Evolution

 

Every Friday, Atmos editor-in-chief William Defebaugh reflects on the week in climate and culture, sharing stories of insight and inspiration.

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“Design today is not about designing the product. It’s about designing the process,” says Renana Krebs, founder of Algalife—a clean tech startup that’s using algae to create more eco-friendly textile alternatives. “It’s really about creating a circular supply chain—only then can we really find the right path to create a revolution in this industry.” The industry Krebs is referring to is fashion, a behemoth that is in dire need of reform. More than 15 million tons of textile waste is created each year in the United States alone, with approximately two-thirds of this waste sent straight to landfills. Let that sink in.

Thankfully, Krebs is just one among many pioneers looking to disrupt fashion’s present paralysis in the face of its own hand in ecocide (we profiled six of them in Volume 01). Over the past five years, the innovators at PrimaLoft have been busy coming up with a way to make the plastic-based, bio-hazardous fabric polyester more sustainable—and they’ve just had a breakthrough. By attaching a simple sugar to recycled polyester polymer, they’ve made it a desirable food source for naturally occurring micro-organisms that are able to biodegrade the material in less than a year and a half.

 

Innovations like this are critical if we are to create a closed-loop system where what’s recycled can be turned into new products. Currently, the most ubiquitous fiber found in the fashion industry is conventional cotton; it’s in over a third of garments, and only one percent of that is organic cotton, meaning that everything else is genetically modified, soil-eroding, and dependent on chemicals that run off into local water supplies (and on your skin). The costs of these pesticides and GMO seeds are so high that farmers around the globe regularly experience crippling debt. (If you’ve read our first issue, you know that suicide is a rampant issue among farmers in India, where one occurs every half hour.)

 

Conditions like this are what motived fashion giant H&M to implement a new degree of transparency to its retail process. Online shoppers will now be able to read supplier details for each garment, including “production country, supplier names, factory names and addresses, as well as the number of workers in the factories” so that consumers can make an informed purchase. In store, shoppers will be able to use the H&M app to scan items and find the same information. It is the first major fast fashion retailer to take this step.

 

While fashion might be evolving slowly (ironic for an industry built on change), others are taking larger leaps to reach a circular module. An expiring incinerator has prompted the Danish Island of Bornholm to throw out its entire waste management system. According to officials, all waste on the island will be treated as resources by 2032. At 277-square-miles, Bornholm is home to 40,000 people, with 600,000 annual visitors—so it’s no small feat. These leaps forward in how we approach climate change are all the more integral when new perils are being presented every day. Even our own language around the issue needs to adapt to take into account emerging complexes and consequences.

 

Speaking of language, Merriam Webster defines evolution as “a process in which the whole universe is a progression of interrelated phenomena.” It’s an apt understanding to keep in mind, for if we are to make sustainable progress for the future, we’ll need to rethink every part of our own processes, and how our actions relate to our larger ecosystem. Otherwise, the next big step in evolution might just be the end of the human phenomenon.

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