Turning Old T-Shirts Into New Denim
Regenerative fiber, Evrnu
Stacy Flynn was on a business trip to China when she and a colleague stepped out on opposite sides of their car but could barely see one another through the smog generated by the local textile operations. As a fabric development and design expert in the apparel industry (one of the worst polluters), she had an epiphany: “I felt personally responsible for some of this,” she says. Now, as cofounder and CEO of Evrnu, Flynn is producing recycled fibers and working with apparel makers to turn this year’s castoffs into next year’s must-haves. The Seattle startup, backed by $4 million from angel investors, has patented a process that takes post-consumer cotton and breaks it down into a pulp before extruding the liquid through fine filters to form new fiber. Flynn says Evrnu can produce a variety of premium grades, ranging from smooth as silk (and stronger than cotton) to something that’s coarse, like denim. The process uses 98% less water than farmed cotton, and all chemical solvents remain in a closed loop so they can be reused. Levi’s has used Evrnu fibers to produce 511 jeans, and other top brands, including Target and Stella McCartney, have recently signed deals. –Ben Schiller
Propelling a Cleaner Alternative
Botanical disinfectant spray can, Seventh Generation
Lysol dominates the household-disinfectant market, but Seventh Generation has a toehold with its naturally antiseptic thyme oil–based spray–and now is poised for further gains. Last August, after two years of development and regulatory approval, the Vermont-based company replaced the product’s pump-spray bottle with a brand-new can powered by compressed air, which delivers the fine, steady mist of conventional aerosol without the environmentally damaging propane or butane. By utilizing a bag-on-valve technology pioneered by a startup called Power Pouch Container and partnering with manufacturer Chicago Aerosol, Seventh Generation has created the first nonflammable, compressed-air-powered product in the category. “If you lit a match to the conventional disinfectant sprays, you would have an amazing blowtorch,” says Seventh Generation CEO Joey Bergstein. “If you do the same with our product, sadly, it would only blow out a candle.” –BS
Lia flushable home pregnancy test, Lia Diagnostics
Nearly 2 million pounds of used home pregnancy tests wind up in landfills each year. The plastic diagnostic tools “are only used for a few minutes, but they are made out of things that are not sustainable,” says Lia cofounder and CEO Bethany Edwards. “We believe that materials should match up with product life cycles.” Lia, the world’s first flushable pregnancy test, stems from a grad school project that Edwards and two classmates embarked on at the University of Pennsylvania’s integrated product design program. “Nobody had innovated on the form factor of the pregnancy test in over 30 years,” she says. The device uses the same amount of material as six squares of three-ply toilet paper and contains no glue. Its protein-, plant-, and mineral-based fibers biodegrade whether flushed or composted, so in addition to environmental benefits, they offer a revolutionary new measure of privacy. “Pregnancy is personal,” says Edwards. “We give women control in a discreet, sanitary, and better-for-the-environment way.” Lia received FDA approval in December and is currently on track to hit stores and Amazon this summer, priced between $13 and $15 for a pack of two. (The product offers the same 99% accuracy rate as existing home tests.) Next, the company plans to expand into additional home diagnostic tests, for ovulation and urinary tract infections. –BS
Transforming Wallets Into Scorecards
AIM score, Aspiration
As more and more people choose to vote with their wallets, Aspiration has created a checking account app that pulls data on the environmental and ethical practices of more than 5,000 companies, including Adidas, Burger King, and Delta Air Lines. An online financial services firm that invests with corporations committed to sustainability and ethical practices, the company says that more than 65% of its 200,000 checking account holders regularly look at their Aspiration Impact Measurement (AIM). The score, founder Andrei Cherny says, “helps people think more deeply about the ethics and values of the places where they’re doing business.” –Eillie Anzilotti
Shining a Softer Light on Recovery
Tunable hospital lighting, Philips Lighting
Harsh hospital lighting serves a purpose: To work effectively, healthcare professionals need around 1,000 watts. But such relentless brightness can have deleterious effects on patients. A 2015 study from the National Institutes of Health cited overexposure to light as a key factor in sleep deprivation, which inhibits the healing process.
“Typically, you see these sterile, two-by-four fluorescents that are just uncomfortable to look up at,” says Patricia Rizzo, senior lighting applications designer for Philips Lighting. Having pioneered customizable lighting systems for homes, Philips realized its technology could improve the patient experience in hospitals.
Over the past year and a half, the company has rolled out a pilot project with the University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital, installing tunable lighting systems in four patient rooms. The lights brighten and dim along with the natural light cycle outside, and both hospital staff and the patients themselves can adjust the lights by remote to whatever setting they’d like. (Young patients often choose to make colors dance on the white walls.)
Patients have reported lower levels of stress and longer stretches of consecutive sleep, and Rizzo says Philips plans to expand the pilot through more of the University of Minnesota health system. –EA
Designing for Social Justice
Equity-Centered Community Design, Creative Reaction Lab
Not long ago, Antionette Carroll, founder of the social justice nonprofit Creative Reaction Lab (CRXLab), conducted an experiment in her hometown of St. Louis. She went into three Aldi supermarkets–one in a predominantly African-American, low-income community, another in a middle-class neighborhood, and a third in a wealthy, predominantly white enclave. “It’s the same store, but the layout was completely different,” Carroll says. In the latter two, produce and healthy snacks greeted customers walking through the doors, but in the lower-income neighborhood supermarket, customers immediately encountered chips and cookies. Even grocery store food aisles, Carroll says, can perpetuate inequality. “That’s a design decision,” she says.
A graphic designer, Carroll has long been interested in both design and social justice, but her thinking about the two coalesced in new ways following the shooting of Michael Brown, in Ferguson, in 2014. In the uproar and unrest that followed, she saw problems she believed could be addressed through design. She convened a 24-hour challenge that brought local designers together with community members to create projects that could foster conversation across racial and socioeconomic divides. The first session spawned several initiatives, including the Red Table Project (an ongoing series of meals that brings together community members who otherwise would not meet), Guerilla Art Warfare (stickers and stenciled imagery, such as an African-American silhouette with hands up, that could be placed in neighborhoods to challenge biases), and Cards Against Brutality (an educational game designed for police officers).
As her work progressed, Carroll realized CRXLab was creating a new kind of methodology, something she dubbed Equity-Centered Community Design, combining the rigors of design problem solving with community outreach and open conversation between groups that might not typically communicate. The organization is providing members of historically underserved and neglected communities–particularly young people–a framework and language to create specific civic proposals to improve life in those neighborhoods.
Carroll has been traveling the country to conduct workshops. “Every city has its own challenges when it comes to racial equity,” she says. “You look at Flint, and there’s an environmental justice pipeline. Here, in St. Louis, we’re focused on police and community relations. We built our model so that others can use it.” –EA
Linking Products to Values
Sustainable Product Optimization Tool, L’Oréal
The words are emblazoned on products up and down the beauty aisle: all-natural, sustainable, organic. But when it comes to an item’s actual environmental impact, what do these terms really mean? And what can they tell us about a company’s actual commitment to environmental stewardship?
L’Oréal, the largest and most profitable corporation in the beauty industry, has overhauled its entire supply chain over the past five years. Its Sharing Beauty With All initiative, launched in 2013, aimed to advance sustainable practices across all aspects of the business–embracing renewable resources, shortening transit routes, repackaging products in biodegradable materials, and converting its manufacturing facilities to run on renewable energy.
Last year, the company went a step further, rolling out its Sustainable Product Optimization Tool (SPOT) across all 150 product categories among L’Oréal’s 53 brands. Developed with the help of sustainability and life-cycle analysis experts from dozens of universities and nonprofits, SPOT provides both L’Oréal and its thousands of suppliers worldwide with a stringent set of criteria that all products must meet across eight different categories: carbon footprint, water scarcity, water quality, biodiversity, acidification, resource depletion, air quality, and ozone depletion.
More than 120 products have been optimized using SPOT so far. La Roche-Posay, one of L’Oréal’s higher-end brands, used the tool when revamping its Gommage Surfin facial scrub and replaced the exfoliating plastic microbeads with perilite, a natural mineral, improving the biodegradability of the product by 10%. Since then, all L’Oréal exfoliators have moved away from plastic in the ingredients list. The Vichy brand, meanwhile, used SPOT to redevelop its Aqualia Thermal skincare treatment: The proportion of renewable ingredients in the product increased from 55% to 95%, and the brand began sourcing its shea butter from a sustainable, women-owned cooperative in Burkina Faso.
“SPOT is now fully integrated in the conception process and launch of new products,” says L’Oréal’s chief sustainability officer, Alexandra Palt, adding that her team is expanding the tool so that by 2020 consumers will be able to access SPOT for more extensive product information. Palt’s efforts have support from the very top of the organization. “I love having an activist within to drive change internally,” says L’Oréal chairman and CEO Jean-Paul Agon. –EA
Putting a Lid on Carbon Dioxide
The Cali Wool Beanie, The North Face
On a sprawling ranch in the foothills of a California mountain range, placid herds of sheep at Bare Ranch are part of an experiment to prove that wool production can help fight climate change. By managing where sheep graze, planting trees and cover crops, and fortifying fields with compost, the ranch now absorbs more carbon dioxide than it emits. Its farming practices trap around 4,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide a year, offsetting the emissions from about 850 cars. Working with the nonprofit Fibershed, funded by a grant from the North Face, the ranch first started creating a “carbon farm” plan in 2014; in 2016, Bare Ranch became the first large-scale sheep operation in the U.S. to complete this type of transformation. After proof that the changes on the ranch were sequestering CO2, the North Face chose the new climate-beneficial wool for its Cali Wool Beanie, which launched in late 2017. “Often, products are trying to be less bad and reduce their environmental impact,” says James Rogers, the North Face’s senior sustainability manager. “This actually has a positive environmental impact.” The hats sold out online within a few weeks, and the North Face will launch a new scarf and jacket made with the wool this fall. –AP