AT on ... Doing the Tough Math

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Math is hard. I've never really liked it all that much. But that doesn't mean I don't understand its importance or have tremendous respect for the people who really get it.

A good friend who happens to work for Patagonia visited this past weekend. Her job, recently, has entailed gathering data and solving math equations (ones that would surely make me nauseous) for the company's new environmental web site, The Footprint Chronicles.

Don't worry: This is not a shameless plug for a friend's web site. I do have a point.

The Footprint Chronicles is, essentially, Patagonia's effort to tally the environmental impact of five of its products. Click on one and you can read how far the garment has traveled, how much waste was generated and how much energy used in the manufacturing process, and whether or not there are any questionable chemicals or materials involved.

For instance, their Eco Rain Shell travels a minimum of 14,125 miles before it is purchased, 15 pounds of CO2 are generated in its production and transportation (10 times the weight of the jacket), 5 oz of material are wasted, and 18kwh of energy is consumed.

And that's just the beginning. There's more information here than most of us even want, and it doesn't paint an entirely flattering portrait.

So, my point: This is a company that keeps the environment at the core of its mission statement, and it is constantly trying to improve. So, what about the other companies?

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What if every manufacturer of every product we buy were required to make this sort of information readily available? What if they had to print the product's carbon footprint on the packaging, like the nutritional information on your cereal box? (Timberland has done it before.) How would that change the way we shop? Are there things that you buy today that you know you would probably stop purchasing?

Would it be helpful? Or would it be paralyzing?

Images -- cereal boxes via tmray02 and label via worldchanging.com