Issue 018 / Hipster Coffee, “Conflict-Free" Diamonds & Going Beyond the Blah Blah

Reconsidered is a bi-weekly newsletter curating thought-provoking content on corporate social responsibility, sustainability and social impact. Click here to subscribe. 

This Week's Five Links

This Tiny Country Feeds the WorldNational Geographic
Almost 20 years ago, the Netherlands vowed to grow “twice as much food with half as many resources.” Now, my adopted country is the #2 exporter of food, second only to the United States, while reducing dependence on water for key crops by as much as 90%. How? A market- and science-driven approach to food innovation embraced by thousands of small- to medium-sized family farms across the country.

Equifax Deserves the Corporate Death Penalty Wired
First, Equifax's lax cybersecurity protocols resulted in private data exposure for 143 million Americans (setting your database username and password to “admin” — really?!). Then, when senior executives discovered this, they sold $2 million worth of stock. Next, after the breach was exposed, Equifax offered free credit monitoring to consumers impacted — but sneaked in a mandatory arbitration provision clause in the fine print. In this op-ed, Free Speech for People legal director Ron Fein argues, "This is not the conduct of a company that deserves to continue to be entrusted with a critical role in our economy.” He calls for judicial dissolution — the equivalent of a corporate death penalty.

For Dignity and Development, East Africa Curbs Used Clothes Imports — The New York Times
Ever wonder what happens to your old clothing once you put it in the charity bin? Most often, those garments wind up in East Africa and are sold in secondhand markets. But now, East African countries are trying to phase out used clothing imports, saying that this practice not only makes it difficult to develop a local manufacturing industry, but that it is also harmful to the dignity of people who can only afford to purchase clothing the West has discarded.

Inside the ‘Conflict-Free’ Diamond Scam Costing Online Buyers Millions — The Next Web
Online jewelry retailer Brilliant Earth promises customers that its diamonds are ethical and conflict-free. There’s just one problem — that guarantee is impossible to make. This article dives deep into the diamond supply chain to explain why.

Hipster Demand for Fancy Coffee Is Really Helping Africa’s Farmers — Grubstreet
The African continent is seen as the birthplace of coffee — but since the 1970s, Africa’s coffee exports have fallen as Vietnam and Brazil have risen to domination with low- to mid-grade beans (think: Folgers instant coffee). Now, as consumer tastes are shifting to premium, single-origin blends, small farmers in countries like Ethiopia and Uganda are getting a boost. 

How do we go from getting people to buy something, to getting people to BE something?
— A brand call-to-action from Vanessa Belleau, Head of Fashion and Home Shopper Marketing UK at The Walt Disney Company, at "Beyond the Blah Blah"

Spotlight: Beyond Blah Blah

There’s a lot of noise in the sustainability space. A lot of pledges and reports and non-binding multi-stakeholder initiatives. Not even to mention all of the acronyms and jargon. 

In short, there’s a lot of “blah blah.” 

This insight sparked the theme for Dutch social enterprise Circle Economy’s annual conference on circularity in the textiles industry, “Beyond Blah Blah,” held last Friday in Amsterdam.

Frustrated by the lack of urgency in this space, Circle Economy convened a few hundred guests from industry and academia to explore how to go beyond the talk and move straight to the practice. 

Their circular textiles theory of change follows five points:

  1. Be the Demand. Brands have the power to create demand for (and demand!) recycled fibres.
  2. Design Out Waste. An estimated 80% of a product’s environmental and economic impact is determined at the design stage — which means a huge opportunity to design for durability and cyclability. 
  3. Be the Supply. Getting clothing back from the consumer is critical to actually closing the loop and achieving circularity.
  4. Shout! And Engage the Consumer. An educated and empowered consumer could really drive the transition to a circular economy — but efforts to engage them haven’t fully leveraged the power of the creative industry.
  5. Invest and Collaborate. No one player in the industry can do it alone.

My biggest takeaway related to that last point. Circle Economy’s textiles lead Gwen Cunningham closed the session with an impassioned speech that, among other things, argued against the hashtag #youdoyou. In a time of environmental crisis, political instability and general global chaos, the last thing we should be doing is retreating into the personal, the individual, the small things we can still control. No, instead we should be uniting with others and taking collective action to drive the change we wish to see.

That, to me, is going beyond the "blah blah". And acknowledging the problem directly is the first step to making real progress.

Reconsidered is curated by Jessica Marati Radparvar. If you enjoyed reading it, please consider sharing it!