Locally Made – Sustainable in More Ways than One

If you know anything about Local Laundry, you know we proudly support and stand behind all things local. But it's not just us that wants to have a positive impact on our community. Take our way-cooler-than-us friend, Jordan Flagel, Executive Director and Founder of Tropical Rainforest Education and Exploration—TREE Exploration, for example. Jordan is an environmental scientist and former athlete who has lived and worked/studied in nine different countries. He holds a BA in Environmental Geography from the University of Calgary, MSc in Sustainable Environmental Resources Management from the University of Malta, and MSc in Integrated Science and Technology from James Madison University. The guy knows his stuff! This is why we're so excited to share his take on sustainability this week on the blog. 

Executive Director and Founder of TREE, Jordan Flagel

The clothes that we wear say a lot about who we are as individuals. And that goes for more than just style. While some people only care about the look of the garments they wish to purchase and others factor in only price, there is a growing segment of the population that factors in where they are made. Buying locally sourced and produced clothing is beneficial not only for supporting your local community - it often reduces environmental impacts, ensures proper human rights for workers, and helps strengthen the local economy.

Environmental Impacts of Local vs. Overseas

When you buy clothes that are made overseas, there is the immediate problem of transportation. Even if they were produced in the most ethical and sustainable way, they still need to be shipped across an ocean. That means using energy. And at the moment there is no way to provide the energy needed to cross oceans without creating more carbon emissions. There’s no reason why we can’t get to the point where emission-free shipping is a reality. But right now, it’s not. So anything shipped across the ocean, or even cross-country, will add to our carbon problem, no matter how sustainably-made the product. 

Exploring beautiful Belize. 

There is also an issue of excess waste associated with non-local products. Items that are shipped long distances tend to have more packaging. Clothes are better than other, more fragile items because they are soft and don’t require extra padding. Breakable products that are shipped overseas are fitted with padding, often made of styrofoam or other nonbiodegradable substances. Though clothes don’t normally require this padding, garments are usually wrapped and sealed in layers of plastic to protect against the elements, wrinkling, and other hazards of travelling such long distances. 

Furthermore, there is an issue with overseeing production in faraway factories. If a company is headquartered in North America, and sells primarily to this market, but produces its clothing in Asia, it is difficult to monitor environmental standards. Companies that choose to implement stringent environmental standards on production needs to be vigilant in overseeing compliance, something that requires a lot of energy and effort - and money. Implementing such standards will also cost the company money. Essentially, to do it right would be costly, and the main purpose of foreign production is to drive down costs. Ensuring strict environmental standards eats into this cost reduction. And even if it’s done right, there is still the initial issue with shipping and waste which at least partially negates the efforts to be sustainable.

If a company is serious about sustainability, they need to manufacture their products locally. 

Human Impacts of Local vs. Overseas

Besides the environmental impacts of shipping overseas, there are human impacts to consider when companies utilize foreign production. Working conditions and labour laws differ around the world. The cheapest places to produce garments are usually the ones that have the lowest wages and the worst working environment for employees. This is why many companies choose to manufacture their products in these places - not because they are evil corporations, but because they value profits. The less you pay workers the more profitable sales become.

Companies can still house their factories in these locations and commit to higher standards, but this requires significant investment. And not just a financial investment, it also requires time to be invested in ensuring these improved standards are met. This means sending employees or hiring reputable third-parties to keep tabs on working conditions, regularly. It is very difficult to do this, to control working hours, to ensure minimum age requirements are upheld, and so forth. It’s not impossible, but it is difficult. And expensive, in both time and money. 

Again, it would be much simpler, and likely cheaper, to produce locally made products if a company is serious about upholding human working conditions. When combined with the environmental impacts of overseas production, it becomes extremely clear: the only realistic method of sustainable production is local. 

How Buying Local Contributes to Sustainability

If it’s on the company to ensure clothing is produced in a sustainable manner, it’s on the consumer to identify which brands keep to this standard and buy from them.

Buying locally-made products reduces the environmental impacts of shipping and ensures optimal working conditions for employees. It helps contribute to a local economy, which increases economic sustainability, an important pillar of environmental welfare. Supporting your local community also allows the companies within it to compete with brands that import cheaper garments with little emphasis on quality, environmental impacts, human rights, working conditions, or local economic sustainability. 

The next time you go searching for that new outfit, take a look at where it was made. Think of the benefits that buying something locally-made will bring to your community. And then see if you feel it looks just a little bit better in the mirror if it came from across town instead of across the world.

-- Jordan Flagel

About the author
Jordan is the founder of TREE, a conservation-focused ecotourism organization that operates mainly in tropical rainforests. He is also a content writer and freelance environmental policy analyst, having written policy articles for Maclean’s magazine, the Canada West Foundation and the United Nations Green Corps program. He holds two MSc. degrees in environmental management and integrated science.

About TREE
Find out more information about TREE, please visit www.treexploration.com

  • Trips to Guyana in December 2019
  • South Africa in February 2020
  • Belize in March 2020

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