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via Handmade Expressions - Fair Trade Blog by Michelle Ovalle on 12/9/11
For Handmade Expressions, sustainability means creating products that respect and restore people and our planet. It means creating products that do not cause harm to our global community and reversing some of the harm that has already been done. As we proceed on this ambitious journey, questions come to mind on whether this level of sustainability can truly be achieved and whether we can make a difference with this pursuit. Lets explore a few of the several layers involved in our product supply chain for better understanding.
Take our metal cuff bracelets, for example. The lifecycle of these cuffs begins with mining the base metal to extract from an ore. From this initial point of impact, we can already ask: Are working conditions safe for the mine workers? What environmental impacts are a result from mining? What emissions are being released in the air during the refining of metal? Unfortunately, we have no insight into this step of the production process because these events occur before the materials are gathered by any producers. The second step in the lifecycle is the actual creation of cuffs from this metal. Here, we can ask: How are the working conditions for the producers and are they being paid fairly? What development opportunities are we creating for their community? Since we work directly with our producer partners, we have full insight into this process and have seen for ourselves the positive impact the practice of sustainability has had on this group. High sales of these products have provided jewelry producers with the necessary income to open larger workshops and install a computer room for children to use as we observed in our latest trip to India. After product creation comes logistics, such as packaging and shipping for distribution. By shipping products by sea and air from India to our warehouse in Austin Tx and from our warehouse to retailers across the country how much carbon is being released during this process? Although we may be unsure to what extent this is doing harm, we attempt to reduce the negative environmental effects by choosing carbon offsetting options for our ground shipments. Lastly, what is the end of life for the cuff? Can it be recycled or will it go to a landfill? What recycling options are available for the product and for the consumer?
We can go into a lot more detail, but as you can see, there are a large number of people, processes and variables that need to be considered when achieving sustainability. So, coming back to our original question: Can we really make a difference in our pursuit, considering the several factors and possible setbacks? For us, the answer is ABSOLUTELY. We don't know if our products will ever be 100% sustainable but with each product, and each trade we are improving lives, creating opportunities and protecting our environment. We are applying our knowledge and resources to create positive impacts. If we all collaborate and make small changes in our individual areas of work, one day as a community, we will reach that level of sustainability. Sustainability for us is not a goal but a way of working. It is the reason we choose to be in this business.
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