Our world is getting hotter. It’s undeniable now. Nasa says that we are 2 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than the average temperature in the late 19th century–an increase unprecedented in over a millenia–and human activity is the cause. Because of climate change, glaciers are melting, sea levels are rising, and weather events are becoming more extreme. We’ve seen it in our own state of California: years of drought, intense heat waves, a constant threat of wildfires and, most recently, historic flooding due to unusually heavy rainfall. This year President Biden issued a Presidential Emergency Declaration, which authorized federal assistance to support response efforts.
But it is populations in the Global South that are most vulnerable to climate change and disproportionately bear the brunt of its consequences, despite contributing the least to carbon emissions, the main driver of a warming world. There are environmental, economic, and social reasons for this. Geographically, these countries have low-lying coastal areas or arid regions that are prone to droughts. Limited infrastructure and resources make it hard to deal with the impacts of climate change, such as adequate water management systems, early warning systems for natural disasters, or emergency response capabilities. And social and economic inequalities within and between countries exacerbate the impacts, with vulnerable populations such as women, children, and indigenous peoples being affected the most.
What’s happening now is a human rights issue. People’s rights to life, health, food, water and shelter are being threatened. But there is room for hope. In honor of Earth Day, we spoke with some of our suppliers to learn about what they are doing in response to climate change. They have seen first-hand how our warming world impacts the artisans who make our products and have implemented ways to offset climate change consequences. These conversations have shown us how possible it is to make a difference, in big and small ways, in the effort to create a healthier world.
Addressing Their Carbon Footprint
Many of our partners have found effective ways to either reduce or offset their carbon footprint. One way is to be mindful of how goods are transported from artisans to consumers. Shipping goods across the world burns a lot of fossil fuels, which emit carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. But Serenta Sato, the Sales Director at SERRV, says that they make it a priority to freight goods by sea, rather than by air, because it’s a much more fuel-efficient mode of transportation that produces less greenhouse gas emissions.
Another approach is to offset carbon emissions by planting trees. Trees are critical to the climate fight because they absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Rover & Kin has partnered with Grow Ahead, a reforestation initiative led by small-scale farmers. Wen King, Rover & Kin's founder says, “for each order, we can offset our carbon emissions by spending one dollar to plant a tree. Each tree can sequester forty tons of carbon per year.” YEWO has found a similar approach. By partnering with a reforestation co-op in Malawi, they are able to plant a tree for every item sold. Not only does this effort offset their carbon footprint, it supports community livelihoods in a sustainable and impactful way.
“We pride ourselves in putting out only one garbage can per week,” says Denise Attwood, co-founder of Ganesh Himal. To her, climate change is always on the mind. She has a degree in environmental science and understands all too well how greenhouse gas emissions–which are produced during the decomposition process–are contributing to our climate crisis: “It’s been in the forefront of our minds for a really long time.” Not only does Ganesh Himal limit waste, but they also make products that last. “We are not fast fashion; we don’t make consumables that go away.” A shirt from Ganesh Himal will last for decades. “We want to create products that will be in people’s lives for a really long time.”
Another effective strategy used to limit waste is to move away from plastic materials completely. King told us, “when I first started I didn’t think about what they were packaging the earrings in, but over the course of a year, that’s tens of thousands of plastic sleeves that we’re using.” This led her to find a plastic alternative: compostable cornstarch bags. These bags are made from a renewable resource called polylactic acid that biodegrades in a matter of weeks. By using these cornstarch bags instead of plastic bags– which can take up to a thousand years to break down– they’re helping our Earth by creating less trash for the landfills.
Using Sustainable Materials
“Everything is a resource,” says Attwood. She’s not alone in this sentiment. Most, if not all, of our partners find ways to use sustainable materials. Whether it’s by collecting and melting down scrap metal for jewelry, making clothes and quilts from upcycled cotton, or reusing old tires, minimizing the need to extract raw materials from the Earth is a crucial step. For artisans whose livelihoods have historically depended on the harvesting and selling of natural resources, fair trade partners like Pebble are able to provide alternative ways to earn an income. This ensures the preservation of natural habitats while making production and consumption more sustainable.
Sato says that they’ve taken on a unique approach by investing in a “Green Machine.” This machine can shred cardboard boxes into packaging material, which is then used to ship products to stores like ours. SERRV has been able to reuse 40,000 pounds of cardboard cartons every year. Not only does this save resources, but it significantly cuts costs.
In the fair trade sphere, the artisans’ wellbeing comes first. As Joy McBrien from Fair Anita points out, “[climate change] is affecting our partners lives, livelihoods, homes and communities.” In Chimbote, Peru, the home of Anita (Fair Anita’s namesake), there have been horrific torrential downpours in the recent weeks. Because Chimbote is an arid landscape, none of the residents were ready. There were major floods, mudslides, and damage to homes, making it hard for artisans to complete their orders. “We prioritize makers and their full humanity. We don’t tell them ‘you have to have this shipped by a certain time,’” Joy says. This understanding and flexibility allows makers to tend to their immediate needs while still earning an income.
Challenging the Status Quo
Profit-driven production, overconsumption, and short-term thinking are some key features of capitalism that contribute to a rapidly warming world. Addressing climate change will require systemic changes to the way that we produce and consume goods and services. We believe that fair trade is the solution. LynAnne Wiest, manager of HumanKind says, “Fair trade is about challenging capitalist norms and creating solutions to the problems it creates.” It’s a global effort that reimagines the relationship between people, the planet, and profits. This is all to say, your purchases have power.