Carbon Footprints in the Anthropocene

Remember the carbon footprint calculator you may have used in junior high school science class to find out how much of an impact your housing, travel, and energy use has on the environment? We’ve brought it back again to discuss how carbon footprints function in the context of the Anthropocene, fast fashion, company hype, carbon offsets, minimalism and DIY.

Carbon Footprints in the Anthropocene

By Mary

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“Anthropocene” is a word that seems to pop up more and more often. It refers to what some would argue is a geological epoch in which we live, where human impact is central to the earth’s geology. But what does it actually mean, and what implications does the term have for our perception of human impact on our environment? On a basic level, the concept of the Anthropocene is telling us that by our presence on Earth, humans have physically changed geology so that the alteration is actually visible in the earth’s layers.

How should we interpret this? On one hand, this physical change is sending a message, loud and clear, that as humans we need to tone down our harmful actions. Hearing a term like “Anthropocene” might light up some big warning signs that since industrialization, human presence has become disproportionately overpowering, pushing beyond acceptable boundaries by leaving an unmistakable carbon footprint. For some, having a term to describe this concept is helpful in realizing the real effect of human activity. This is essential, in order to make connections between the actions of our everyday existence, and where the effect of that action will end up.

Understanding a concept like the Anthropocene could unfold a thought process leading us to think about where that plastic bag will go when we throw it away, or where this paper came from and the amount we use. These thoughts guide us to positive actions taken from what may be a negative term.

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But could the term Anthropocene ever lead to misconceptions about the age we live in? Could notions of the Anthropocene lead to a perspective on humanity that ends up being harmful to our planet? Humans are intelligent creatures, after all, and we often pride ourselves on technological advancements. It’s possible that one could hear the term Anthropocene and conjure images of scientific discovery and progress which are all a result of human innovation. Although there’s nothing wrong with the core of human progress as a concept, this perception of the Anthropocene misses the point: that we have altered the earth’s geology in a way that our environment, and the organisms within it, are not meant to support. If we are to use the Anthropocene as an authoritative label for our current age, it should be used as a tool for understanding the carbon footprint left by humans, and the implications this has for life on Earth.

Corporate Fast Fashion

By Katherin
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Source: https://edgexpo.com/fashion-industry-waste-statistics/

Nowadays, there seem to a big shift towards sustainability- creating more products that is environmentally friendly. However, do consumers truly know if the products they are buying comes from a company that cares about the Earth or a company that only cares about what creates the most profit?

Fast fashion has been around for a long time, and this type of industry has been growing for the past few years. The clothes are not only fashionable, but also very affordable- which is why many people like it. Due to fast-shifting trends in the industry, companies aim to provide clothing that will accommodate to those demands. Therefore, the concept of fast fashion gives rise to unethical and ecologically destructive practices within the industry.

One example would be H&M. It is a well-known company all over the world that provides affordable yet fashionable clothes. It has taken some steps towards sustainability. First, the company has created a sustainable clothing line called ‘Conscious’. About 50% of the material used in the line is made from organic cotton and recycled polyester. They also have made an increased their company transparency- customers are able to see and know what materials were used in the products and where it was produced.

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In their 2018 Sustainability Report, it outlines all their achievements, goals, and progress towards becoming more sustainable (1). However, with all the improvements they have done, H&M still contributes to fast fashion. Not all of the materials they use are eco-friendly. They promote that a certain clothing line is sustainable in order to appeal to the public, but it fails to recognize that the rest of their clothes are not sustainably sourced. In fact, the fashion industry is the second largest polluter in the world. There is so much energy that goes into making the clothes, but also transporting them. The industry alone emits about 1.2 billion tons of CO2 per year- this contributes to 5% of global emissions (2). In 2015 alone, about 92 million tons of waste was produced (3). Most of the clothes end up in landfill- the dyes and chemicals in those clothes will leech out and contaminate water and soil. With that in mind, it’s important to be conscious of the products we purchase and use in our daily lives.

There are many clothing brands that provide sustainable products. However, there’s also the concern about affordability. Certain sustainable clothing can be expensive, but if it’s good quality and very durable, then it’s a good long-term investment. There’s also different ways such as thrift shops or local businesses. If consumers demand sustainably-sourced clothes, then companies will shift into that direction. It’s all about creating changes in our lives that will have a positive effect on ourselves and the Earth.

Corporate Sustainability Hype

By Sajal
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Source: National Post

When looking at various trends across marketplaces, focus on sustainability is dominating everything right now. “Beyond Meat” is reinventing the food industry with their plant-based burger patties that supposedly taste like the regular meat ones. Tesla is owning the car market with their fully electric cars. In the fashion industry, giant companies like Adidas are teaming up with companies like Parley to make shoes made out of plastic recovered from the ocean. So what do these companies have in common? Yes they all have “sustainable” products, but all of them are placing a premium on these products. “Beyond Meat” sells packs of two patties for $12, compared to around $6 for regular patties. Tesla’s cheapest car comes in around $105,000 and Adidas’ shoes made from ocean plastic sell for $250.

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Looking at these insane prices, the message is clear. Companies are using the issue of sustainability as a marketing ploy. By placing a premium on their “sustainable” products, companies are manipulating consumers who have a soft spot for the environment by selling overpriced products to them in order to make a profit. Making sustainable products more expensive sends the message that practicing a sustainable lifestyle requires a large investment of money, which is not the case at all. If companies were truly concerned with sustainability, they would make these products more affordable, so that more people would buy them. For example, the average Tesla car costs $28,000 to build. Lowering the retail price from $105,000 to something more affordable is not impossible. Unfortunately, this is not the case, and is unlikely to become a reality. While there are small corporations that are making sustainable products affordable, the large corporations are overshadowing them with their pricey outputs.

Carbon Offsets

By Ethan

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Are carbon offsets paving the way to a greener future, or are they simply allowing corporations to make hollow claims of sustainability? Carbon offsets are credits for greenhouse gas reductions achieved by one party that can be purchased by another company or individual. Essentially if a carbon producing party wanted to reduce their carbon footprint (without changing their practices) they could purchase a carbon offset from a company that is carbon negative. These offsets come from places like silviculture, wind and solar energy producers, and even from waste gas diversion.

For corporations that emit a lot of carbon, it’s almost a no-brainer to purchase these carbon offset credits. Offsets are a less expensive option when compared to reducing carbon emissions at the source. This allows companies to continue polluting at the same rate but still qualify for incentives for meeting emissions targets. This sounds like a win-win situation, producers save money, and become “carbon neutral/negative”. However, it’s not quite that simple.  Not all offset programs are created equally, the first thing that generally comes to mind, tree planting, sounds perfect.

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However there are inherent problems with using reforestation as a carbon sink. For one, It does not actually address the root problem of where our emissions come from. Another drawback is that it can negatively affect the environment around it. Tree planting, for carbon offset purposes, is typically done where no trees have grown before which brings about problems. These plantations are monocultures which support meagre biodiversity, and actually increase the risk of forest fires. They have also been known to reduce stream flow rate which results in decreased suitability for plant life down-stream. Finally tree-planting, for carbon offsetting, is a band-aid that is simply being used to buy us more time until countries can make their economies more green. As the trees die they simply return the carbon that they sequestered back into the atmosphere completely undoing their purpose. However, even though tree planting has these drawbacks it can still be a valuable tool for helping our changing climate, if it is done properly. As consumers we must consider all the options before deciding to purchase any carbon offset. We must think if we need it, if it is going to have a positive impact on our lives, and if it is going to help the planet. 

Minimalism & DIY

By Emily

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Implementing more sustainable practices into your life can be daunting at first – living in a highly capitalistic society can make it seem impossible to reduce your footprint without costing a fortune or making huge sacrifices. Researching sustainable practices can often lead down a rabbithole of expensive “ecological” products, like bamboo kitchenware and natural beauty products, and while they may give the superficial appearance of being better for the environment, it’s really the companies selling these items that we should be focusing on. A lot of these items will be replacing things we already have, which creates more waste. Rather than focus on consumerism, let’s focus on repurposing the things we’ve already purchased!

Old clothing items can be exchanged at some thrift stores for newer items, or transformed into tote bags, new clothing items, rags, etc. Personally, I’m on a mission to break-up with single-use plastics and I was researching reusable items to replace the plastics I use in food storage when I came across beeswax food wraps sold on many different websites by different companies. Often three of these wraps can cost around $20, but I discovered they are actually quite easy to make. Here’s a link to directions to making your own beeswax wraps – hopefully this will inspire you to begin your DIY sustainable lifestyle!


19/10/29
By Mary Frank, Katherin Juan, Sajal Singla, Ethan Murray, Emily Woodward, Freya H-T

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