenged ourselves to find a media product regularly employed as a communication and promotional vehicle by major brands, nonprofit organizations and individuals which we could redesign in order to raise awareness and support for our mission. Our search led us to an ideal media product… Cotton T-Shirts.
The Design Problem: RE-Think the Cotton T-Shirt
Cotton T-Shirts are ubiquitous and serve both as items of clothing and as a communication medium. Screen printed cotton t-shirts have also become a “cheap” commodity that is regulary used to carry messages for rock bands and major brands as well as individuals. More importantly, the commoditization of the cheap cotton t-shirt and the global supply chains that produce them can be linked to a significant array of negative social and environmental impacts that are inconsistent with the Living Principles … in particular, impacts on our fresh water supply and on human rights.
In Uzbekistan, cotton is picked by hand mainly by women, and including child labor.
Intense demand for cheap cotton products and fierce competition for low labor costs, combined with the liberalization of trade barriers, have brought apparel production to countries where workers have little bargaining power and where authoritarian governments exploit the population. For example, Uzbekistan is the world’s 3rd largest cotton exporter and earns around US$1 billion annually from the sale of its cotton to clothing factories primarily in Asia, which in turn export garments to the west. The Government of Uzbekistan routinely compels hundreds of thousands of children as labourers in the country’s annual cotton harvest. Some analysts suggest between 1 and 2 million school-age children are forced to pick cotton.
Beyond documentation of the youth and vulnerability of the children exploited this past year in harvesting cotton in Uzbekistan, this footage of the 2009 cotton harvest shot by the Uzbek-German Forum for Human Rights shows what miserable work children are forced to do so someone can have a cheap cotton t-shirt. You can hear in the audio the sounds of the pods and branches scratching their hands and tearing at their clothes.
In addition to the social impacts of cheap cotton t-shirts, cotton accounts for 40% of all textile products made each year and is responsible for 2.6% of global water use. Even an organic cotton T-shirt requires 2700 liters of water to grow the cotton — a thirst that’s creating ecological disaster in some areas. Traditional textile dyeing, printing and finishing processes also use and pollute large volumes of fresh water. The World Bank estimates that 17 to 20% of industrial water pollution comes from textile dyeing and treatment. They’ve also identified 72 toxic chemicals in our water solely from textile dyeing, 30 of which cannot be removed.
The Irrigation of Uzbekistan’s cotton crop has led to the Aral Sea disaster. Image Credit
While conducting research about the water impacts caused by cotton production we discovered another cause of water pollution and biodiversity loss… the disposal of plastic water and soft drink bottles made of Polyethylene terephthalate (PET), a plastic resin that can also be recycled to make performance fabrics that can be printed on digitally using inkjet technology. EPA estimates for 2007 indicate that despite bottle laws to facilitate recycling, less than 25% of the more than 1 million tons of PET bottles sold each year in the US are recycled. Much of that plastic winds up in our rivers and oceans where its impacts on wildlife and humanity have only recently been brought to light though the efforts of researchers like Chief Scientist Miriam Goldstein of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and the voyages of the Plastiki Expedition.
Plastic Bottle Bales. Image Credit
Our solution to these problems was to redesigned the raw material sources, manufacturing, printing, distribution, care and disposal of the t-shirt to demonstrate how the medium can also be the message. The result was the ECO360 Trust™ REshirt.
Anatomy of an ECO360 TRUST REshirt
ECO360 TRUST REshirts are made of 100 percent recycled PET fiber (rPET), the same type of material used to make performance mountainering undergarments, running apparel and rashguards for surfers. Each REshirt prevents 3 plastic bottles from going into a landfill, river or the ocean. REshirts are also digitally printed without use of water or solvents used in screen printing, and no water is used in growing cotton or dyeing the fabric. Each REshirt that replaces a cheap cotton t-shirt means ~8 gallons of water are not polluted with dye and pesticides from the growing and dyeing of cotton. REshirts are also sewn and printed in small American factories that respect human rights and labor laws. Making REshirts creates jobs in the United States that provide workers with living wages and prospects for upward mobility. In addition, all of the net proceeds from ECO360 TRUST REshirts support ISCs mission and our college micro-scholarship fund.
To raise awareness and bring our REshirt media products to market we also designed The ECO360 TRUST experiential learning and outreach program to support the development of partnerships with the United Nations, major corporations and other progressive organizations and brands. In addition to carrying the vibrant messages of our partners, ECO360 TRUST branded REshirts simultaneously transform supply chains, create green jobs, support education and provide practical examples of design for sustainability.
If you are a creative professional with a message, image or design you would like to donate to our cause, or you have a client who is interested in ways you can put their sustainability message on a sustainable medium… and put the Living Principles into practice, please contact us at: firstname.lastname@example.org
More information and examples of recent projects and a gift center can be found on the www.eco360.me website.
ECO360 TRUST is a trademark of the Institute for Sustainable Communication (ISC).
All ECO360 TRUST images are © 2010 Institute for Sustainable Communication (ISC). All rights reserved.