Skillsets for teaching in sustainability

Sustainability increasingly centers around CO2 including ESG reporting and the use of technology to fix “sustainability.” However, sustainability and the quest to it is often interconnected, which means that different skill sets are needed teach but also to consult for it. So what is needed? Below I listed a few things I have learned about, at times teach and include into my work.

  1. Encourage thinking globally.

So many environmental topics these days are interconnected. One pair of shoes bought in country x buys one person happinnes. It also promotes a lack of happinness, if the person who has produced these shoes inhales hazardous chemicals or if a leakage of chemicals results in environmental destruction. However, if we think, act or teach too “local” we don’t think global. We don’t learn global. We learn that sustainability is limited locally and can be as quickly solved as when we “green the street”, when streets no longer are limited to a certain region (symbolically-spoken).

2. Challange perception

We are born and raised in a certain environment (nature vs. nurture). The environment turns into our reality, but the reality may not be someone elses’ reality who was born and raised in a different environment. Conclusively, there is no “one reality” but realities might overlap, some are individual realities and some realities are worth challenging. There are also realities that are frustrating because they clash with our own views on reality. Yet we might disown them because we perceive that our “reality” is right. Why would it matter? Science for instance, can teach how to regrow trees and what reforestration structures could work well with what type of trees, but it does not replace indigenous knowledge on how to manage different forests in what type of community structures, for that structues and how people organize and disorganize, differ globally and are subject to different realities, inlcuding experiences on what works and what does not.

3. Encourage emotions

In nature, animals can be obseved that are angry, they are wild, they fight, they express and after they may be calm, lay down, breath, rest. Yet, we so often feel that being angry or other emotions find little place, because they are perceived as “bad” or “angry” reactions may be perceived “as the problem of another.” Yet, reactions tend to affect another, so they are valid and important. If we don’t highlight that we are angry, frustrated, there is little room to be. And where there is little room to be, we might miss out on uniqueness and opportunities “Hey I am angry, that I have to comply to your funding requirements because they require formal education, however I am illiterate and I have 30 years of life experiences in that field.”

4. Encourage ideas

As I wrote, there are so many realities, that there are so little ways in which “to do something best”. We don’t know, because the systems we live in become so complex that being or doing something best, may be so subject to the individiual. Because of that, we shouldn’t redirect someone from piloting an idea or pitching it, because it is different. Instead, we should encourage that, because it is different, because its’ worth exploring and if it isn’t, how can we shape ideas so that they are worth to be explored more, worth to be shaped?

5. Be supportive of failure

Trying, experimenting can likely come with failure. Failing sucks, especially if energy , time, money and hopes were put into it. Yet failure is so important to encourage, because only then we learn and only then we dare. However, by banishing or making someone feel bad for their failure “pointing out whats’ been wrong” they may not want to try again or are less likely do so. Like that we won’t find out what their second, thirdt, fourth idea might have brought in terms of innovation and their (individual) success.

6. Navigate through biases in perception

There are so many things we do and think, because of certain symbols or ideas we give to someone else “the older knows it all, the youngster doesn’t. A CEO might not want to take time for someone, because of their role. A mother probably won’t have a business idea. The professor knows it the best. “Yet these perception and their biases may be wrong. An older may know many things not and a youngster may do. A CEO is a person, and persons have time. A mother runs a baby business unpaid and knows the many flaws and opportunities that she deals with every day. The professor who is likely an expert in one discipline does not know it best, because there are a range of disciplines and ways of thinking, for that they are all right in their own ways, including your own knoweldge, perception, background. How often did you project something on someone? What bias did it hold and what resulted based on that?

7. Encourage subjectivity

Yesterday I gave a guest lecture on circular business models and their barriers. In one exercise I had my students turn to their neighbours and tell me subjectively, why they would and wouldn’t wear or use their neighbours clothes (from shirts to underwear). Reasons not to were; hygiene, lack of trust in the case of a phone, different individuality, tastes, sizes. And that is all okay! However, often we tend (particular for sustainability innovation) disregard the diversity of people and their subjectivity so that one solution tends to not fit into the diversity of people, their lifestyles.

8. Remove subjectivity

As much as I enjoy subjectivity (of my own and others) as much do I try to remove subjectivity. That is to see things as they are without a political or policy notion to it. Why would that matter? This is important to remove ideals and opinions related to behavior or innovation and even policy or law. By being subjective one could fall risk to be too supportive of an idea or ideal “a certain policy” and may fall risk to disregard the falws in it. After all, thats where science and solid scientific research comes in. Not into research? Ask different people with different expertise about one topic. You’ll get different answers that in conclusion are likely less biased or politically driven.

What are your thoughts? Let me know in the comments!

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Where has all that meaning gone and how to get it back?

When we are children, we are yet too young to know what we want to do later in life. What passion will drive us. We make sense of this world, relate to our parents, maybe adopt one or another of their joys; their taste of music, their taste of styles, their taste of being. Our peers styles, what they like and don’t.

And there is us; what we like, the styles we enjoy, the interests we form independent of others. Interests and styles we merge and sometimes one interest swaps over into another, creating confusion or for others „disorder“. To be part of the girls group, you need to wear pink and listen to hip hop.

As a child just forming a sense of this world, being excluded sucks. Eventually the child gives in. Changes it’s writing style, changes clothing, wanting to be part of the girls gang. Yet, it never really becomes part of it fully, because its full part is the individuality it gave up to be part.

As adults we long for that. For that individuality, we lost as a child, we gave up because it made us excluded or because we had to because it wasn’t liked or too odd to be understood (at home, in schools and any other setting). There were informal laws full of bias holding us back ; not being allowed to mix Goethe with Techno, not spending too much time on homework one enjoys not because of the enjoyment, but because of the perception of homework for instance that it shouldn’t take too much time, loving long hair as a boy but cutting it short and now having it short because of the bullies experienced as child but now feeling one can’t fully be themselves because of the image created to oneself and others [feeling locked-in], loving to game and to connect to others thereby, but being shamed for being an indoor vampire and than as adult realizing how much one missed and learned from gaming with people around the globe. Now we are adults with the images we had created to be accepted. Where is the meaning now we had lost?

In these moments, others might made us feel that these were slight annoyances, but they were the annoyances that might have ended something that gave meaning to our lives and it’s continuity; a skill-set, a passion a genuine interest, a feeling worth living for that could have carried on into our adult life as is now. Yet where has that gone? Where has that feeling of belonging gone? Where has that meaning gone to? What filled you with joy, not because it filled others with joy, but because it filled you with joy ?

What was it that you loved so much and gave up? What exactly about it ? And for what reason did you not persue it? Can you get it back now? How would that effect you? Would it scare you? Why would it? Can you try it out? What do you need to do so?

Why would this matter for sustainability?

People thrive, where and when they can be. At work, privately and both.

What holds us back to love? On love and bias.

For a while, something preoccupied me. Love. When had we failed in love, when had we succeeded? Why did love feel so great, why did love scare? Why are we afraight to love? Why had love created problems? Where was <the> love?

I thought about the many stereotypes we internalize over years as a child, teen an adult. We think there is only one real type of love, the one we see in Hollywood, the one in which couples kiss, the one were couples hold hands. Yet, they were symbols for a certain type of love but these symbols might hold us back from realizing love; holding onto an extreme version of idealized romanticizing.


Love transcends and passes through a series of relationships in which people bond. Bonding as a connection, a form of love, outside of a stereotyped version of only one type of love and the symbols we associate to loving and being loved. As a result, love scares. In movies or social media; love in its “enactment” is sexualized, perceived as (too) unprofessional, a symbol for infidelity, something bad that must be kept secret, even punishable within the LGBTQ community.


But love is not wrong, threatening or bad. It is a feeling. A beautiful feeling. There are only interpretations of love or loving (a neutral emotion) in which, for example, specific enactments are portrayed as a sequence of the feeling of love. Yet, love is not a box. Love is not enactment. Love is not predescribed behavior. Love is merely a feeling. A feeling that sets free, creates warmth, closeness, forms and maintains connection.

Yet we tend to bend so much against this feeling, because love so often seems to be one particular “thing” associated or equated to stereotypes and how to be and not to. How to love and not to. Who to love and who not to. As a result we give little space to love. We reduce the possibility to love, to be loved, for love to surface, to be lived. We may decline and forbid one of the feelings most precious, not only to others, bust most of all ourselves. A feeling worth so living for.

Why would this matter for sustainability?

We talk, we laugh, we cry, we challange, we grow together, we might start to love. We realize its love. We change. We feel bad. We stop. We end relationships. Yet what brings most joy, brings most saddness. We begin isolating, maybe hating, we might consume too much, drink too much, move away. We are sad. Not because of love, but the perceived consequences loving holds, although there are none to loving.

I can love you and you can love me in any way you want to, we want to, within the boundaries of the enactment we set to it or open up. Love enables. Love does never restrict.

[Cover picture by @Juni.ka on Instagram]

How does working part time relate to sustainability transformation?

Two years ago, before my current job, I had a job offer at a NGO in Indonesia. We negotiated the salary, which was around 1.200 USD. An acquaintance mentioned not to start with a low salary like that considering my education and work experience. Before he said that, I felt confident with 1.200 USD and after he said that I wondered whether my decision was right. I went back to management to talk about it and management asked me „What do you need more money for? With that money you can rent a small but nice apartment, eat enough food, have health insurance and after that there should still be enough for trips and fun. Locals also have fun with that amount.“

Now it’s been two years on a part time-Job(30/h) in Germany and I really enjoy it. Before 9 am and after 3pm I get to do what I want. I could have a side job, I can write, volunteer, I can practice playing music, I can play with my cat, I can google, watch YouTube, I can help a friend with after day care for their children, I can do nothing, I can play video games (for instance, Pokemon on my outdated Game Boy Colour 😉 ), I can spend time being.

This made me curious and I kept on having discussions on that topic more often with people. „How happy are you with your life and your work hours?“. Often we end up in arguments like „I want a large apartment, then I want a better car and it’s just nice to have more money. My job is so stressfull honestly, so it also compensates for that, like a nice vacation etc.“”Would you be okay with earning less money?” “Yes sure, I mean I could probably get a cheaper car” someone said then feeling insecure, whether not working full-time would fullfill their lives. What to fill time with?

And I get that, a lot and I wonder what would be needed for part-time to become a new norm. A norm in which we don’t run after an idealized version of happinnes (thinking that more hours worked, a better car and a house like symbolized in the American Dream are worth persuing), but a life-style of being instead. So that, when we talk about sustainability transition, the human focused center is thought of more often. Whether people can be more happy with less and viewing less as more? Whether people can spend more quality time, be that just laying on a couch, cooking, playing video games, anything they desire as human, and in retrospect can be more fulfilled at work and in their lives? Moving away from buying or other forms of overconsumption to compensate a lack of happiness or stress to being more, at the same time being the same or more productive at work.

What does that mean for sustainability? What questions should be asked?

  • What would be needed to make part time jobs the new norm? Do people want that? Why not? (How would they fill a potential lack experienced? How could that lack be filled so that it feels rewarding to ones subjective form of well-being)
  • How much money is needed to have enough to sustain and to engage in other interests? (Thinking about salary variances and people with different fundamental needs).
  • Can business models support a lifestyle with less money (renting of music instruments, cars, interior, etc) as oppose to people having them owned? (Enabling access to entertainment or well-being also for people with lower incomes, making sustainability more inclusive instead of exclusive)
  • How could such societal and economical transformation look like? (What does it mean for cities, companies and design-thinking, but also policy?)
  • How could the perception on working part time being shifted? (Part time not being for mothers or for people with specific reasons, but because people simply want to work part time, because people are diverse and because people have different interests)
  • What gains and losses would one have to agree to? (Not owning a car but agreeing to shared transportation or more rides on the bycicle and companies installing shower stations at work).
  • If less money buys less materialistic goods, how can time be used to provide the same or a similar type of quality meaning to oneself detached less from the notion of need for money (relationships, etc. what do people want today? what fullfills them?)

References

McGowan, T. (2012). The end of dissatisfaction?: Jacques Lacan and the emerging society of enjoyment. suny Press.

Oswald, L. (1996). The place and space of consumption in a material world.

Ruti, M. (2013). The call of character: Living a life worth living. Columbia University Press.

Warren, T. (2004). Working part‐time: achieving a successful ‘work‐life’balance? 1. The British journal of sociology55(1), 99-122.

What’s therapy like?

It’s mental health awareness week, 2022 and indeed, I am visiting a therapist too. Is that a bad thing? No. Is that a good thing? Yes. Unfortauntely therapy is often stigamtized although in the USA it was for some time quit common to have a therapist. Therapy can be for everyone, of any age and often its not just about being “mindfull”, sometimes its a change in perception or putting emotions into language. Much I didn’t know about, so that I put together this small blog on a few of my learnings, to kind of change that narrative on mental health and illustrate that different forms of looking at mental health and perception can contribute to well-being as individual and within the broader cultural context. After all, its for all.

Look at the bright side!

Its’ been one of the comments I heard most in my life and also said it most to myself. Something didn’t go well, but I had to or made myself look at the bright side. “A relationship ended sadly, but on the bright side it ended. A family member died, but on the bright side, I was on holidays. I got rejected for a job, on the bright my CV looked great. I was sad about moving to another city, but on the bright sight new people could be met. I lent someone money who did not pay it back, but on the bright side I still had money. I was scared about teaching, on the bright side I looked beautiful. The project proposal did not get accepted, on the bright side new calls would come. I felt lonely, on the bright side I have a cat.”

Though, my therapist taught me, these statments have nothing to do with the experience felt. They devalue and they distract from what has caused the feeling to begin with; Why did the project proposal fail? Why was I scared of teaching? Why couldn’t I be sad on holidays? Why did I lend money to this person? Why didn’t I get the job? Not feeling “the side not bright” instead pushed feeling inwards, made expressing them difficult, has led to isolating more inwards. It devalued, took away the meaning of what was felt, created uncertainty and supported acceptance over the non bright side. Leading to no changes that could serve a truly brighter side. Its’ called toxic positivity.

Your feelings are wrong!

I remember one of the first conversations with therapist and I said “Sorry for crying I know it’s stupid to be sad about this.” From then on many conversations were about “Why would you feel stupid for feeling a certain way? It’s how you feel and there is nothing wrong about feeling. It’s like saying it’s stupid that you feel sad for having lost a leg [if you did]. It’s not stupid. It’s valid in your own experience”. From then on, more conversations centered around the validty of my feelings, the fact that each of us has an own “subjective narrative” to which we react in certain ways that holds true to how we feel and perceive. Indeed telling others that their feelings are wrong, is by fact wrong. Its okay to be annoyed, its okay to be angry, its okay to be happy, its okay to be.

A narrative on celebations on mothers day being for happy mothers only is one-sided. When we have a society that celebrates or rewards only certain type of behaviour or feelings and disregards different perceptions and experiences, society is limited in its being. That is reducing the feelings of people to an inadequacy that more likely pushes them into shame instead of finding a supportive networking or feedback that more likely reinforces or is accepting their feelings. Telling them, that their feelings are”right as oppose to wrong”.

This won’t work!

There are probably many times in which we got rejected, as child, as lover, as employe, so often that trying feels scary. But it doesn’t have to be. Rejection isn’t a bad thing. Trying to avoid rejection, is a bad thing. Telling someone that a change in direction won’t work because the risks are uncertain may not pay out in the long term. Sometimes we do have to risk. Telling someone they can’t love someone because the circumstances are off, minimizes their feelings but may also leads them to self-reject, before they may even try within the circumstances that are off. Recommending someone to avoid talking about a certain topic, because it won’t be liked, likely leads to that things will always stay the same.

It is not rejection itself that people fear, it is the possible consequences of rejection.Preparing to accept those consequences and viewing rejection as a learning experience that will bring you closer to success, will not only help you to conquer the fear of rejection, but help you to appreciate rejection itself (Robert Foster Bennet)

It’s not important!

My shoe is dirty, but it’s not important. I have relationship problem at home, but it’s not important. I feel lonely, but it’s not important. I am stressed because I have to pick up my child earlier, but it’s not important. I want to take a shower, but it’s not important. I want to become a writer, but it’s not important. I want to try out a new music instrument, but it’s not important. I want to study something else, but it’s not important. I want to set up a business, but it’s not important. I want to change my curricular, but it’s not imporant. (…)

“Why isn’t it important?” my therapist asked and I said , some things I think, in the large scale don’t matter. I can’t change them, I have no experience” “It matters because it matters to you.”

Whatever small it is , it matters. If nothing really matters or if importance is reduced to the smallest feeling, then everything that is perceived as seemingly not important, will always stay that way, when its the small things, the small irritants that need more listening to. Small things, that make living so worthile, a clean shoe, a random post, a great conversation, an egaged student, a happy pet, a great meal, shiny hair, a great book, time to breath, time to do nothing, a boring holiday, a cool class, an experiment that fails.

This has to be perfect!

There is no perfection. Even in nature, leafs don’t look perfect symmetrical. There is always some sort of lack of perfection. But we tend to want make things perfect, write perfect, say everything perfect, think it all through, wait so much, copy other people who we think that make something perfect, lose some sort of sense of self or how ones own uniquness can be perfect to another, thinking one needs to be like another, than realizes one is not, had their own perfection already been perfect to themselves. Misses hours and days of simply “doing” or “doing” by perfectionizing, when things aren’t always perfect. They may appeal, more or less, but there is no guideline on perfection, and where there is, they miss out the uniqueness that imperfection offers; a typo in a CV or text of a brilliant person, an academic article trying to be published by a non-native struggling English speaker, an idea terrible explained, but fantastic in its implementation, a haircut not appealing to the mass, but so appealing to one it truly does appeal to, love true and messy in the eyes of others, but so rich and fullfilling in the eyes of oneself with the other, a uniqe business to be shared, but isn’ because its not like other [go for it !]

Narratives on mental health?

Hiding, not feeling, pretending not to, ignoring, avoiding, not living, not being, determine how things should and should not be, all that effects our mental health. It is the range of feelings, the range of narratives, the range of experiences that makes being human more human, within the experience that one shapes with oneself and the expereince one shapes with another. There is no right or wrong to being, there is more likely wrong to “denying being” and that is where much of the mental health headeachs reside ; thinking one isn’t good enough the way they are, devaluing feelings, the experiences one makes, not wanting to change, because one things they can’t, wanting others to be the same, denying individuality, denying love, denying being.

(…)

Resources

[Experiences from my therapy and readings following Freud, Lacan, Instagram posts from therapists]

Mari Ruti (2013): The Call of Character: Living worth being. Book

More sustainable materials? The case of leather and its alternatives

By: Annjoest & Andrés Castro , collaborative work as part of the project more sustainable chemicals for the leather industry.

Source: LUM3N on pixabay

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.

(Eco-)toxicity considerations

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. 

Sourcing challenges

Source: ilyessuti on pixabay

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.“

Chemical Supplier

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)

Meyer, Dietrich, Mond & 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.  

Sources:

Footnotes:

1Kurian Joseph, N. Nithya,Material flows in the life cycle of leather,Journal of Cleaner Production,Volume 17, Issue 7,2009,Pages 676-682,ISSN 0959-6526,https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jclepro.2008.11.018

2Mertens, J. (2020, 31. July). Higgs Materials Sustainability Index (MSI) Methodology. Sustainable Apparel Coalition. https://howtohigg.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/Higg-MSI-Methodology-July-31-2020.pdf

3Davila, G. (2020, 2. November). SAC Responds to Leather Industry Concerns Over Higg MSI. Sustainable Apparel Coalition. https://apparelcoalition.org/sac-response-to-leather-industry-concerns/

4Hedberg, Y. S. (2020, 15. July). Chromium and leather: a review on the chemistry of relevance for allergic contact dermatitis to chromium – Journal of Leather Science and Engineering. SpringerOpen. https://JLSE.SpringerOpen.com/articles/10.1186/s42825-020-00027-y

5De Rosa-Giglio, Fontanella, Gonzalez-Quijano, Ioannidis, Nucci, Brugnoli. (2018). Product Environmental footprint Category Rules- Leather. On behalf of the Leather Pilot Technical Secretariat. Retrieved from: https://ec.europa.eu/environment/eussd/smgp/pdf/PEFCR_leather.pdf

Further:

CO (2021). Retrieved from: Leather Production Sustainability | Eco-Friendly Leather Alternatives (commonobjective.co)

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. Coatings11(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.

United Nations Industrial Development Organization. UNIDO (2012). Brugnoli, F. Life Cycle Assessment, Carbon Footprint in Leather Processing. Retrieved from: https://leatherpanel.org/sites/default/files/publications-attachments/lca_carbonfootprint_lpm2012.pdf

Transition in eating practices and its addiction to food

A short history on eating

Around 300,000 years ago, homo sapiens were named as the first human species, though distinct from what we would refer to as humans today or according to Charles Darwin (treaties on evolution), 200,000 years ago. Although different, both had something in common. They hunted and gathered and as hunting and gathering was limited to time and space and therefore the resources time and space provided, so did both depend on relocation.

The benefit of changing locations where that different nutrients were obtained and digested. Most nutrients were fresh and they supported the variety of minerals and vitamines needed -(ideally of course) and not limited to what “tasted good” today. They moved, they rationed and they likely were concious of what they had. They were very likely aware of what it meant to be hungry or not.

What do we eat today?

Today food is constantly available in variances per single food category (think about how many types of apples exist), the different types of pasta, other grains and all sorts of cheeses up to cereals, marmelades and other diary products. They come in different flavours, from different origins, they are vegetarian, vegan, gluten free, sugar free. They are pre-cooked and not. They come with sauces (how does the actual food taste if not for preservates? Would I even like it?). They come without, sometimes with toppings, sometimes with chemical flavours and or they may be called food but aren’t (using flavored wood-chips to replace strawberries). They may be organic, they may be not or they may be a mix of it. That is what we eat.

Why do we buy food?

Unlike the homo sapiens, we do not have to hunt and gather for food. Food is available, because it is. Hereby I am talking particular about any place/country/region, where there is a surplus of food. It means more food is available then is or can be consumed or is needed. The more choices, the more difficult to decide what to consume. The more choices the higher the discrepancy between why we eat and what we want to eat. Do we buy because we are hungry? Do we buy because we want to eat? Do we buy because it looks nice to eat? How does this affect the availability or production of more food (choices)?

Ever thought about what role design plays in food consumption? Are fridges too large? Do fridges need to be full of food or is less food full enough? Do we feel we have too less because the fridge is not full enough? How much full is full enough?

When do we eat?

It feels as if we are eating almost all the time, snacks, small meals, large meals. There are small meals at work, small snacks on the way home. Individual snacks for rewards, snack rewards on a trip to the play ground, meals on a hike, snacks on a hike. Snacks infront of Netflix, snacks in the movies, snacks for the day of, large meals for festivities, buffets, more snacks for holidays, meals because the “clock” says so, meals because its a tradition, all-you-can eat restaurants, too much food as a sign for wealth, certain types of meals because its always been eaten a certain way, in a certain style, in a certain fashion, a certain type of food. When are we hungry?

When a movie in itself is already stimulation, do we need more stimulation i.e. food? Although, the stimulation of food tends to be limited to the time eaten.

When are we hungry?

This morning, when I woke up, I was not hungry. Yesterday, after one hour kick-boxing I was not hungry. Playing one hour on a play-ground with a child, I was not hungry, neither was the child as we just ate a meal; But it “wanted something to eat.” I was hungry 2 hours after. Then I got really hungry, but I knew I was hungry. I felt it because my stomach said so, I could not focus well and I felt it was time. I ate. I am not hungry, when I procrastinate and therefore eat. I am not hungry, when I am not happy with writing but eat to get a reward or to avoid. I am not hungry, when I look for an external stimulu, when the stimulu has to be found internal. And where there is no stimulu, I have to find out why. What feeling am I trying to compensate with food?

Is there enough time to cook “real” when hungry?

We work, hours, days, weeks and months. Some work more, some work less hours. Some volunteer, some are full-time parent, some are not. Some have more time, some have less time to cook – when they are about to get hungry and when they are hungry. Cooking hungry is no fun. Cooking something healthy (in terms of meals that require longer preperation), something fresh when being hungry could be annoying, frustrating, time-consuming, senseless, sad, whatever, especially if the work-hours are long, children and ourselves have to be taken care of. It makes a pre-cooked meal, a wood-chip joghurt, fast food, a bag of chips, whatever goes fast appealing. Could that be changed if we had more time?

Sometimes we talk about packaging waste. It’s about why this sort of waste occurs also. Can we work less and invest more time in ourselves [cooking, friends, hobbies, families?). Does this reduce waste and stress, fast-related eating?

Sustainable transition in food practices?

I would argue it is systemic. Its about having more time and about being aware when a feeling is substituted with food as oppose to when food is a need “to be hungry”. At the same time there is too much food, including too many food choices, and too little food in terms of healthy quality. There may also be the lacking time to cook healthy, or pleasure might be looked at somewhere different. Cooking for example is also work.

Resources

Aarnio, T., & Hämäläinen, A. (2008). Challenges in packaging waste management in the fast food industry. Resources, Conservation and Recycling52(4), 612-621.

Blundell, J. E., & King, N. A. (2007, September). Overconsumption as a cause of weight gain: behavioural–physiological interactions in the control of food intake (appetite). In Ciba Foundation Symposium 201‐The Origins and Consequences of Obesity: The Origins and Consequences of Obesity: Ciba Foundation Symposium 201 (pp. 138-158). Chichester, UK: John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

Kaye-Blake, W. (2009, July). What psychoanalysis can tell economists about food consumption. In 50th Annual New Zealand Association of Economists Conference, Wellington (pp. 1-3).

Kemp, E., Bui, M. Y., & Grier, S. (2013). When food is more than nutrition: Understanding emotional eating and overconsumption. Journal of Consumer Behaviour12(3), 204-213.

Leach, G. (1976). Energy and food production. IPC Science and Technology Press.

Ncube, L. K., Ude, A. U., Ogunmuyiwa, E. N., Zulkifli, R., & Beas, I. N. (2021). An overview of plastic waste generation and management in food packaging industries. Recycling6(1), 12.

Pelchat, M. L. (2009). Food addiction in humans. The Journal of nutrition139(3), 620-622.

Rosenheck, R. (2008). Fast food consumption and increased caloric intake: a systematic review of a trajectory towards weight gain and obesity risk. Obesity reviews9(6), 535-547.

Ziauddeen, H., & Fletcher, P. C. (2013). Is food addiction a valid and useful concept?. obesity reviews14(1), 19-28.

On short-commings and opportunities in the social part of sustainability in a firms’ value delivery

As many definitions seem to circle around the term sustainability, as many interpretations exist and as many misconception towards the terminology exists as well. As a consequence, most attention is paid towards the “ecological” dimension of sustainability and lesser attention is paid towards the “social” dimension of it, or it is perceivingly narrowed;

Social sustainability is about identifying and managing business impacts, both positive and negative, on people. The quality of a company’s relationships and engagement with its stakeholders is critical.” (UNGlobalcompact)

What is social sustainability not?

A business model that is based on growth, whereby consumers are unconciously influenced into thinking that they need a certain product, is not social sustainable. In fact it is the opposite, if the consumer realizes upon purchase that the product does not contribute to consumer well-being over time, but the opposite. If advertisment or the business model logic is purposely based on that, it is not sustainable.

How can the purchase of a product result in dissatisfaction?

A psychoanalyist explained me that sales work by selling an ideal. That is an ideal lifestyle, thinking one needs to have a certain good or product to match the ideal in advertisment. In reality, this can not be the case, because each person is different by biology and by nature the ideal they have for themselves. When an ideal is sold on the other hand, it distracts from the consumers ideal-self and on the other hand presents an ideal the consumer likely cannot meet.

A consequence is that after purchase the consumer likely will not be satisfied for a while, since the consumer cannot reach the ideal. As a result the level of dissatisfaction with the product rises and the level of dissatisfaction with the consumer self-rises “Not good enough for product xy”. Consequently more products are purchased to meet the ideal.

What if products were satisfying?

The higher the discrepancy between oneself with the idealized product or lifestyle, the more likely new ones will be purchased or the more likely other lifestyles might be persued that appear ideal to one-self. However, often these ideals cannot be reached and that is frustrating;

“Even if I like celebrity x, I will never be celebrity x if I buy their clothing. Even if I buy article y, I will currently not likely have the life-sytle the model(s) is marketing. Even if I buy the bra that has been modelled with larger breast size, wearing the same bra model will look much different on me. Even if I buy the phone that is used and advertized by a successfull manager, I will not need it for this purpose, because I do not manage. Even if I buy the sport article, that I do not like, because I like actaully another sport, I will not like the sport more that has been advertized so joyfull. Therefore, I wonder, what is wrong with me when I buy these articles. Ideally I should realize that nothing, because I determine what I like for myself and how products should support my individuality without marketing it.”

Can business models run without idealization and how could it look like?

Marketing often illustrates “ideal families” often a mother, a father and two children. But families these days are more, there are single mothers, single fathers, divorced families. There are people of different skin colours, different interests in different circumstances. People have different budgets, sometimes people get dirty, sometimes a life-style (within the messy, wondering, beautiful, bizarr and odd world we life in) is far more than ideal. And I think the closer advertisment can meet up to these ideals and illustrate how products, can add value to these weird and strangling lifestyles, the more satsified consumers are with these products and the ideals or life-styles most true to them.

To deliver sustainable value, businesses may think about the following;

  • How can the diversity of culture be delivered in business models?
  • How does the business model deviate from selling an identity or lifestyle but instead helps the consumer to promote their own identity or lifestyle?
  • How is satisfaction sold during and at the end of the production life?
  • How can the ecological value be combined with social value to the consumer and producers of the products?
  • How is being ensure that the products contributes to mental well-being?
  • Can you account for mental-health in ESG?

Resources

Abdallat, M. M. (2012). Actual self-image, ideal self-image and the relation between satisfaction and destination loyalty. Journal of Tourism and Hospitality1(4).

Annas, G. J. (1985). Fashion and freedom: when artificial feeding should be withdrawn. American Journal of Public Health75(6), 685-688.

Landon Jr, E. L. (1974). Self concept, ideal self concept, and consumer purchase intentions. Journal of consumer research1(2), 44-51.

Malär, L., Krohmer, H., Hoyer, W. D., & Nyffenegger, B. (2011). Emotional brand attachment and brand personality: The relative importance of the actual and the ideal self. Journal of marketing75(4), 35-52.

Morrison, A. P. (2009). On ideals and idealization. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences1159(1), 75-85.

The secondhandmarket a linear extension model?

Within the current sustainability agenda, particular the circular economy, reuse is the greatest approach to extend the life-cycle of a product. It builds onto the concept of recycability, because recycability means that again more energy is needed to dissect product parts into their components, to transform then into new materials and lastly, to use them for new products. Instead, products that can be reused, can be reused. Or can’t they?

What does reuse mean?

When I think about reuse, I think about my dishes. When I clean them, I can use them forever. Particular the very old ones, that are resistent to any scratches or any other severe exposures such as when a toddler is throwing it down the ground. The same principle should apply to all goods such as the ability to wear a shoe, a jacket or anything forever or at least for as long as possible. That is to be able to “reuse ” them.

What role does the Secondhandmarket play in reuse?

Often, many products are bought because of several reasons. That could be to stick to trends, because someone is bored, because someone wants a change, someone just needs it for a specific occassion or someone just feels like it wihtout a particular reason. The consequence is that these products aren’t worn often and because of that many goods are often just discarded, sometimes donated, or do not enter re-selling schemes. That is where the 2ndhand market comes in. A place, where you can re-sell your unused, little used or more often used items that are still in great shape.

How does the seconhand market promote reuse?

Since I also purchase and sell on secondhandmarkets, in which consumers engage with consumers (C2C), I feel they are a great way to buy and selll for a longer product life, to save and make money as well as to save resources for new production and consumption. But as much as I like the concept, I realize that secondhandmarkets have many short commings and so it appears that many of my clothing that I had acquired on secondhandmarkets end up as donations and some clothing also in my garbage – an extension of the linear consumption and production system.

Why do clothing not circle longer in secondhandmarkets?

1. Inauthentic marketing of secondhandgoods

Often I buy clothing from the same brand, but it appears that the designs change over seasons so that clothing such as long sweaters suddenly appear shorter, lets say a long-shirt that does not fully cover my belly. I cannot wear that in winter. Because other people know or experience that too, they don’t resell it authentically always, but become very smart in taking inauthentic pictures that make it appear as if such short long sweater fits nearly anyone up to the point of telling me that it is long. Because there is little incentive to re-buy it, it ends up being donated. [This also applies to colours].

“Does this shirt cover the belly?” “Yes.” “I received the shirt and it feels like an extension of my bra.” #Item deleted, seller no longer responding.

2. One size doesn’t fit all.

Many brands are outsourcing production to other countries and that is okay! What is not okay, is that the size and quality of the models seem to differ depending on what country they are produced in. So it happens that I can be happy with a brands jeans model in size 38, and when I repurchase the same model, a size 38 is too large and the material differs. The same applies to shoes and when I purchase products from different brands. Its confusing.

“Hey, is this model X from brand Y?” “Yes!” “Great, because I really want the size to fit this time.” (…) ” Hey I received it and it’s too large.” “Did you check where yours was produced? ” “In country x” “That makes sense, because mine was produced in country z.” “It makes no sense, but I understand. Thanks.”

3. Some product components are broken

This winter I have been going through 3 secondhand jackets. There is nearly always a little problem that I am not aware of, when I buy it such as a broken inside pocket or a broken zipper. Because I am not the only one who dislikes it, I cannot resell the jackets, unless someone does not bother a broken zipper or inside pocket. Most people do. Therefore, jacket goes to landfill since also people or businesses who depend on donations do not want to wear a jacket with a broken zipper or pockets.

“My appointment went really great, because my zipper broke, so I would just sit there with my jacket on, sweating, waiting to go home to climb out of that jacket, to then toss it and try again with another jacket.”

4. The Quality often sucks

Now that I managed to buy and find a good that is not broken and has been authentically sold to me, I realize that I can wear the item for a season and than also nobody else wants to buy it. That is becuase some product parts widen, they get very loose when I wash them, some jeans are torn where they are mostly used, some parts are a little dirty (i.e. my pink jacket form sitting), or the polyster furr of my boots simply looks aweful after two months of use in the winter. Because I don’t like it, other people don’t like it either, and the jacket or shoe goes to a donation or landfill. For my shoes this made me very sad, because the overall quality is great, but the polyster fur quality too bad.

4. The effort rarely pays

It is in my joyfull evening whatsapp conversations with my girlfriends that we sometimes talk about our Saturdays’ work on a secondhandplatform, how exhausted we are since we have to do the marketing, talk to our customers, be rejected by our potential customers, deliver products, wait for payments and than verify that the product delivered is received well and if not how to deal with complains (this is were authentic sales really is important to avoid any complains to happen!). And that all that is exhausting, sometimes it doesn’t even work and we still end up with many products at home, ready to be donated (if). For some of course it works : )

“You know if I would give myself an hourly rate, it would probably 2 Euros but its still worth it, because I simply have too much and the product value is still good. And it is better then tossing it.. Still, I am so exhausted.

5.The competition is intense

There are millions of products online and to resell a shirt or anything, you really have to stick out, be constantly present, take the best photographs. In addition, there are so many products. That makes it is difficult to resell, even at a higher price because the same or similiar products, of which there are sometimes thousands from sell at a lower price. This makes the resell market saturated and therefore at least supports me again in donating or tossing my clothes.

Many brands, many options

6. So much more

Brand image, response time, picture quality, different body sizes, communication, pricing….

How can clothing cycle longer in secondhand market?

After two years of 2ndhand “war” I came to conclude that the best type of textiles to resell and fit into the Circular Economy Framework for “reuse” are those that speak up for durability and repairability. These may be clothing or products for which product parts can be repaired and once repaired can re-enter the re-sales system. I had done so with many shoes (by as much as possible) or asked a shoe dealer to fix some parts and that made me resell them again very well. But for product parts in which the buying price was already low , lets say 20 Euros, there was little incentives for me to fix them for another 20-30 Euros and because of that, I decided to discard them. Regardless the product, material quality plaid and continues to play an important role. And of course there is authentic sales.

Would we buy less, if the meaning of a product was better understood?

Although I work in the field of sustainability and specifcially sustainable consumption and production patterns, I still caught myself to buy new things occassionally. Sometimes that was when I felt I needed something new, when I felt “bored”, or in a bad mood, when I wanted distraction, or when I felt I deserved a little reward, etc.

What I came to realize is that most of these goods did not last long with me and they also did not make me happy. Products that indeed made me happy, where those products that I chose to buy over weeks or sometimes (in the case of a leather bag) for months.

How did I stop buying stuff I didn’t need?

It happened that I learned about the psychoanalyst “Gustav Carl Jung”, who used symbolism to interpret his patients unconcious motives or desires. Within symbolism, colours, forms, and various patterns can be analyzed to understand ones own feelings, but also meanings and their biases that either suppress or support a decision (un)conciously.

Because I was curious to understand my own buying motives, I tried to integrate a psychoanayltical persepctive into my buying decisions. Therefore, I followed four steps, when I was about to buy high-heels, that I didn’t need. In doing so, I dissolved the meaning of the high-heels and also learned that the meaning, these high-heels emboddied, had nothing to do with the heels themselves that day, but my own (un)concious challanges and mood. By thinking about these (un)concious motives now more often, I am drastically reducing my buying behaviour and focus on other challanges these goods unconciously represent for me.

1.Why do I need this product ?

[High heels make me taller, and I am not as tall as other people. However, sometimes I perceive taller people as more powerwful.]

2. Where does that perception come from?

[ I was often told that I am not tall enough for a German and when I was taller I felt this observations was less mentioned. Because of that being taller made me feel more powerful. ]

3. Why did being tall matter that day or in that moment?

[I realized that I didn’t share an idea in a meeting that day. Because I didn’t, I missed out a powerful opportunity, which my team but also I could have beneffitted from. ]

4. What does my own analysis mean to me?

[I must have unconciously thought that by buying something that makes me feel tall , I would feel more more powerful. However, there is no relation between these heels and my work situation, and instead of buying these heels, I will work on sharing my ideas more often to empower myself and my team. ].