Changes Are Coming

Sky turning from blue to gold during sunset

Things certainly have changed since I wrote my last post (the federal government doesn’t look like it will be taking notes from European sustainability programs anytime soon). I remain hopeful about the positive steps that individuals, cities, states, and organizations can continue to take for the benefit of the planet, but the election results do represent a significant setback for climate and environmental progress. Here Bethany considers what the new presidential administration may mean for our environment. — Julia


Changes are coming.

To quote a recent Vox article:

If Donald Trump and the GOP actually follow through on what they’ve promised, … Federal climate policy will all but disappear; participation in international environmental or climate treaties will end; pollution regulations will be reversed, frozen in place, or not enforced; clean energy research, development, and deployment assistance will decline; protections for sensitive areas and ecosystems will be lifted; federal leasing of fossil fuels will expand and accelerate; new Supreme Court appointees will crack down on EPA discretion.

I’m struck by the difference between Julia’s last post and this one. While this blog is primarily focused on personal responsibility, we do touch on public policy and politics. Julia said that people want the U.S. to take “clear and decisive action on waste and the environment.” Well, that’s exactly what is happening. Our new president is taking a clear and decisive action on the environment: he doesn’t care. The people he is considering for his cabinet and as part of his team are people who are climate change deniers, people who are high up in corporations with long track records of environmental issues. Just look at this list compiled by the New York Times.

Several proposed members of Trump’s administration are people who believe we don’t have to care for our planet or think about the consequences our actions have on it. They don’t see a need to pursue policies that ensure our environment will be here for the next generation, and the next, and the next after that.

Changes are coming.

I have spent the past week in a constant state of emotional upheaval. I have been upset, terrified, angry, depressed, violently ill, cried for hours, laughed out of sheer disbelief… but most of all, I have been afraid. I have been afraid of the changes that I see coming.

I am still afraid. But I have decided to hold on to the acronym that a friend shared with me:

Fear = Face Everything And Rise

Changes are coming.

Should the U.S. Try to Keep Up with Europe?

Empty plastic smoothie cup sitting on pavement in park

By 2020, all disposable dishware sold in France must be compostable.

This week I learned about two exciting sustainability updates from Europe:

  1. France passed legislation banning disposable dishware and cutlery. By 2020, all disposable dishes sold in France must be made of biologically-sourced materials and be compostable.
  2. Sweden introduced legislation dramatically cutting taxes on repair work to encourage people to fix rather than replace broken items.

When we see another nation pass groundbreaking legislation, our initial reaction is often to say, “The U.S. should do the same thing!” I don’t think most people who express this sentiment are saying the system that works in XYZ country should be applied to the U.S. exactly as-is with no adjustments. So when we say we want the U.S. to follow another country’s suit, what are we really asking for?

I think the main thing people yearn for the U.S. to emulate about these laws is a willingness to take clear and decisive action on waste and the environment. Requiring disposable dishware to be compostable is bold, concrete, and clear in its goal. It’s ambitious yet attainable. The only comparable legislation in the U.S. has been regional bans on plastic bags and styrofoam, but nothing as clear and concrete as France’s law has been gone into effect at a state or federal level.*

(The more I think about France’s new law, the more I love it. It doesn’t eliminate a product or industry, but rather modifies them, which could head off concerns about potential job loss. It also supports the creation of a more robust composting infrastructure, which should make composting of other materials more accessible as well, and it increases production of an agriculturally useful product. Is it possible to have a crush on a piece of legislation?)

Beyond the desire for the U.S. to take decisive action, I think people have a desire to know that the U.S. is even paying attention to these programs around the world, and is studying them to learn whether similar programs could work here. Our tax structure is different than Sweden’s, but how could we incentivize repairing over replacing within our system? What are the results of Sweden’s plan—does it actually yield a change in consumer behavior? In France, how will they educate consumers about the changes to familiar products? Sustainability-minded citizens in the U.S. would be heartened to know that someone here is at least taking advantage of the opportunity to learn from other nations’ programs.

The responsibility to learn from these programs and take decisive action on waste isn’t limited to the government, especially given how entwined the private sector is with policy in the U.S. Private businesses also have a responsibility to reject the status quo and pilot progressive solutions within their own operations. Arguably, a company like Apple taking a stand on a particular type of waste could have a greater impact than a small country doing the same. When corporations operate at a massive global scale, their responsibility is just as great as governments’.

And at the very minimum, we want the United States to not actively prohibit progressive action for the environment. Indiana’s recent ban on plastic bag bans comes to mind as an example of action whose spirit is the complete opposite of these two European laws. Arizona, Idaho and Missouri have similar laws. When you live in a world where your legislators take such big steps backward, a world of all compostable cups seems like an unattainable fantasy.

You may have noticed that the United States is not the most agile in terms of political or social change right now. While that’s certainly not an excuse for inaction, perhaps smaller countries are currently better positioned to be groundbreaking and take the dramatic steps forward the planet needs. If enough smaller players take those first steps, it may be easier for the U.S. to follow suit and create programs that are truly effective. We would have case studies to learn from, and systems would already be in place for us to take advantage of or emulate.

And because the U.S. is so much larger than most of the countries that implement progressive sustainability programs, individual states (or companies) within the U.S. may be better suited to learn from those programs and develop their own. The smaller the body, the more flexible and innovative it can be.

So, Indiana—now you know about the sustainable ground being broken in France and Sweden. What are you going to learn from it?

*Hawaii has a de facto plastic bag ban because all of its counties enacted bans, and California’s plastic bag ban is under a referendum on Nov. 8. The District of Columbia enacted a plastic bag ban in 2009.

Don’t Buy Stuff: The Reduction Approach to Ethical Shopping

Less is more quote on a card on a white table

Long time no see! As you can see from my recent posts, I’ve been hustling hard on the green events front. For a change of pace from sustainable party tips, here’s Bethany with the latest update on her year-long ethical shopping journey. — Julia


Well, I’m seven months into my experiment of a year of only purchasing clothing from ethical sources—certified fair trade shops, items that are made in the US, or thrift shops. The plan was to write a blog post a month about my journey, but that hasn’t happened because I’ve been stuck on what to write about. I’ve found that I’ve stopped purchasing clothing and don’t shop nearly as much as I used to (not that I was ever a big shopper, but it definitely dropped from 2-3 times a month to 1-2 times every few months).

Part of it is laziness. It’s time consuming to do the research and find certified fair trade shops that I feel good about buying from. Even when I find a company that looks good, I find myself questioning it—what if they’re just really good at looking like they’re ethical? What if this is just a way for them to charge me $60 for a top? How do I actually know if this company is what they say they are?

The other part is the expense. Most of the pricing that I’ve seen for fair trade clothing is 10-20% higher than the fast fashion items that I used to buy. I’m not saying that’s wrong—I definitely agree that one should pay more for ethically produced items—but I also just changed jobs and am watching my bank account closely.

Because of that, reduction has been my mantra. I’ve been reducing both the number of items in my closet and the number of items that I purchase. I’ve also been reducing the amount of meat that I eat. That may seem like an odd pairing to go with clothing, but I’ve found that wanting to be more responsible in one area of my life has lead me to examine other areas of my life as well. The meat industry has a lot of the same supply chain issues that the fashion industry has—pollution and environmental devastation as well as ethical issues that with factory farming and the way animals are treated. There’s also a parallel for me with how difficult it is to actually know—how do you know for sure where your clothing is coming from and that it has been produced in an ethical way? How do you know for sure that the cow that this steak came from was treated humanely or that the farmer that raised it doesn’t dump waste in such a way that it pollutes water sources?

It feels impossible to me to actually know for sure if the items I’m consuming are produced in a way that treats people and animals ethically and does as little environmental damage as possible. So I’m reducing and simply trying to consume less of items that I know usually have ethical and environmental issues in their production (like fast fashion and fast food).

It’s hard to write interesting things about ethical shopping when your approach is “don’t buy stuff.” But sometimes it’s as simple as that.

Guide to Vegetarian & Vegan Protein Substitutes

Fancy tofu appetizer on greens with mushrooms

Part of my effort to lessen my environmental footprint includes reducing the amount of meat in my diet. Eating mostly vegetarian food has become second-nature to me, and I have several vegetarian friends, so it always surprises me a little when restaurants and caterers don’t offer satisfactory vegetarian or vegan options. This is particularly a problem at events, which generally offer a more limited menu overall.

Once I was at a conference in college with my vegetarian roommate. The conference was being hosted at a mid-range hotel in a suburb of Indianapolis, and the dinner served was a meat lasagna. When my roommate informed the server she was vegetarian, he went to the kitchen to see what he could do and returned a while later with a single tomato that appeared to have been stuffed with a little cheese and baked. While the cooks on duty likely did their best to improvise in a situation they hadn’t been prepared for, the root of the issue is that food service professionals, especially in the hospitality industry, should be prepared to encounter vegetarians and vegans and equipped to provide them with nutritious alternatives to animal ingredients.

On my sustainable events blog, I’ve published a guide to vegetarian and vegan protein substitutes that caterers can use to better prepare themselves to serve plant-based meals. (There’s even a nifty chart!) Vegetarians and vegans get hungry too, so accommodating them means more than simply removing any “offending” ingredients from their plates. By focusing on substitution rather than elimination, caterers can create more successful veggie dishes and have more satisfied guests!

Check out the guide to vegetarian and vegan substitutions >>

Sustainable Wedding Reception Tips

Elegant table setting with white linens and daffodils

Since I started my sustainable events consulting business, one of the most frequent questions I’ve gotten from friends is, “Do you do weddings?” I’ve never actively avoided weddings, but my focus so far has been on corporate and non-profit events. But recently as I’ve met more people in the wedding planning community, I’ve found myself mentally organizing various sustainable strategies that would apply to weddings, and getting excited about helping a couple create a wedding day that matches their values.

So let me take this opportunity to say it officially: Yes, I do weddings! I recently expressed my newfound ardor for matrimony in a guest post on fellow EWC member blog Leotie Lovely by sharing some of my tips for planning a sustainable wedding reception. Check out my sustainable wedding reception tips on Leotie Lovely >>

Get Ready for SpringSwap16

It’s time for the next Fair for All style swap! SpringSwap16 is your opportunity to clean out your closet and swap unwanted items for new-to-you fashion.

This will be our third clothing swap event, and I’m so excited to have built up a community of people who enjoy getting new clothes in this fun, personal and environmentally-friendly way.

SpringSwap16 promo graphic

SpringSwap16 Women’s Style Swap

Wednesday, May 4, 2016 • New Day Craft Mead & Cider

See full details & sign up >>

Some scenes from our last swap:

Women browsing tables of clothing

Woman peruses jewelry table

Rack of women's clothing

As always, the style swap is a free event. And like at our last swap, New Day’s famous Mead & Knead will be going on in the front room at the same time, where you can get a chair massage and a glass of mead or cider for just $10. (Be sure to arrive early if you want a massage; slots fill up fast.)

We hope to see you on May 4!

Sustainable Events: Throwing a Green Kids’ Party

Cupcakes in ice cream cones

Business update! My sustainable events consulting venture is rolling along, and I’m making great connections in both the event planning community and the environmental community. It’s encouraging to hear people’s positive responses to what I’m doing, and I’m excited to bring these two groups closer together.

In addition to making new connections, I’m enjoying support from my fellow Ethical Writers Coalition members. I recently shared my top tips for throwing a green kids’ party with Summer of sustainable fashion and lifestyle blog Tortoise & Lady Grey. She’s celebrating her little one’s fourth birthday this week and is doing her best to keep the party sustainable. Kids’ parties can be a major source of waste generated by disposable plates, cups, streamers, balloons, treat bags… the list goes on. However, with a bit of careful planning, your child’s party can be a magical and memorable day that doesn’t heavily burden the environment.

Read my tips for throwing a green kids’ party on Tortoise & Lady Grey >>

P.S. On April 23 I’ll be representing my business with a booth at the Earth Day Indiana festival, so come say hey!

How to Get Rid of Clothing Swap Leftovers

We hosted our most recent style swap on January 20, and the boxes of leftover clothes and accessories have been hanging out in my living room ever since.

Two boxes overflowing with clothes

Hi, guys.

Dealing with the leftovers is a minor inconvenience, but I actually appreciate that the swaps have given me an opportunity to experiment with different ways of connecting stuff with people who actually want it. Here’s what I’ve tried so far with this latest batch:

Consignment/Resale

At the swap, I announced that I might try selling some of the leftovers and donating the proceeds to Dress for Success. A few weeks ago I took what I considered the best of the leftovers to two consignment/resale shops, Plato’s Closet and Simply Chic. Unfortunately, neither store purchased any of the items, saying the items weren’t recent enough or weren’t in styles that sell well.

Facebook Sale Groups

After trying the resale shops, I posted four of what I considered the most appealing items in a local Facebook sale group, listing each item for a dollar. One item sold (a skirt from H&M), but the others didn’t. Given the fact that people weren’t jumping on what I thought was good stuff, I didn’t continue posting the rest.

Screenshot of Facebook sale group post

Nobody wanted these dope shoes!

I would like to continue experimenting with what works best for these groups—is there an optimal time of day to post? There are multiple sale groups for my neighborhood—does women’s fashion sell better in one group than another? Is it better to post a “closet cleanout” style post with lots of pictures and numbered items, or post one item at a time? I’m hesitant to post lots of items at once, because you still have to communicate with each buyer individually regarding pickup, which could become time-consuming if a lot of items sell.

ThredUP

My best friend is an avid devotee of ThredUP, an online resale shop for women’s and kids’ fashion. She raves about the experience from the consumer side and suggested I try out the selling side to see what it’s like. Despite the fact that the local consignment stores didn’t accept any of my items, I browsed ThredUP and saw several items similar to the items I had tried to sell, and most items I entered into the site’s Payout Estimator were marked as “Accepted.” A few items even had surprisingly high estimated payouts:

  • Etcetera dress pants – estimated payout of $18.80 to $22.80 (this has to be some kind of glitch)
  • Paper Denim & Cloth jeans – estimated payout of $8.88
  • J. Crew khakis – estimated payout of $5.13

I ended up sending in about 24 items, filling one of ThredUP’s cleanout bags. The mix included two pairs of shoes, several pairs of dress pants, tops, sweaters, and a couple of dresses. The submission process was super easy—the free shipping label comes already attached to the cleanout bag, so you don’t even have to worry about sticking it on.

Full ThredUP bag

Say hi to Frodo in the background!

Yesterday I received an email from ThredUP announcing they have received my bag and it is scheduled to be processed on April 24. The site says they accept less than 40% of what they receive, so I know not to expect them to take everything, but I’m interested to see how close the estimated payouts come to the actual, especially on the big ticket items listed above. For the items they don’t accept, they connect with textile recyclers, which I’m totally in favor of and wish I had more direct access to as a consumer.

Donate

Some of the swap leftovers weren’t on-trend enough or in good enough condition to submit to ThredUP, so I’m planning to take those items to Thrifty Threads this weekend. I like to support this particular thrift store with swap leftovers since their proceeds support the Julian Center, a local women’s shelter. I know they would probably prefer to have the good stuff than the dregs, so I hope they’re set up to sell unwanted items to textile recyclers or other resellers—this is something that’s been in the back of my mind to research.

What have your experiences with clothing resale been like? I’m hoping ThredUP is more accepting than the local stores since they cater to national trends, which are sometimes slower to reach Indiana. (I don’t think people here know that wide-leg dress pants are a thing again!) Have you ever used ThredUP, either as a buyer or seller? How about a Facebook sale group?

How Green is Fabric Made from Recycled Bottles?

Back of person in winter coat made of performance fabric

The following post was written by Alden Wicker and originally appeared on EcoCult, a guide to sustainable and eco-friendly living in NYC and beyond.

You might have noticed something popping up in the sustainable or eco-friendly fashion world: fabric made from recycled PET bottles.

This actually isn’t new. Patagonia has been recycling bottles into its fleece since the early 90s. What is new is the range of textiles we can make from recycled bottles as technology has improved. There are colorful printed yoga pants, technical cold-weather gear, and even blended textiles like denim.

Some of my sustainable friends have questioned how truly sustainable anything made with plastic can be. And there is merit in our collective striving toward a plastic-free wardrobe. After all, plastic is made from petroleum, so it’s natural to decide to go for a 100% organic cotton garment instead of one made with plastic, recycled or not. Also, the problem of polyester microfibers in the oceans is a scary one.

But the fact is, polyester – which is what recycled bottle yarn is – has become indispensable to the modern wardrobes. It’s how you get stretch. For example, Pact underwear creates its super-soft undies with organic cotton and 5% elastane, a polyester-polyurethane copolymer. If you wanted to forgo these synthetic textiles completely, you would have to resort to cotton bloomers that are gathered about the legs the old fashioned way. Sexy. You would also have to forgo athliesure as an entire category, or any performance gear at all. Have fun snowboarding that mountain in a wool fisherman’s sweater or heavy shearling coat. You could probably get away with wearing nothing but vintage jeans (let’s hope they never go out of style), but you would also have to get used to some pretty gnarly vintage bras as well, if you can’t do stretch. Basically, you would have to dress like a 19th century hippie.

Continue reading on EcoCult >>

Making It Do: Cardigan Repair DIY with Lace Edging

On her quest to make ethical clothing choices this year, our contributor Bethany is back with some tips for giving new life to clothes you already own. Enjoy! — Julia


Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without.

I love that saying. It comes out of the depression era, and I find myself saying it often (especially when I’m tempted to purchase something new that I don’t really need).

Cardigans are a staple of my work wardrobe. The office I work in has odd temperature regulation, and I’m pretty sure the elusive thermostat (no one knows where it is located) is set to “Antarctica.” Recently, I pulled out my favorite green cardigan and was shocked to find little holes where the collar is attached.

Hole in sweater

My first instinct, I’m sorry to report, was to throw it away and buy a new one. As I was considering it, that saying popped in my head, and I knew that I could definitely make this cardigan do if I put a little effort into it. I’m not very good at sewing, but I have a grasp on the basic “thread needle, stick in cloth, try not to make it look too horrible.” I quickly sewed up the little gaps, but I wasn’t satisfied with the result. You could see the repairs, partly due to me not having an exact color match for the thread, and in a few places it made a little bit of puckering in the fabric.

Poorly sewed-up hole

Sure, it would “never be noticed from a trotting horse” (another depression-era saying), but I don’t know many people who ride trotting horses through offices. I set the cardigan aside to think, and wore something else to work that day. I hit on a solution a few days later, and started working on it. A long time ago, my grandma taught me a fiber craft called tatting. It’s basically tying knots in string to make doilies, but you can use it to make edgings and lace as well.

Fancy tatted doily

Fancy tatted doily

So I found some green thread that matched my cardigan, and made an edging for it, and then sewed the edging onto the cardigan to hide those unsightly holes.

Section of tatted lace and tatting shuttle

The beginning of the piece. The light made it look brighter green than it actually is.

Tatted lace on edge of cardigan collar

Finished and attached to the collar

Bethany wearing cardigan

Cardigan in action!

By this point, you’re probably rolling your eyes and thinking “well, that’s great for you that you have this oddly specific skill that was passed down through generations and you sacrificed seven goats for the nimble fingers and coordination needed to make lace…but there’s no way I can do that.”

Never fret! Often you can find miscellaneous lengths of lace trim and rickrack at thrift stores that would do this exact same thing without the labor intensiveness. Go to the back of the store and look around where they display the sheets/tablecloths/fabric remnants. There are often bins of miscellaneous crafting materials that are perfect for little jobs like this.

You don’t have to be great at sewing, so don’t be intimidated by that. You may need to practice a little bit, but small repairs and refurbishments like this are pretty forgiving. Take a look at my stitches inside:

Poor stitches on inside of cardigan

I am not a master seamstress by any means. Just keep in mind that it’s better to err on the side of smaller stitches and using manageable lengths of thread (even though that means you’ll have to knot the thread and re-thread the needle more, it makes it more secure). Here’s a tutorial with a few basic stitches that I use a lot, particularly the whip stitch.

I found a lot of satisfaction in making this with my own hands. I found that this cardigan quickly became even more of a favorite because it now has a story. Instead of a cheap throwaway piece of fast fashion that only lasted one season, I was able to fix it and refurbish it into something that I’m excited to wear again.

If you’re interested in learning to tat, there are plenty of tutorials available online. This one is pretty clear and easy to follow. Video demonstrations like this are particularly helpful when first learning. I would also encourage you to think about what random skills you have that could be applied to hide a repair or freshen up a piece of clothing that you’re tired of. Do you make beaded jewelry? Maybe you could make a beaded collar. You could crochet pockets for a dress or maybe use a contrasting color of thread to sew up holes and make an interesting effect. How can you “make it do” with the pieces you already have in your wardrobe and extend their lives?