Many of us are familiar with the term “green-washing”. It means that companies are making sustainable claims over their products or production processes while that does not hold true. In doing so, companies are lying to their customers in their efforts to purchasing more sustainable. This tends to be done through marketing, for example by using slogans and product lables that make consumers feel more concious about their purchasing impacts. When these claims do not hold true, consumers are lied at and that is referred to as “green-washing.”
What does green-washing really mean? Can you think of something? When you google “examples for green-washing” you find products that amongst other use recycled packaging. Here the green-washing claim can be that recycled packaging has little to do with the content of lets say shampoo in a recycled plastic bottle. We don’t know how shampoo is produced, but one may end up buying that shampoo, because the packaging is produced with a lower environmetal footprint. Argumentatively, consumers can have the perception that this refers to the entire product and the shampoo brand might later be associated as a “green-washer.”
In contray to how this company can be called as “green-washer”, the company is also not because it reduces its environmental footprint by using recycled materials to create new shampoo bottles. Therefore, the company is not a green-washer, because its claims hold true. This applies to other companies too that are referred to as “green-washer”. Such an example are certain textile brands that use recycled materials made of plastic waste. While indeed, microplastics can enter the environment during wash of these textiles, these companies are not greenwashing because they utilize waste instead of new production resources for the same or similiar output.
When can it be called greenwashing? Greenwashing in the law context actively refers to companies misleading their consumers into buying something, while what they claim to be does not hold true. Legally speaking this is called fraud and may also be referred to it as such. On contray, companies putting in an effort into reducing their environmental footprint is not fraud and therefore also not green-washing. It is not fraud, because it is something that they are actively doing; even a company that uses marketing which is effective in terms of consumer keeping their products longer, without necessarily changing the product itself, likely does not qualify as green-washing. It is not, because it is real, meaning marketing is used rather directional as oppose to fictional.
Of course, some companies could do a bit more. Are there better ways then referring to greenwashing right away and why? Overusing the term greenwashing is less likely beneficial because it undermines the efforts companies put into better production processes. In addition to that, efforts can look different and by setting an ideal to how something should be, it becomes difficult to differentiate between efforts and their effectiveness too. Instead of using the term green-washing it could be pointed out what efforts the company is implementing and where it currently runs short on. Contrarily green-washing may be particular used for companies that comit fraud “doing nothing, claiming a lot ” .
If not as many companies actually engage in green-washing, why are so many referred to engaging in it? Often sustainable production processes are compared to extreme ideals. It means that production and consumption practices should not cause environmental and social damage. In addition, the origin of the term “sustainability” comes from forest ecology, in which natural cycles, cycle naturally and hint to why we have such high ideals. When we talk about business logics and all components that go into business practices, including those of consumers, these ideals are difficul to live up to, because business logics tend to operate on different ideals. Also, they do not tend to cylce, like we can see in forest ecology. As a result it becomes difficult for companies to change everything, meaning some companies start with small, but incremental changes, similiar to consumers. Baby steps, also for the big ones ;).
*I decided not to use references for this blog, but experience from my former job as research associate in sustainability business and law terminology from my studies.
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If you are just as annoyed about not being able to resell or frustrated why reselling takes such a long time, completely new to it, then this blog post is for you. With a background in business and econmics with a touch of psychology, I listed a few questions to think about before and during resale. They won’t help you determine how much to resell something for, but they will make you aware of different factors to help you determine the resell price for you, or to resell more effectively and maybe not, where it might be too time consuming;
Does every product resell the same?
Reselling at a higher price is often easier, when the market size is small. It means that there are only a limited set of goods available. If the interest to purchase such product is higher then the supply, than it is more likely that you can resell your product at a higher price. A secondhand Porsche tends to resell at a higher price then a secondhand car of a car brand that is largely available and affordable to most people. A jacket that is high in demand, but not available on the secondhandmarket (yet), or in very small quantities will likely resell at a higher price then a jacket of which (secondhand) markets are saturated on.
Do new products resale at a high price?
Even if your jacket is new and the market is saturated, it will likely resell at a lower price, because of market saturation. A related difficulty is that you will likely also find jackets, that are less worn but categorized as “like new”. This increases the total quantity of the “same jackets” and reduces their total value, because too many jackets of the same or a similiar model are available. Of course, if your jacket is new, it likely will resell higher, then if it is not, but the question is “if” and when. Another thought is to not resell it as high as the initial purchasing price as long is it is on the market, because it likely leads to people buying the new product from the store. That is because they are “brand new”. Even if your item is brand new, it is not, because you owned it already. Likewise, if the market is less saturated, you are likely to resell at a high price.
What if the market is saturated and my clothes are already worn?
That tends to be a bummer. You likely succeed in quick resale if you resell at a much lower price, then the average. The price has to be much lower, because then you are more competative towards higher priced and used products. It will make reselling a bit faster, but also runs risk of losing profits. On the other hand, it more likely leads you to making profits that you otherwise run risk of not making, because your average priced item will perish in the saturated market and the fact that new items are uploaded frequently on resale platforms. This may also work the opposite, by selling higher then the average. Reselling at a higher price likely means that more demands on the product exists, so reselling authentically is important.
How does product authenticity relate to resale value?
Each of us is different, which means that people will have different tastes, budgets and body sizes. It means that the more real a picture and related description feels like, the more real it will feel to the person interested in the product; what a consumer expects from a product by looking at its description should match the reality after purchase most likely. That can happen through the right colors representation, description of lenght and width, material features, deffects and pictures taken while worn with body in “normal poses”. In buying decisions, this likely leads to higher levels of confidence and a greater interest in paying a higher or “the” price for a product.
Isn’t it that some products don’t resell, if I am being that authentic?
Its not like that because again different people have different interests, budgets, body sizes and demands. It means that in different market segments, different customers can be found. Someone with a low budget, but eager to buy product x may buy a semi broken item, but repairs it and someone with a higher budget will buy the same product in a better or even new condition. Or maybe you want to try out a new style. Because it is new to you, it is not new to others and you find many products in a different market segments. In other words “there are different segments of popularity”, or “authenticity” that resale at a different price.
Should I use words like pretty or beautiful jeans for authentic resale?
I find that we are saturated on products and we often tend to forget, why we buy them. For example, shoes are there to protect our feet and jackets may keep us warm. Many of these qualities are often not listed, but instead descriptions such as “pretty”. While these descriptions are not wrong, they are subjective to individual perception, meaning your pretty might not be mine, but your waterprotection likely is mine. So, what are you selling? Highlight that and match your price accordingly. For example, it is rare to find waterproof raincoats. Ironic, right? But it sells, even if the brand is a bit less known.
Can brand names help me sell higher?
It depends again on the market and its saturation. If the brand name is so little known, it may take some time to resell high, a bit like in the example of the Porsche. On the other hand, a high new instoor purchasing price from a well known brand, likely keeps the average price in the resale market higher. For example, you will more likely sell product X from brand Y, with an instore price of 200€ at around 175€ new then product K from brand B with an instore price of 20€. So it’s a bit of a mix and you can have a look how your competitors set prices for similiar product categories, but also have a look at the current store prices. Ideally, you could be a bit lower, but not too low and not too high, but again depending on product quality, brand image etc.
Hope you liked this!If you have questions or comments, drop a message or leave a message in the comment section.
As I wrote on my WordPress Blog page, I am using the sciences to back up my claims. I am not the only one and there are further blog formats that also use the sciences to back up their claims. The sciences I relate to scientific papers that are for example peer-reviewed. Now what’s the catch? Nowadays, I am certainly not the only one, you can open Google Scholar and then you type in what you are looking for and when you are lucky, which you likely are because we are saturated on the sciences, you find a scientific article that you are looking for – to confirm what you think and want to convey. Just to give you an example; Sex is awesome, oh suprise an older study confirms it is awesome. My obvservation is valid.
A former professor of mine referred to it as scientific “cherry-picking“ and I am delighted that she taught me about it, because indeed she is right. It is as easy these days to write a blog, possibly policy and investement suggestions and and cherry-pick the foundation for it as easy as it is not to. You could not do so and be honest, while following logical argumentation and analysing “its” meaning but hypothetically, the validity of your own argument is lost for further recognition, making what you write and what is to be read rather invalid, if not even stupid without scientific evidence. Instead we trust the sciences and how we read it, to then make a claim or to confirm the claim we try to make; “We should invest into bitcoin”, because in the future people will like it, according to this study and not carefully delibertion of it; its method and outcome and done for who by who and how. Logically and if we are being honest, it can also be not like that, because the future is too uncertain and more studies would have to be done etc. Some studies or the ability to publish is furthermore exclusive too, making the sciences limited to what I call a bit elitaire and exclusive towards different knowledge.
Now more about the sciences and how they are used, by who and why. You will find that a NGO X is making claims and then tends to use a study or at least parts of it to confirm their claim or to receive funding. In my field, known the field of sustainability something similiar can be found. “A” is sustainable minded and wants that people consume more sustainable and to do so needs money for purpose “B”. A will now look for an article on consumer studies and finds one (favored are studies by business consultencies and market research institutes) to confirm that 60% of consumers of a random sample group want to buy more sustainable. The study confirms what A was looking for, whilst ignoring wishful thinking which is that many people not actually want it and the fact that 40% don’t want to buy more sustainable etc. A yet receives some funding and the investment into for example sustainable apparel flops.
Now this goes further and further, making its way into the sciences itself, which is to research to confirm or to develop something that confirms the hypothesis, or what the client needs. This can happen if the research is steered towards a specific set of expected responses “How much do you like this?” instead of “How do you view this?” (Even if you ask how much do you like this, you make liking the main option). No? Ever been asked how much you dislike something that should be of liking and then rate it? My former professor (thank you at this point) referred to it as being the devils advocate. If you are an honest broker, you research and provide different options and the outcomes could be of choosing for the client. Ideally, you would be a pure scientist, making objective observation or picking objective studies by as much as possible (Pielke Jr, R. A., 2007). The latter tends to receive little funding because it can lead to non desired outcomes, obviously.
Now what is it that I want from you? Have a look at your resources and don’t use them, if you don’t want to and do if you want to. Why? Because its vicious and risks that investements and hopes are placed falsely. Have a look at studies that don’t confirm what you are looking for. It itches, but may give room for different spaces to thrive,for example new ideas, strategies, projects and policies and even not where they should not.
Evans, A., Sleegers, W., & Mlakar, Ž. (2020). Individual differences in receptivity to scientific bullshit. Judgment and Decision Making, 15(3), 401.
You are a company, an individual and you would like to do it different. You don’t because of what others think, the possibility to get rejected. You do it then like others do it, or those who are well known “write like the New York Times”, copy the business model from “Tesla”. You get little to no liking, because you lack novetely and you feel frustrated, it lacks the reality you wished to feel, to follow.
The outcome is that what you would have liked to do, what you and how you would like to do it differently, has and had little chance to surface and it leads you to self-reject before you even try.
I believe this perception is how much innovation becomes #rejected before it even has the chance to surface or to come to word.
P.S. even the New York Times started somewhere to be New York Times. Why not be your own New York Times, Tesla, whatever it is that you admire?
According to author Harrington J. chapter in “Total Innovative Excellence” for an employee whose salaryis US $60,000, itwillcost the companyanywhere from US $30,000 to US $45,000 to hire and train a replacement. So why not starting it of with the right motivation? And why, with the right motivation, when it is the motivation that is right to begin with? I argue differently and believe that the motivation is often rather imaginary and targeted towards what is wanted as desired motivation. This makes applying and the review of applications more time-consuming for both employees and applicants. To reduce that I suggest to deviate from the letter of motivation and reduce it to a 6-7 sentences e-mail with what “realy does motivate or not”. Following you can find my arguments, with backgrounds drawing from psychoanalytical theory, which is much about what happens “unconciously”;
Unless your bills are paid by themselves, the primary motivation to apply for a paid job is very likely to get paid. Even if it is our dream job, we’d still want it to pay. Now we could mention it in letter(s) of motivation, but somehow it appear(s) unpolite to have a salary as prime motivator. Why? After all we want motivated employees and it seems that salary should not be the key factor for motivation, because the motivation should come from “within”. Ironically, it is also not neither nor. Because the salary is important, does not mean the rest or the motivation is not. Maybe there is no other motivation then the salary, and that may be okay too, if it is what sustains or has one grow in the company. After all, we don’t know.
Now what’s a letter of motivation? It describes the applicants motivation. However, motivation(s) tend to be different and successfull letter(s) of motivation tend to not cater towards that, but towards the motivation that one could imagine as an ideal motivation to land the job. If we were real about this, we would understand that we don’t know what type of motivation a company is expecting, other then what our motivation is so that we find a good match that is as real as it can be.
Even though we slightly know about it, we tend to ignore it and enter the I call it “double-folded application trap”. We know what motivates us most likely and what does not. And something similiar might apply to the employer. Both know, there is no such thing as the super ideal candidate. As applicants we pretend for it to be not like that, because we want to get the job and as employers and recuriters we hope the ideal candidate with the ideal motivation is out there too. Now it starts; the ideal letter of motivation begins being targeted as well as waited for to be recieved.
Hours may be spend perfectionising it, because of how little it should lead to rejection. If the letter of motivation was most real, it would probably reject some ideals and illustrate a different motivation to none. It may even lead to self-rejection, because less criteria and a different motivation would be present. While self-rejection could be suitable, it also is less favorable for economic and competative reasons. It means at this point a letter of motivation is submitted, which can run risk to be rather imaginary. What is left is the question of what is real for those who wrote and for those who read it (even worse with story-telling). Are you really okay with working over hours or is this something you want to do out of a heart-break, which means you won’t sustain in that position?
This makes applying as well as recuriting tyring, because one has to first fish through what is real and what is less likely and that for multiple job applications and their reviews. Now, should we end the letter of motivation? I would say yes and reduce it to an e-mail introduction of required 5-7 sentences instead. After all the job appliction has already been read so that when someone is applying it can be assumed that there is “a motivation” and the five liner might illustrate which one it is or not. Maybe someone even has a different motivation that can be suitable too. And what even is ideal, when in the lack of it, new ideals or candidates with different skills and motivations might be found too? Maybe someones real motivation even suprises “I am going to be a mom in a month and want to secure a job before giving birth. I am a quick learner and would like to grow with you. It is only possible if my child can be a part of this. See my CV attached.”
Hope you enjoyed this. Let me know your thoughts in the comments.
Image Source: What it means to be “real” according to psychology by Steven Handel.
It’s been a week since I stopped working as research associate in the field of System Sciences and Sustainable Business Models at Darmstadt University of Applied Sciences. Looking back on reading many scientific papers on sustainability sciences, system sciences, sustainable ecologics, ecologogical and basic needs paradigms, it got me thinking whether we should remove notions towards sustainability from primary (business logic) thinking. It’s harsh of me to write so, but it also comes with different realities that are harsh too.
I want to write about it, not because I am against sustainability, but because I believe that what it “envisions” little holds true to the different realities we face today. Let me start with “selling sustainability”. Sustainability cannot be sold; carbon friendliness cannot be sold. It is something that can happen, because of how something primary has been produced and is then sold; A bamboo straw, as example, regrows rapidly. This makes it renewable and suitable as an ecological product; if it is consumed in regards to its regrowth time. However, for such bamboo straw business to be invested into it needs a use-case; for example “drinking something with a straw” because of reason(s) X and Y. It will not be invested into because its’ sustainable by design.
Another example is “selling human right compliance”. It is not something that is sold either, it is a result of something that is sold because it is wanted. For example, the chocolate brand Toney Chocolonely is commonly known as a chocolate producing brand with the intend to produce slave-free chocolate. That is what it is known and likely also bought for. What it is really bought for is the taste of its chocolate offering. The Chocolate Market size was valued at USD 124.03 Billion in 2019 and is projected to reach USD 165.17 Billion by 2027, growing at a CAGR of 3.6% from 2020 to 2027. So while Toney Chocolonely certainly brought into varience in product offering, the demand exist(ed) and continues to do. No demand for chocolate = no demand for Toney Chocoloney = no demand for “human right compliance”.
Now this can go on; selling “deforestation free”. You cannot sell deforestation free, but you sell a product as a company. It means you have to look at where you source what type of material how often, how you sell it to what type of customer and how investments return into reliable revenue streams. These aren’t bad. They are important. Being deforestation free can be a part of it, but when you talk to customers, you see the discussions will be more about styles, material features etc. Similiar notions can be found in selling “circularity”. It tends to be nothing that is sold as primary business logic, but it’s part of a service offering. For example the ability of certain Games in the Gaming Industry to be repaired, but you don’t buy games because they are circular but because of their fun, excitment and other factors.
It intruiques me to write more about it, but I decide to stop here. Why do I write about it? I care about sustainability and I am enthusiastic about business and the role of investement; what makes you invest into something. And certainly it can be sustainable, but you also want returns, and often that is the return of the consumer; I don’t want to live in a sustainable house because, but if solar pannels help me reduce the cost of my living than it is something I, as consumer am interested in. And if I can repair my coffee mashine in the next years without feeling annoyed about having to buy a new one again and again, then that’s something I am interested in. But what I really buy is the coffee mashine, the joy of it, the smell, the 5 minute peace in the morning.
Hope you enjoyed this post! I would love to hear from you, your thoughts on sustainability, business models and investements. Drop a message in the comments, also if you want me to closer look at (your) business logic or service offering.
To promote a business case as well as more sustainable consumption and production patterns, there is an increase in the resale and consumption of secondhand (shoes). While the business case is growing with an expected networth of 1.27 billion USD by 2027, the resale value in terms of “health promotion” might decrease. That is because of the potential effects of shoe resale on consumer health. For example, the materials of most shoes such as for the inner and outer soles have the tendency not to be adjustable to a new consumer footprint. Because we all have a unique footprint, wearing someone else’s shoes means that our footprint does not fit and that can be problematic. Because I am not an expert in the field, I set up an interview with Prof. Dr. med. Stefan Sesselmann who specializes in orthopaedics. Through the interview I learned that buying secondhand shoes can indeed be disadvantagous because of our different footprints and to my suprise it might be better to buy new shoes instead of secondhand shoes. At the same time, it made me think that buying secondhand shoes could be health promoting too, if they had an integrated design in which the outer and inner sole of a shoe could be exchanged before, during and after resale.
Of course there is much more to it and I am happy to share the full interview with you;
Ann: When I contacted you, I mentioned that I experiment with second hand boots and I got worried about the health of my feet and the feet of my customers. I am not an expert and understand, how little I know about feet and feet health in general. How would you describe a healthy foot?
Prof Dr. Stefan Sesselmann: If you start to define health in general, you find that it cannot be defined that simple. For example, according to the World Health Organization, health is a state of perfect physical, mental and social well-being. And if you think about a foot, you could have a first physical look and find that it doesn’t show any signs of ill-health. To elaborate, you then might consider the skeleton of the foot, how it is positioned, its arche structure, and also the foots’ joints. Then there are also ligaments, tendons and so that all has to work well together, including the foot muscles. They, I would even argue are extremely important. At the same time, purely visually a healthy looking foot can also cause pain that cannot be objectified. And as in the case of spinal complaints, the psychological component can also play a role by perceiving that pain is a result of ill-physiology, when it is caused by a psychological phenomenon instead. For example, back pain has been linked to stress too as oppose to an inconvenient sitting posture only. There are no studies on the foot, but one could transfer this principle in similar ways to the foot.
Ann: I was not aware about the potential role of the psyche in relation to perceived (ill)-health of our feet. It makes me think about how little I am connected to my feet and their physiological components. There seem many factors that influence a healthy foot, if it can even be described like that. Would you say there is a shoe that is most suitable for our feet?
Prof Dr. Stefan Sesselmann: Very general, I would say that shoes can be poison for our feet. The best thing one could be doing is to walk barefoot on a soft floor. To give you an example, when an arm is broken, a cast is placed around it, with the intend to heal it. While it is supportive, it also relieves the muscles. Taking off the cast, one can notice that muscles have become correspondingly thinner, simply because these muscles were not used for a while. A similar principle can be applied to our feet in relation to shoes. Most shoes, unlike the barefoot shoe, relieve most muscles not extremely like a cast, but worn over a longer time it does. Accordingly, shoes can turn our muscles lazy and they degrade. Here many foot problems can be found; Because of a weakened muscle structure, that is no longer competent to support the foot itself.
Ann:Oh, you know, last week I purposely bought a pair of sport sneakers, because I thought it would be the best for my feet. They seem(ed) to be very supportive, kind of tight and light to wear. Is such sneaker bad to wear then?
Prof Dr. Stefan Sesselmann: You cannot conclude something like that. For example, insoles are good for the short term, to relive acute pain, but not in the long-term. There are, for example, sensorimotor insoles, which are deliberately designed to provide stimuli and these stimuli are intended to activate muscles. They actively stabilize the foot. If I take a shoe like that for a run and don’t wear it all day, that’s okay. But again, at home, walking barefoot is definitely better. Across the wide range of shoes, you cannot say they are bad. For example, barefoot shoes activate most foot muscles. But you have to get used to it. And if I notice that my foot does not have the optimal pose, I should train it actively to begin with. Such training can also help to balance out mal positions in the skeleton through an improved muscle structure.
Ann: Whatexactly are mal positions and why do they occur? To ask a bit biased, do they originate from wearing the wrong shoes?
Prof Dr. Stefan Sesselmann: It means that I may not have the most optimal foot skeleton posture due to certain malalignments. These can be inherent. In addition to that, I may have been wearing shoes for many years that on top of such malalignments relieve my muscles too much. Then I may need specific shoes again to provide that supporting function.
Ann: I understood that malalignment can be inherent. But again, can it be caused from wearing the wrong shoes too? For example, I had a shoemaker repair the shoe soles of two boots that were worn off. So, I thought if I resell them without a small refurb, the next customer might get problemswith their posture and possible backpain.
Prof Dr. Stefan Sesselmann: If my foot is bent, the arch flattens out and my leg axis shifts slightly so that my knees tend to bend inwards. As a result, it feels like my knees have to carry a unilateral overload in the lateral portion of the knee. In many cases it can create asymmetry. While such asymmetry is often natural, it creates a functional difference in my leg length but also a slight pelvic obliquity. This may affect the spine and can cause back pain. An asymmetrical shoe could reinforce that. That’s why you should change shoes more often. Buying a new shoe, I can assume it to be completely symmetrical and in a sense health promoting. This might differ with a secondhand shoe, which may do the opposite depending on how long it has been worn by a different pre-owner.
Ann: Can you elaborate that?
Prof Dr. Stefan Sesselmann: For shoes it is typical that they are rather worn off from the inside or outside. It depends on the foot properties of the person who did wear these shoes before. For example, if my foot properties differ and I wear shoes of a different pre-owner, this can cause problems. However, while a worn off outer sole of a shoe is easily visible, more attention should be paid on the shoes’ inside, because there most footprints are (pre)-fixated. Because we all have a unique footprint, wearing someone else’s shoes, means that our footprint does not fit. For shoes this is problematic too, because most are made of materials that are difficult or not possible to adjust to a new foot. This differs to new shoes, that we tend to break in first.
Ann: That makes me think of that most shoes I resell have been worn for around a season and that means I resell a seasonal footprint with multiple wears a day. Could I conclude that this is even harmful, because of how pre-owned shoes counteract our unique physiology?
Prof Dr. Stefan Sesselmann: Perhaps not directly harmful, but not favorable. It is not beneficial to health. If you want to pay more attention to health than ecological sustainability, it could be recommendable to buy a new shoe or a secondhand shoe with a small previous shoe life. Because unlike textiles, the effects of a secondhand sweater on my body are rather small. But the foot, you could say is the foundation of our body. It influences the statics; when we walk, stand, run. Its a different relationship, one could say.
I think that overall, buying secondhand shoes is not bad, especially if the pre-owned shoe was worn only around 2-3 times. But if the shoe has been worn rather often, it could be rather disadvantageous. So if I would buy such shoe, I would look at it too with a critical lense. How is this shoe made? Does it suit my footprint. And when I think about environmental sustainability specifically, I could also think of whether a recycled shoe, but a new shoe is even more sustainable in terms of my health and the environment as well.
Ann:That makes me think about design for circularity and business models too. For example, there are approaches in which products should be designed to last a life-time. This should incentivize consumers to pay a higher price and products could be produced better. But you are kind of encouraged to wear only a limited pair of shoes, because they last a “life-time”. This goes a bit into the direction of resale, but also to wear the same over and over.What are your views on that? Should we wear less, but better?
Prof Dr. Stefan Sesselmann: There are studies specifically for runners that show that runners are encouraged to change shoes more often. And there are strong effects between two pairs and even a third pair has shown a positive effect. One could consider whether this is also valid for everyday shoes. I suppose that such a change could be beneficial for feet, because of such new stimuli. Different shoes have different structures and because of that stimulate different muscles. Of course the shoe owner has to get used to it. Still, it likely is not as good as to run barefoot on repeatedly uneven ground, but likely better than to always wear the same shoe.
Ann: So even if I would find the perfect and most “sustainable” shoe that I am eager to invest lets say a couple of hundred Euros in to last a life-time. It wouldn’t be good over time, because it activates only a particular set of muscles. While the environment benefits, I might not. This makes me question whether a most sustainable shoe can even exist or designed. What do you think?
Prof Dr. Stefan Sesselmann: We humans are very individual and our feet are just as individual. There is no one size or style that fits all. In addition to that, different shoes might be worn in different seasons and for different activities. Some people may even have 30-40 pairs of shoes. The perfect shoe, when specifically looked at from a health perspective is less about design, but it relieves our foot muscles; intrinsic foot muscles (in the foot itself) and extrinsic foot muscles (on the leg itself). The ideal shoe affects these muscles at least, or even irritates, so that they remain in training. One could even wear a high-heeled or plateau shoe, but the dose makes the poison, as with drugs. If I can wear it once to go out for a few hours it is perfectly okay, it even positively stimulates feet, because different muscles are activated.
Ann:I may even call this ambivalent. From an environmental perspective we should overall consume less and I also hear that more consumption in terms of shoe is advantages when it comes to our physical health. Makes me think of new approaches for shoe designs and value sold too; whether health could become a more integrated part in product design for circularity. I liked your mentioning on sensory inlays. Or I might also like a barefoot shoe, if it looked a bit more casual.
Prof Dr. Stefan Sesselmann: Yes, the barefoot shoe is great, but yes, the design is very particular.
Ann: In a small research I did on consumer purchasing interests in relation to their shoes, the aspect of design was mentioned more often, indeed. But yes, I would say that’s a topic for a different interview. Thank you for your time!
Prof Dr. Stefan Sesselmann: You are welcome.
[I hope you enjoyed the interview. Feel free to reach out to me, comment and contact Prof. Dr. Stefan Sesselmann on his LinkedIn for further discussions on the topic]
Moorhouse, D., & Moorhouse, D. (2017). Sustainable design: circular economy in fashion and textiles. The Design Journal, 20(sup1), S1948-S1959.
By: Annjoest & Andrés Castro , collaborative work as part of the project more sustainable chemicals for the leather industry.
While leather traditionally has been perceived as a reliable and long-lasting material, it is increasingly associated with negative impacts on animal welfare, the environment, and the well-being of tannery workers and consumers. Because of that, there is a growing interest in alternative materials with a similar look or touch like leather, often advertised as “bio-based” leather alternatives and “purely synthetic” leathers. Bio-based materials can relate to materials that have a renewable resource base like pineapple, and synthetic materials can relate to materials made of fossil fuels mainly. Following, alternatives may be used for applications in which they can be less suitable, because the mechanical features differ, or because they are linked to better-perceived production processes.
Therefore, this blog highlights some of the dimensions of sustainable production processes and the importance of mechanical properties when it comes to material choices. Its aim is to shed more critical light on the perception of materials’ impacts and to better enable consumers and producers to make more conscious material choices.
1. Shortcomings and opportunities of current sustainability assessments for leather and alternatives
Due to leather’s linkage to animal farming, it is often associated as a material that contributes to large greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs). In contrast, consumers and producers may perceive that synthetic and “bio-based” alternatives, which are detached from these GHG emissions, have fewer emissions in their total production. However, to really understand product-related emissions, it is necessary to look into the entire product life-cycle, starting from the raw materials used, the production methods, and their end-of-life paths. To best assess how leather and alternatives compare, a holistic assessment should take into account all impacts of production phases from upstream to downstream activities. In this respect, a Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) is commonly used1.
Although LCAs can provide an overall impression on the impacts of materials and production processes, their results need to be interpreted cautiously. Currently, most LCAs consider different life-cycle phases, which means that the impact of products is analyzed in production boundaries. This can give a specific impression of a products’ impact, but it does not fairly compare materials for which production standards and assessment systems vary. To do so means that standardized system boundaries for product groups should exist. For instance, in the textile industry, the Higg Index is commonly used as a benchmark for textile materials. It measures the impact of production such as on climate change, the environment, the impact of chemicals used, and the extent to which resources for production are depleted2.
To compare the impact of different production processes, it sets similar production boundaries. It currently scores leather high (i.e., rather negative) on its environmental footprint (159 compared, e.g., with 44 for polyester and 98 for cotton)3. However, such a score can give a narrowed impression, because the Index allocates the total emissions from animal farming to leather, which does not happen with other products or their materials. To better compare materials and products means that an equal assessment for production processes and their boundaries has to take place. In analogy to cotton and polyester, it could be argued that the assessment boundary for leather should begin at a slaughterhouse as opposed to the cattle farm.
Assessment criteria also need to consider the total resources used in the production and the processing of materials. Synthetic materials are mainly based on fossil fuels with a greater linkage to carbon emissions, while “bio-based” alternatives have a renewable resource base that by nature stores carbon. However, these bio-based alternatives may use fossil fuel-based additives to achieve specific material features and therefore, increase their carbon emissions. This can also apply to leather if chemicals are used for processing and finishing (surfaces). It follows that assessments better have to consider all the materials in the processing used. Only then, the impact of production can be correctly measured and communicated.
Whether a product can be claimed as more sustainable or with certain advantages in environmental performance, should also depend on its materials’ toxicological impact. For leather, around 85% of hides are tanned using chrome III which can oxidize to chrome VI and be problematic for human health in particular4. If the leather has been processed and the final product handled properly, chrome VI may not occur. To avoid that tanning alternatives such as vegetable tannin can be used but if used in excess and not safely handled can promote other environmental impacts such as eutrophication and resource depletion. That is if the demand for vegetable tannins is higher than their “regrowth time” and or when unsafe handling of vegetable tannins results in eco-toxicological impacts of production.
When it comes to alternatives of leather, fossil fuel-based materials, and bio-based materials with fossil fuel additives, there is little knowledge about their toxicological impact. If we assume that these materials need additional substances (i.e PVC or TPU) to obtain a certain look or properties they may also have such an impact. In a certain regard, they can be linked to problematic additives that have been spotted to be regulated in chemical legislation. For example, phthalates are used as softeners in PVC production, or flame retardants as TBBPA (tetrabromobisphenol A) used in certain thermoplastics. Those intentionally added additives are often used in plastic production and they certainly represent a concern for human health and environment safeness.
Although this can also apply to leather when mixed with additives, high-quality leather have better natural occurring features and often does not need extensive use of additives that could be hazardous. This can also happen in certain bio-based materials alternatives. Therefore, it is important to get to know the natural properties of each material and avoid mixing them with other materials where possible.
Besides the already mentioned impacts, there are also concerns about the sourcing of materials. Leather often raises concern in relation to animal welfare and deforestation processes that might be linked to livestock. Thereby the perception exists that livestock is raised for the “skin” only. Although there is an indirect impact on how animals are raised in relation to skin quality, cattle are not raised for the hides only. Hides are considered as by-products, which represent around 8%-12% of the value of fed cattle (Gary & Swander, 2020), whereas around 3.5 % of byproducts are allocated to hides5.
As dairy and meat consumption is expected to rise, increasing availability of hides as by-products can even be expected. Although there are regions, where hide waste products are strictly regulated such as by having to enter other production and consumption systems (i.e. animal feed, fertilizer, and bulk pet food), other regions may lack such regulations. The latter might be one indication that industrial waste products such as hides more likely end up in landfills or are being incinerated. It could be assumed for as long as dairy consumption exists, the use of the hide is beneficial. This can also apply to other waste products, whereas their production and use impacts depend on how they are being processed to fulfill what type of product needs.
2. What role do mechanical properties play in material choice?
What type of materials are used and processed plays an important role in the longevity of a product and therefore its “sustainability”. That is how long different materials can be used to fulfill specific demands on a product (e.g. aesthetics, safety, water protection). The less likely the range of product demands can be met over its lifespan, the shorter the lifespan of a product will be. A consequence is that the same product is likely purchased more frequently and because of that the frequency of new production increases (i.e. fast fashion). Such a system pressures the environment because more materials and the energy to process them are needed. It also means that more money is spent on the buying of new products over a person’s life.
To avoid that products wear off more easily and that consumers repurchase them more often, the materials of which they are made are important. For products to last longer, they should be made with durable materials. That is where certain types of leather [e.g. genuine leather] are suitable. Because the leather has unique mechanical properties that allow it to age-long, other materials that are advertised as “vegan or synthetic alternatives” likely do not yet. Because these materials are different, they may not meet up to the specific features of leather over time. For instance, a couch made from a durable type of leather is less likely to wear off as opposed to a coach made from polyester.
Such a difference can be less important for products that are kept shortly or are used less intensely, but gain importance if products are intended to be kept for multiple years and where product longevity or other unique features play an important role, e.g., besides furniture, also a wallet, jacket, shoes.
“There is a balancing act between the properties you actually want from your material. And in many, many cases, different materials will have different physical performances of leather, particularly where there are a lot of stressing and bending examples in footwear.“
In the case of leather, it is made of a unique composition that is difficult to replace. It is made from hides, whereas hides consist largely of collagen – a structure-forming protein. During the processing of hides, leather tanning proteins (fibrils and fibers) are intertwined and because of that give the leather its strength and structure. The upper hide layers have very thin and tight collagen fibers and because of that show higher mechanical stability (tensile and tear strength). As a result of leather’s origin in the collagen network, its tensile strength is noticeably higher compared to other materials (Meyer, Dietrich, Schulz & Mondschein, 2021).
Although tensile strength is an important material criterion, not all products benefit from tensile strength. Therefore, bio-based alternatives can be suitable for products with unique demands. (see Figure 1: Comparison of physical properties of leather and alternatives). On the other hand, leather has a range of mechanical features such as elasticity, water vapor permeability, abrasion resistance, and durability. Because many alternatives only have a small fraction of these features, materials may be enhanced synthetically. A result is that these features may not last, which can decrease the value of a product over time. This can also be seen in lower-quality leather (i.e. split leather) which is often enhanced using synthetics. Therefore, the right choice of material is important to make it last and to use it in accordance with specific product needs.
3. How can the most suitable material for consumption and production be chosen?
In the light of sustainable development, the material choice depends on its use case and the system surrounding production and consumption processes. Regardless of the material used, production processes and the materials should be safe for humans and the environment and it should utilize as little as possible of total resources for production where possible. Holistic assessments such as LCAs should give a differentiated view on the impact of different materials.
From a mechanical point of view, different materials have different properties which makes them more or less beneficial for different use cases. This means the right material can depend on how long a product should be used and what expectations exist on it. Instead of competing for being “the best” material, materials might actually add value to each other in a product for which each material is most suitable; a bio-based shoelace that wears off quickly with a leather shoe topping to last.
Gary, W. and Swanser, K. (2020). Quantifying the relationship between U.S. Cattle hide prices/value and U.S. Cattle Production. PhD Research Report. Leather and Hide Council of America Response to: Cross-Price Elasticity of Demand RFP
Meyer, M., Dietrich, S., Schulz, H., & Mondschein, A. (2021). Comparison of the technical performance of leather, artificial leather, and trendy alternatives. Coatings, 11(2), 226.
Suski, P., Speck, M., & Liedtke, C. (2021). Promoting sustainable consumption with LCA–A social practice based perspective. Journal of Cleaner Production, 283, 125234.