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The Though Kitchen - Dedicated to Stirring the Pot

Archive for the Environmental Change Category

The Cultivators: Farming with a Social Purpose

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photo by Giles Clement

In our next installment of The Uncommoners: Exploring the Other Side of Ordinary, Lindsey heads to Long Beach, Washington to get her hands dirty and learn what it means to farm with a Social Purpose.

When I accepted an invitation from Starvation Alley Farms to join their cranberry harvest last month, I didn’t know what to expect. Perhaps, an idyllic Ocean Spray commercial or another episode of Dirty Jobs. (Yes. Mike Rowe visited a cranberry farm.). But what I found was hard work, laughter, great cocktails and a deep sense of community with people who were passionate about food, family and local farming.

After a few cranberry cocktails, I sat down with farmers, Jessika Tantisook and Jared Oakes, to learn how this small family-run experiment expanded into a corporation with a unique uncommon product and an even more uncommon purpose.

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Sustainable Chemistry: Changing the Alchemy of Apparel

Posted by leighann | April 10th, 2013 | Filed under Environmental Change, Positive Change, Sustainability, Who We Are

Here’s a sobering stat: 80,000 chemicals are currently used around the world today. Most of these chemicals are untested and a surprising portion are used to make your clothes. From dying and finishing to spinning, ginning and even laundering, chemicals are used in every step of the textile process making even natural fibers unsustainable. But the Outdoor Industry Association (OIA)—along with Jamie Bainbridge, our Director of Textile Development and Sustainability—is spearheading an initiative that hopes to change all of that. How? By adopting a mission of continuous improvement and establishing a carefully cultivated list of preferred chemicals. Sounds simple, sure. But first the OIA has to convince an entire disparate and often complex global manufacturing industry that sustainable chemistry is good for business.

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Partners For Change: Unlimited and Unrestricted

Posted by Josie | December 2nd, 2012 | Filed under Environmental Change, Partners for Change, Positive Change

As the Managing Director of our Partners for Change program, I get the honor of handing over a hefty check to each of our five partners. Twice a year, I gather all of our final revenue numbers, calculate our final donations, and put a check in the mail with a card, signed by everyone in the office. Over the years, I’ve watched the running tally of our donations climb to several hundred thousand dollars.

I understand, first hand, the reality of our impact when I watch the presentations given by Mercy Corps field staff about the work they’re doing to solve the hunger crisis in the Horn of Africa or when I hear Obama reference Breakthrough Institute’s research into the history of American clean energy innovation.  Every person at Nau and our sister company Horny Toad would agree with me when I say: We whole heartedly believe that it’s our responsibility as a for-profit company to support the NGO’s that are creating positive change in the world.

Yet every time we make a donation, I am reminded that all donations are not alike. Every time I talk to our partners, they all say the same thing; “receiving unrestricted funds is critical to the success of our organization.” Our Partners for Change rely heavily on donations from companies like us and people like you to reach their milestones. Unfortunately, a large portion of the money they receive is restricted, meaning it can only be spent on specific projects, and it can not be used for every need of an organization–like electric bills or new technology. As Dan Pallota, non-profit advocate and author of Charity Case, said, “Low overhead is not the path to transformation of society.”

So this holiday season, when you donate, I encourage you to give unrestricted and empower the NGO’s that are truly creating positive change in this world.

The Higg Index Debuts

Posted by Guest | August 9th, 2012 | Filed under Environmental Change, Partnerships, Sustainability, Who We Are

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Remember the Eco Index? Last year, we profiled the evolution of this industry-wide, sustainable business tool in our three-part blog series and how Jamie—our Director of Textile Development and Sustainability—has been an integral part of its development. Fast-forward a year, and here we are, staring down the launch of the much-anticipated index (now known as the Higg Index). This week in the Thought Kitchen, Avery Stonich, Communications Manager for OIA, gives us an insider’s perspective on the tool that promises to change the way an industry does business.

You might think that the outdoor industry is a bunch of tree huggers, and to some extent that’s true. After all, we’re in this business because we love being outdoors, and protecting natural resources and quality places to play goes hand-in-hand with that. But what if I told you that this collective concern for the environment has translated into an industry-wide movement toward sustainability that is changing the way the world does business?

That’s right. Hundreds of outdoor industry companies have been collaborating for years on identifying and implementing best practices in sustainability—specifically, ensuring that the gear we use in the outdoors is made in a more responsible way. And this work is now reverberating to other industries. Pretty cool.

How did it all start? Nearly six years ago, several leading outdoor industry companies recognized that they could make more meaningful progress toward sustainable business practices by working together. So these competitors sat down together and started hammering out quantifiable, measurable ways to create more sustainable products, starting with apparel.

As this effort gained momentum, these companies and Outdoor Industry Association (OIA) formed the OIA Sustainability Working Group (SWG) to put even more muscle behind the work. In 2010, the industry finalized and piloted the OIA Eco Index, a standardized way to assess product sustainability. It went so well that another group—the Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC)—adopted the open-source index last year, blended it with a tool Nike developed, and created a more robust indexing tool.

This is a big deal because the SAC encompasses about a third of the global apparel and footwear market and includes a lot of big names—like  Walmart, Target, Nike, and H&M. So having the SAC on board opens the door to this sustainability tool being adopted on a very broad scale.

And now… drumroll, please… this tool—now called the Higg Index—launched on July 26th. Companies can use the Higg Index to get a clear view of where to make improvements in their supply chains to reduce the environmental (and eventually, social) impacts of their products. It also provides a consistent framework and language that companies can use to assess and compare product sustainability.

Just how big of a deal is this? Consider this: The White House recognized the OIA Sustainability Working Group as a Champion of Change for Corporate Responsibility earlier this year. They don’t hand this sort of recognition out freely. You have to earn it.

While we are celebrating, our work is far from complete. This is just the beginning. The OIA Sustainability Working Group will continue to contribute to the evolution of the Higg Index for apparel. And we are continuing work in other areas—developing indexing tools for footwear and equipment, identifying how to manage chemicals in the supply chain, tackling materials traceability, and creating best practices in social responsibility and fair labor.

To learn more, check out the OIA website, and support the companies that are involved in our Sustainability Working Group. They are contributing passion, money and sweat equity to a cause that is bigger than themselves. Together, as an industry, we are developing new practices that can fundamentally change the way we do business and make the world a better place to live, work and play.

Reprinted with permission from the Outdoor Industry Association and National Geographic.

Well, hello there Mr. Obama

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Courtesy of University of Massachusetts, Amherst

Last August in the Thought Kitchen, we featured a two-part, behind-the-scenes look the Eco Index—a collaborative effort with the Outdoor Industry Association (OIA) to create an industry-wide standard in sustainability. Well thanks to OIA and their tenacious work on the Eco Index, the organization was recently recognized by the White House.

Yes, that’s right: the Barackness Monster (thanks to Jimmy Fallon and his slow-jamming term of endearment) selected the OIA Sustainability Working Group (SWG) as a Champion for Change for Environmental Sustainability. The Champion for Change program was created as part of President Obama’s Winning the Future initiative to formally recognize extraordinary efforts across different industries and communities.

We’d like to extend a big congrats to OIA SWG’s volunteer collaboration of more than 250 outdoor industry brands for their persistent effort to create higher standards in sustainability. And, more specifically, thanks to Jamie Bainbridge, our Director of Textile Development and Sustainability, for her tireless work representing Nau as part of OIA SWG’s Advisory Council.

While the industry still has a long way to go, it’s comforting to know that sustainable efforts are being recognized by our governmental leaders.

Finding Simplicity in Complexity

Posted by Alex | February 7th, 2012 | Filed under Environmental Change, Sustainability

Can three minutes change your life? For TED Senior Fellow Eric Berlow, the above three-minute Micro-TED Talk opened the door to a new world. In a matter of weeks, he went from being a university ecologist to a global expert on applying a system-based approach to problems ranging from international conflicts to recycling rates. We caught up with Eric during a recent traverse of the French Alps—he’d been navigating deep powder and farmer’s fields before we spoke—to learn what understanding ecosystems can teach us about solving our biggest problems.

So on this topic of complexity and simplicity: Randonée or Telemark?
Telemark, of course! Yeah, I love it. I’ve been doing it forever; I just love the feel.

So you’re obviously someone who loves the mountains. How have the outdoors shaped your work?
I got into ecology before I was into the outdoors: I was into environmental stuff in college, but I hadn’t spent a lot of time camping. I was just really into the theory, about how everything was connected. So I did a degree in marine biology and ecology, and started spending a lot more time outside in Oregon, and got really into backcountry skiing and all the rest. And then I did my doctorate at UC Berkley, and started doing field work in the Sierra Nevada, and spent weeks and weeks on end in the Sierra and couldn’t get enough of it. I think when you study ecology, no matter what you’re doing, the only way to do good science in ecology is to have a big-picture view.

In your Ted Talk, you explain how embracing complexity can help lead to simplicity. How does this kind of systems thinking apply to issues of Sustainability?
To me, if we can provide people the tools to think more holistically about problems, to say, ‘yeah, everything is connected, but that doesn’t make it harder to understand,’ we can get over the fear factor. So many issues around sustainability have to do with just thinking a little bit bigger, and seeing the connections between things. I feel like if people thought about their problems a little more systemically, then the sustainability stuff would also fall into line. They would elect leaders who had holistic visions. So that’s my idea: to help people think about mapping out the ecosystem of problems, so that they can start thinking more holistically about everything.

How has being a Ted Fellow impacted your work?
For the first time in my life, I’ve seen that having a Ph.D in biology has value to other things. When I got the Ted Fellowship, it was a chance to speak to other people who are outside of my fishbowl.

During my talk—Jullian Assange of WikiLeaks spoke right before me—I was like, ‘Oh, man, I don’t know what I’m doing here!’ But then afterwards I started getting hundreds of emails, and I ended up quitting my job at the University because I had so many neat opportunities to apply a holistic approach to mapping the ecosystem of complex problems, and trying to find leverage points.

I worked on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, mapping expert knowledge of Palestinians and Israelis who were committed to non-violence to understand the ecosystem of that problem—so that if you’re going to throw money at it, you know where are the biggest points of leverage. And there was another one looking at recycling in America: how can we bump up recycling of Aluminum from like 20% to 80% in five years, again, mapping expert thinking and the ecosystem of the problem. What are all the moving parts, how do they influence one another, and use the network structure to find self-reinforcing feedback loops and points of leverage.

So it’s been really interesting: I started in academia, and now I’m working on a lot of other kinds of problems.

It sounds like a really powerful tool you can bring to a wide range of problems.
Yeah, and I didn’t realize that until now. It seems like there’s a real appreciation for a systemic approach, and we have some new tools now in complexity theory about how to take a really big system and find the subset of that system that maybe drives it the most.

You can learn more about Eric’s work through the TED Senior Fellows, or his website, ericlberlow.net

Undammed: The End of the Condit

Posted by leighann | November 2nd, 2011 | Filed under Environmental Change, Positive Change, Sustainability

We love a good explosion every now and then, especially if it means creating a few dozen of miles of new habitat for spawning salmon and steelhead. That’s exactly what happened last week when a team of engineers blasted a giant hole in the century-old Condit Dam, sending a massive wall of water and sediment tumbling toward the Columbia River and carving out new life for the White Salmon River.

It was the third largest dam removal in the country, and our good friend and filmmaker Andy Maser was there doing what he does best— capturing a historic moment on film. He shot over eight hours of footage from multiple viewpoints and distilled it into two minutes of video and time-lapse photography.

embedded by Embedded Video

For Andy and anyone who loves to see nature triumph, the dam removal marked the end of an old way of thinking and the ushering in of something far better—a respect for the natural order of things (not to mention, a few dozen miles of new whitewater).

As Andy so aptly said, “We’ve reached a turning point. More dams are coming out in the US than going in. Dam removal is no longer a mark of failure, it is a mark of success. As a country, we were founded on new ideas and innovation, and we should feel proud that we have had the foresight and courage to set these rivers free.”

To see more of Andy’s work, head to Andymaser.com.

Can a Ski Resort Be “Green”?

Posted by Alex | October 20th, 2011 | Filed under Environmental Change, Partnerships, Sustainability

NAU0068Our winter stoke Giveaway is going on now; sign up here!

Let’s face it: sometimes a love of the outdoors can force an environmentalist into uncomfortable positions. Road trips to the desert require gas, your kayak is made out of petro-chemicals, and that long dreamed of trip to Patagonia is going to require one CO2-heavy flight. Then winter rolls around, and if you love to ski (as I do), you might start to wonder if all those lifts, groomers and lodges we use are contributing to a global warming trend that means less pow, and more slush.

So what’s a responsible skier to do? Yes, everything we do to enjoy the outdoors has an impact—even ski-touring has a carbon footprint—but that’s not a reason to throw up our hands. Making an educated decision about where you ski, just like what you drive, can have a powerful influence over the impact of your actions.

That’s because there are important choices to be made when it comes down to how to run a ski resort. Resorts are large, meaning the choices they make—good and bad—have a bigger environmental impact than those we each make individually. How they make snow, how they deal with waste, whether they serve on disposable dishware: when you serve thousands of people a day, these choices add up.

NA0185That’s why we’ve been so glad to see the steps that some of our favorite ski areas have begun to take to address their energy efficiency, water usage and carbon footprint. As part of our Winter Stoke giveaway (sign up here to win one of two full-value prize packages, including lift tickets, Nau gear and more) we checked in with Mt. Hood Meadows and Stratton Mountain Resort to see what they’re doing to make their operations more sustainable.

Just up the road on Mt. Hood, our friends at Meadows are taking advantage of the abundant wind in Oregon and powering 100% of their operations with Wind Energy Credits. They’re also saving over a quarter million gallons of water each year with newly installed water-efficient appliances. And, true to Oregon’s strong locavore spirit, they’re sourcing local produce and serving it on china, not paper you throw away.

Across the country in Vermont, the folks at Stratton Mountain are also showing how investing in efficient infrastructure can save money and help the environment. They’ve installed 300 new high-efficiency snow guns, which—given how much snow they make each year—could save almost two million kilowatt-hours of electricity. Stratton was also the recipient of the Clif Bar/NSAA Sustainable Slopes Grant this spring, which they’re using to install four Big Belly Solar trash compactors, greatly reducing the the number of waste disposal trips required. They’ve also eliminated disposable dishware, a change they estimate will save roughly 75,000 soda cups, 61,000 spoons, 30,000 forks, 28,000 paper plates, 23,000 knives and 17,750 soup containers.

Of course, the ski areas have as much invested in a healthy planet as skiers do: saving energy is just good business. As skiers, we can help make it make even better business sense by choosing to enjoy those resorts who take seriously their responsibility to be good environmental stewards.

So educate yourself on the efforts your local hill is taking; it’s a step toward positive change, and toward ensuring that there will be snow for future generations.

Like what you’ve heard? Sign up here for our Winter Stoke Giveaway to win lodging for three nights, one dinner, rentals and lift tickets for two at Stratton Mountain Resort in Vermont or two 10-time passes at Mt. Hood Meadows in Oregon. Each winner will also get a Nau winter jacket, pants, down top and insulation layer.

2009 Grant For Change Update: Natural Histories

Posted by Alex | October 13th, 2011 | Filed under Environmental Change, Grant for Change

Two years ago, Nau awarded Sara Joy Steele and Benjamin Drummond with our inaugural Grand for Change, recognizing their work on Facing Climate Change. Since then, they’ve continued weaving beautiful photography and insightful audio interviews into rich tapestry of multimedia storytelling, featuring everything from prisons to parks, Native Americans to Sami.

Recently, they completed what might be their biggest project yet: The Natural Histories Project. Produced for the Natural History Network, it’s a treasure trove of insights and ideas about the nature and future of Natural History. From ecopsychologists, ecologists, and geologists to middle school teachers, environmental educators and university presidents, the ninety-nine (99!) interviews and intimate portraits provide a powerful primer on the study of the natural world.

Watch the video, then check out the entire project—a veritable TED-talk archive for Natural history—housed in an impressive interactive library at The Natural Histories Project.
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Between the Threads: Eco Index, the Nitty Gritty.

Posted by leighann | August 1st, 2011 | Filed under Environmental Change, Positive Change, Sustainability, Who We Are
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©Daniel Sharp

Last month in The Thought Kitchen, we sat down with Jamie Bainbridge, our Director of Textile Development and Sustainability, to get a behind-the-scenes look at the Eco Index—a collaborative effort to create an industry-wide standard in sustainability. This month, we’re taking a deeper dive into the nitty gritty details of this innovative tool and putting our Men’s Vice Blazer to the test. Find out what we learned and how it’s going to change the way we do business.

How It Works: The Cliffs Notes Version
Building a tool that assesses the environmental impact of thousands of products produced by hundreds of companies is challenging, and some might even say, downright impossible. That’s why the Outdoor Industry Association (OIA) built the Eco Index as a three-tiered system, so that any company, no matter how small or large, can evaluate their business piece-by-piece.

All three levels—guidelines, indicators and metrics—allow companies to evaluate their products based on two crucial elements: lifecycle stages such as packaging, transportation and materials; and impact such as the use of waste, water and other resources.

The first level—guidelines—is merely a set of recommendations that companies can use to lessen their impact: use more recycled content, minimize packaging, institute end-of-life design policies, etc… The second level—indicators—gets a bit more technical and even incorporates a scoring system that allows companies to assign points (we’ll take a closer look at indicators when we evaluate the Vice Blazer). And finally, the third tier—metrics—requires lots of number crunching and accounting that assigns values to each indicator. Confusing? Yes. Effective? We’ll see.

To get a better grasp on the set-up, think of it like this: guidelines ask what am I doing?, indicators ask how am I doing?, and metrics ask how much am I doing? But despite their qualitative and quantitative differences, every level is designed with the same goal in mind: to increase the transparency of the supply chain and lower the environmental footprint.

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©Daniel Sharp

Sizing up the Vice Blazer: Materials and End of Life
So what does all of this mean for a company like Nau? To start, we can use the Eco Index indicators to evaluate each of our products. Take the Vice Blazer, for example. We picked three sample indicators to size up its environmental footprint and here’s what we learned:

1 Recycled Content
For this indicator, the Eco Index assigns points based on the percentage of recycled content that is used in the product (1 point for 10-24%, 2 points for 25-49%, etc…). But keep in mind, all scoring is merely an internal gauge of a company’s sustainability practices and, in no way, reflects a standardized ranking system (yet). Since the Vice Blazer is designed with 80% recycled polyester, we feel like we’re pulling our weight in this category. However, we still keep an eye on technology to see if more improvements can be made.

2 Renewable Content
In order to produce the premium quality of the fabric in the Vice Blazer, we added 20% certified organic cotton which reduces the use of pesticides, fertilizers and other chemicals. It also gives recycled polyester the smooth, soft feel of cotton.

3 Designed for End of Life
We designed the Vice Blazer to be recycled at the end of its long life, including the labels which are composed of recycled polyester. However, there are two components that could be improved based on this indicator: the back zipper and the cotton content which are both unable to be recycled at this time.

Even though organic cotton is a renewable resource, it is considered a non-polyester “contaminant” and is, therefore, dissolved through the recycling process. In the end, we are throwing away 20% of the garment even though 80% is being recycled and reused.

This begs the question: do we sacrifice the soft quality of organic cotton to produce a completely100% recycled blazer? Or do we include cotton, a renewable resource to create a more premium garment that looks and feels better to the consumer?

These are the design and sustainability questions we face every day as a company dedicated to creating beautiful performance products that balance the triple bottom line of people, planet and profit. And with the launch of the Eco Index’s pilot program in September, these are the tough questions every apparel company will have to answer in creating more sustainable and transparent product and supply chains. However, one, lingering question remains: will it actually work?

Stay tuned: In part three of our three-part-series, we’ll explore the inaugural launch of the Eco Index pilot program and find out if it will actually live up to the hype.