The Confused Environmentalist

Traceable Me
by Jennifer Weiss -- June 25th, 2012

As a student of sustainability, I know the advantages of tracing a product’s life cycle back to it’s origin. I think it is important to know where my food comes from and what the labor conditions are like in the plant where my cell phone was made. I’d love to make every single purchase decision I make based on a sustainability scale that is posted right on the package – kind of like a nutrition guide for busy environmentalists.

But alas, no such guide exists today.  Oh sure, some major manufacturers have tried.  Unilever, for example, offers an online product analyzer which is supposed to look at the environmental footprint of its products, but it is hard to find on their website and even harder to understand.  It doesn’t give me the “warm, fuzzy” feeling that I am looking for or explain where my product was actually made and, even more importantly, what my product was made from.  In fact, I’m not sure the manufacturer even knows the answers to these questions. Which I guess is part of the problem. With huge manufacturers providing us with most of our food, clothing and products, it is hard to trace any product back to its origin.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I was given a shirt last week that carried a bright green tag with two simple words:  ”trace me.”  Intrigued by this unique request, I went to the website, icebreaker.com, and entered my shirt’s unique “Baacode” which I found conveniently sewed to my shirt.  Up popped two sheep “stations” – the sources of my icebreaker’s merino wool.  Out of 120 stations, my product’s origin had been narrowed down to two and (this is the most amazing part), I could click on videos to meet the farmers and learn more about their farm.  Talk about warm and fuzzy.  I literally felt like I had just purchased my shirt from the farmer himself. Amazing.  Simply Amazing.

I realize that developing a traceable tag for every product is not an easy or inexpensive task. The icebreaker shirts are all made from wool provided by a manageable number of farms in New Zealand and  if I did a cost analysis, I am sure they cost a bit more than their mass-produced counterparts. But that is not the point.  What I find simply amazing is that, with the help of my traceable tag, I can learn more about the product I am purchasing and make decisions based on what is important to me – sustainable products, ethical treatment of people and animals, and environmentally conscious manufacturing.  Better yet, I feel like I just bought a shirt from the farmer down the road.

Try it out for yourself.  Visit icebreaker.com and use my Baacode:  EFF0E2206.  Or, ask for e a demo code.  Visit the farmers, tour the farms and then sit back and think.  Wouldn’t it be crazy if every one of our products offered us this amount of transparency? Imagine the changes that would be made in manufacturing companies around the world if we could see where each of our products come from and how each of our products is made.

‘Trace Me’ technology.  Brilliant.

Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke University | Box 90328 | Durham, NC 27708
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