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Revisiting DEI Programs, Chasing Butterflies and Plant-based Clothing: What We're Reading This Week

Feb. 3, 2023
A look at some recent headlines focused on DEI, the environment, sustainability and climate change.

It's finally February! Even though Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow yesterday, I saw a gorgeous sunset after 6 p.m. local time. My mood was not dampened by Phil's prediction.

I am nervously tracking the ice storm in Texas. As an Ohioan, I'm used to all four seasons (and sometimes experiencing three of them in any given day), but I know that these storms are a tremendous strain on infrastructure. That plus a seeming greater reliance on electricity rather than natural gas for heat can be a serious threat to safety when massive power outages occur. Especially when there's an ice storm that brings unusually cold temperatures. 

There's a dizzying amount of news of late. My mere attempt to drink it from the firehose leaves me tired, overwhelmed and anxious. That's why I've started reading a book on minimalism. I can't escape to a cabin in the woods. Nor would I want to; Henry David Thoreau's Walden was quite tedious at times.

Instead, I recommend reading this curated news, reflecting on how it impacts your life and taking action. That could mean mentoring someone. It could mean learning more about gardening. It could mean reading a history book. It could mean cleaning out your closet. Whatever it is, we hope that it helps you fill your cup. Self-care continues to be so important as deal with so much uncertainty and chaos in our lives.

Until next week, stay safe and be well.

Revisiting DEI Programs

February is Black History Month, and it’s an apt time for businesses and individuals to reassess their commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) efforts.

Many DEI programs were set up in haste following the murder of George Floyd back in May 2020. So much of the world has changed in the last few years. It’s important to ask how our DEI efforts are going and if we’re doing enough.

Part of that commitment to creating a more just and equitable environment requires allyship. During themed months, such as Black History Month or Pride month, businesses will change out their logo on and people can slap a filter on their social media profile picture. These are visible signs of allyship, but they are more performative than substantial.

“It’s not just saying you think that everyone deserves full opportunity,” writes Dr. Niki White. “It is actively deciding how you will help create those opportunities and how you will strategically align your thoughts and strategies in collaboration with those you’re allying with and advocating for.”

To better understand why things are the way they are, we need to turn to the past. History offers us context and perspective about how we got here; it also helps us see the sources of our ingrained beliefs and unconscious biases. Most importantly, it may offer suggestions and solutions for a way forward.

Business leaders need to spend time reflecting and educating themselves on an ongoing basis, especially when considering new policies or revising old ones. As Scout says in To Kill a Mockingbird, we need to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes and walk around for a while, especially those friends, co-workers and passersby who come from different backgrounds.

“The more that any of us learn about other people—their history, their challenges, their dreams—the better understanding we will have about obstacles they face and the better allies we can be for them,” White writes.

That’s something we should be doing on an ongoing basis to better appreciate the richness of this world, and as part of our commitment to leave it in better condition for the next generation. February, and DEI programs, are a good place to start.

Read White’s column here.

Chasing Butterflies

As a child, I remember getting so excited to go to the butterfly room at the local zoo. I enjoyed seeing so many butterflies flitting about. Before we left the butterfly room, we had to brush off our clothes and make sure one didn’t hitch a ride on us, a thrilling prospect for someone in single digits.

I still get excited when I see butterflies in the wild. They are such delicate and beautiful creatures. But unfortunately, my sightings have become less frequent in recent years. And the data for one butterfly population sadly supports my own experiences.

There is a reason to be hopeful, but there’s a lot more reason to feel guilty.

The population of western monarch butterflies that are wintering along the California coast has continues to recover after a sharp decline in 2020. Still, the population of monarchs—now hovering above 330,000—is still a fraction of millions it was in the 1980s.

Experts attribute the population change to climate change, increased use of pesticides and herbicides and destruction of their milkweed habitat along their migratory route to due new housing construction.

I have seen more education and effort at my area metroparks about planting milkweed and other plants to create pollinator gardens. That is something I hope to start doing myself this year.

In the meantime, one bright spot on this wintry cold day is that there are nonprofits that focus on the conservation of invertebrates. They’re doing the good, and sometimes difficult, work of studying our environment.

Read the story here.  

Plant-based Clothing

Fashion is a notoriously wasteful industry, as I’ve previously mentioned in roundups. 

Read more: Microplastics, Fast Fashion and Saving the Bees: EHS Today's Sustainability News

Read more: Climate Change, Greener Fashion and Mining Protections: EHS Today's Sustainability News

But there’s been a growing push to change that by startups, innovative designers, major fashion houses, governments and even the European Commission. The increased attention in environmental, social and governance (ESG) with regards to investments is putting pressure on manufacturers, retailers and the rest of the supply chain to take accountability for their impact on the environment.

Perhaps most importantly, there are dollars at stake from younger consumers who are not afraid to shop secondhand and are demanding new clothing be more environmentally friendly.

I was surprised and delighted to learn that some individuals are taking it a step further by developing sustainable yarns and dyes to create oil-free clothing that requires less time, resources and land to grow. And, as an added bonus, some clothing could be tossed in the compost heap when it’s too threadbare to be worn.

It’s estimated that about 60% of synthetic fabrics are made of fossil fuels (either the fiber itself or the dye used to color it) and 85% of these materials will end up in landfills. Textile dyeing alone is the second biggest polluter of water globally.

The fashion industry is responsible for up to 10% of global carbon dioxide emissions, more than international air travel and shipping combined. Clearly, there’s room for improvement as well as innovation across the industry.

One such example comes from Charlotte McCurdy, a researcher, designer and assistant professor at Arizona State University. She created a “plastic” raincoat made entirely from algae. She isn’t looking to commercialize her own creations, but I don’t think it will be too much longer before I can find something like that at the department store.

Major retailers such as Patagonia, Levi’s and H&M are turning to hemp, eucalyptus and bamboo fibers. In fact, H&M, a fast fashion company that has long been rebuked for its environmental unfriendliness, is now aiming to make all of its products from recycled or sustainably sourced materials by 2030.

What makes algae even more exciting is that it could potentially be good for the environment. Gwen Ackerman writes that algae is “fast and cheap to grow, doesn’t need much water and sucks carbon dioxide from the air. Photosynthesizing aquatic organisms produce about 70% of the oxygen in our atmosphere, more than all forests combined. That means algae is not just less bad for the climate, it’s potentially positive.”

Read the full story here.  

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