Tag Archives: Sustainability

Sustainable Design: A Tale of Two Tea Bags Part I

I recently caught my first cold of the season.  I guess most people do not think that is a big deal, but I was on a rally of nearly three years without a cold.  The good news is it was not too bad.  It slowed me down for a day or two, but then I was back at it full steam.

While nursing my cold, I drank a lot of tea.  It was very comforting and felt great on my raw, sore throat.  I tried many different brands (Traditional Medicinal, Numi, Good Earth, Trader Joe’s, Bigelow, and Organic India) as well as many different varieties (Sweet Lemon, Moroccan Mint, Echinacea Plus, Sweet & Spicy, Chamomile and Relax).  If you know anything about me, you can guess that almost all of them were organic.

Although I am mostly recovered, I am continuing the practice of drinking tea.  I have become a big fan of an afternoon and evening herbal tea.  It does not compare to my morning coffee (for all you coffee aficionados I highly recommend Matt’s wood roasted organic coffee), but I think tea will become part of my daily routine, at least while it is chilly outside.

If I have been able to keep your attention this far, you are likely wondering, “Where is he going with this?”  The good news is I do have a point beyond “I heart herbal tea.”

As I have been drinking all this tea, I have started to examine the different designs of the tea bags.  (Yes, yes, I know that loose-leaf tea is better than tea in bags.) I am a bit of a nerd for design.  Especially design that is done is a sustainable way.  You may be asking, how different can the bags be?  Well, as I am about to illustrate, the design does not have to be considerably different to be, in my opinion, much more sustainable.

Consider the picture of the two tea bags below.  At a quick glance (even a long stare) the two products from two different companies appear to be nearly identical:

  • Both are Moroccan Mint
  • Both are organic
  • Both bags are made from paper
  • Both strings are made of cotton
  • Both tags are made from paper

tea bags, sustainable design

However, there is one slight difference between the two bags that makes the design of one much more sustainable.

Instead of immediately letting the cat out of the bag, I want to see if anyone else can spot the difference(s).  (Remember that child’s activity: name all the little things that are different between two nearly identical scenes?)

  • How are these two tea bags different?
  • Why does this difference make one bag much more sustainable than the other?

Stay tuned for a Tale of Two Tea Bags Part II, when I reveal my thoughts (as profound or menial as they might be).

The Naked Truth 2009 Part II

The Naked Truth Part IILast week in the Naked Truth Part I, I took an under the clothes look at our products – the good, the bad, and the ugly.  As promised, I am now going to give an insider view of Atayne’s operations.  Let’s kick things off with the pretty side of things.

As I have mentioned in previous posts, Atayne is a certified B Corporation.  Unlike many other programs out there, this is not just a simple certification.  To be certified, not only do you need to complete an extensive survey and interview, you must legally commit to operating at a higher environmental and social standard than ordinary companies.  Within 1 year of completing the survey and interview process, B Corps must amend their operating agreement or corporate charter with language that requires them to consider much more than the financial aspects of a decision.  Atayne must also consider:

  • The social, economic, legal, or other effects of any action on current and retired employees
  • Our suppliers and customers, and the communities and society in which we operate
  • The effect of our operations on the environment and the economy of the state, the region and the nation

When we became certified, we joined a long list of highly respected organizations including:  Dankso, King Arthur Flour, Method, and Seventh Generation.

Beyond being a B Corp there are many things we do as an organization to continually reduce our impact on the environment and maximize our benefit to society.  Here are a few of my favorites.

  • We are always looking to reduce our material use.  One area we have been very successful is with paper.  I think most people would agree that it is the #1 waste item generated in an office.  We have done as much as possible to reduce our requirement for paper.  Simple steps such as double sided printing and reusing the blank side of junk mail has nearly eliminated the need for us to buy paper.  In our 2 years of operation we have bought one 500 sheet ream of paper and we are not even a quarter of the way through it.  Who says environmentalism is not good for the bottom line?
  • All of our production is done in facilities in the US and Canada where workers are provided great conditions, benefits, and paid above the minimum wage.  I’ve visited the factories where we our cutting & sewing is done and have witnessed first hand the great environment in which our products are made.
  • We ship all of our products using the US Postal Service.  The environmental benefit to this is two-fold.  First, residential postal routes are set while the usual routes of UPS and FedEx might not bring a driver into a residential neighborhood.  As a result, we are delivering our product on a route that will be driven regardless of whether we ship a product or not.  It’s the delivery equivalent of public transportation.  Second, the packaging for Priority Mail is Cradle-to-Cradle certified.  This means it can be infinitely recycled. And for those who have received an international Atayne shipment, you can attest that the packaging has been well-used before, assuming we have something on hand. (Becca wonders what foreign customs officers might be thinking when they see our packaging, so she draws the recycle symbol on the outside of the mailer to indicate it’s nothing dodgy.)
  • Through our trash running activities, not only do we provide an environmental benefit, we also provide a great community service. Litter is not just an eyesore; it is an environmental and community hazard. It kills land and marine animals who mistakenly ingest it; it serves as breeding grounds for disease-causing bugs and rodents; and it provides a subtle signal that a community does not care.
  • Despite being a start-up and still not making a profit, we think it is important to give back as we can.  In addition to volunteering our time for community and event clean-up activities, we have made small financial contributions to a variety of organizations including: Back on My Feet, the Catamount Institute, Girls on the Run, Keep California Beautiful, Kennedy’s Cord Foundation, Maine Children’s Cancer Program, and the Ronald McDonald House.

With the pretty comes the ugly, or at least the stuff we are looking to improve.  Here are some of our bigger scars, and the steps we are taking to heal them.

  • We like to get out and meet people at events.  What better way to make friends than to get out to shake hands and kiss babies.  (Naked truth: no babies kissed yet in the official course of business.)  While some of our events are local, many require significant travel.  We often wonder if the emissions from a cross-country flight or 1,000-mile roundtrip drive offset the benefit of a trash run at a race.  We have taken a couple steps to minimize our need for travel.  First, we are establishing a network of trash running groups and community organizers across the country.  This allows us to continue this great activity without distant travel from Atayne HQ.  Second, we are shifting our primary sales channel from events to our website.  This will greatly lessen our dependence on travel to sell our products.
  • Along the same vein, I really do prefer to meet people face-to-face (and am a less than enthusiastic phone talker) during the course of business.  So I personally do more driving to meetings than I probably should.  How I’m working on this? I drive a Honda Civic hybrid. And when I can, I will bike, walk, or take public transportation.  And at some point, I would love to start doing more video meetings, when more people get the tools (like a Skype-cam).
  • While the cutting and sewing of our garments occurs at a manufacturer in Canada (fabrics are produced in US), it does not meet our definition of localized manufacturing.  We are now talking with a manufacturer in Allentown, PA that is providing jobs in an area that desperately needs them.  Not only has the Lehigh Valley been devastated by the loss of steel related jobs, the region has lost thousands of garment industry jobs as other companies moved production overseas.  We’ll continue to explore manufacturing options to reduce the miles that Atayne products tread before getting to your door.

Once again this is just a brief look at something that should be more of a conversation than a report. If you think I missed something or there are other burning questions, please feel free to comment or ask.  As we continue to grow we will expand the Naked Truth to a more comprehensive discussion.  Until then, we will take one step at a time in this long, naked journey we call thrive-ability (sustainability is too boring, plus do you want a relationship to be sustainable or thriving?).

The Naked Truth Part I

The Naked Truth Part I

The Naked Truth Part I

Since we launched sales 9 months ago, we have gotten some great coverage in the media and on blogs.  A lot of these have focused on the “greenness” of our tops.  One of our more recent mentions came from Treehugger, a well-known environmental blog and newsletter.  While we love to get positive reviews and are very proud of some of our accomplishments, I have to agree with my good friend John Rooks.  John argues that sustainability is not a color, it is transparent.  In an article he wrote for Environmental Leader, John concludes with, “Sustainability is transparent, void of obscuring color.  It is clear, open, and visible.  Sustainability is naked.”

In light of all the positive press we have received, we decided it was time for Atayne’s first Naked Truth report.  Just like it sounds, we are going to bear all – the good, the bad, and the ugly.  Below is Part I of The Naked Truth 2009 in which we address the positive and negative environmental story of our products.  In Part II we will address the operations of our company at large including our social impact.  It is important to remember sustainability is three-fold:  environmental, social, and financial.

To start off, I do have to agree with our positive press.  There are many good environmental attributes of our product.  Here are a few of our favorites:

  • It takes considerably less energy (about 70% less) to make recycled polyester than virgin polyester.
  • We use a material that would otherwise go into a landfill (over 70% of all plastic bottles do).
  • We have minimized “product miles” and the resulting emissions by consolidating our production in the US and Canada, the countries where we sell 99.5% of our product.
  • We design our products to minimize laundering to help save a considerable amount of energy (80% of a garment’s impact on the environment comes from consumer care).  The most recent design improvement to do this is the loop.  We also try to educate people on the best way to care for their Atayne tops: Play Hard.  Rinse Top in the Shower.  Hang to Dry.  Repeat.

That being said, our products are FAR from perfect. Whether it is carbon emissions, industrial waste, or post-consumer waste, our products and operations negatively impact the environment, as does EVERY manufacturing operation.  Here are some of these “bodily imperfections.”

The dyeing of our fabric is something we are not satisfied with yet.  The dyeing process for most apparel is chemically and water intensive.  While we strive to select colors that are less chemically intensive, there is still no great solution when using synthetic fabrics (with natural fabrics there are some better options).

The graphics on our current tops were applied using the “conventional” screen printing process.  This included the use of plastisol, which contains PVC.  Thankfully we have found a local artist who does screen printing the old fashioned way.  We will now be applying our graphics using water-based inks in v2.0 of our tops.  This is still not perfect, but it is a major step in the right direction by avoiding the use of plastisol.

Our current tops contain activated carbon, which is derived from coconut shells.  The mixing of the synthetic fibers (recycled polyester) and natural fibers (activated carbon) makes it tough to recycle the fabrics, although research is currently being conducted to address this issue.  That is why we have made the decision to move away from the activated carbon for another natural fabric enhancer, Chitosan.  This will keep the polyester in a more pure form allowing it to be more readily recycled.  We are also developing prototypes to turn old tops of all brands into bags.  This will provide a use for fabrics that have a mix of synthetic and natural fibers, e.g. polyester/activated carbon, polyester/cotton.

That is a brief look at the good, bad, and ugly in regards to our products.  If you think I missed something or there are other burning questions, please feel free to comment or ask.  This should be less of a report and more of a conversation.  I hope you join us next week for The Naked Truth Part II.

It’s Going to Be a Marathon…

My name is Jeremy and I am getting ready to embark on one of the greatest races of my life. In the last year and a half, I have run four marathons (Marine Corp, Flying Pig, Chicago, and Philly) but I think this next one is going to be more like an ultra.

Over the course of my time as a marathoner, I have grown increasingly frustrated with the status quo of the apparel industry and more specifically performance apparel. Every time I went to purchase a new performance garment, I felt like I was compromising some of my most important values.

On one side, performance apparel is great. It wicks moisture, drys quickly, and is highly breathable. This all adds up to help you perform better by preventing your body from over heating. For some more background on performance apparel and moisture management, check out this article.

Unfortunately, on the other side, performance sportswear is highly unsustainable and uses chemicals and materials that are harmful to people and the environment. Consider a few things:

  • The primary fabric used (polyester) is a by-product of petroleum, a non-renewable, energy intensive, and somewhat controversial resource.
  • Polyester is not biodegradable and when it is discarded, it ends up in a landfill where it will sit for thousands of years.
  • Polyester for performance sportswear is often treated to enhance moisture management and inhibit bacteria growth. These treatments, ranging from chemicals to heavy metals, are very questionable in terms of their safety for people and the environment.

The list could go on, but I will stop there because despite this gloomy analysis there is a better way. I decided I was no longer going to compromise my environmental and social values, and I was going to change the game. Atayne is the change.

This posting is my first step in this new race, the race to create the performance sportswear organization of the future. The race where athletic performance and sustainability run side by side. The race where athletes impact the sport not the planet. The race where you compromise nothing and attain anything.

I hope you join me on this race and follow me on my journey through entrepreneurship. I hope you check in next week where I will reveal the story behind the title of the blog and why Atayne will never make a red shirt.