29 September 2008

tracing the backstory of stuff

When we buy something new we usually know only a few elements of its backstory. We know where it is was "made" and where we are buying it. We might even know a little bit about what it's made from by the label. But the origin and impact of the materials and the process of making the product is mostly a mystery to us.

[Image: brianinsanfran]

There are few examples of transparency in the manufacturing of goods. Patagonia stands out as one company with a policy of openness. And while they are by today's standards a shining example of sustainability, they are not without their flaws. They bare all in the Footprint Chronicles, where the user can trace the backstory of a Patagonia product. The good and bad aspects of production are highlighted, as well as where the company thinks they need to improve. There's even an opportunity for you to let them know what you think about their efforts.

Read more about Becoming Better Backstory Detectives at WorldChanging.

You can get Patagonia products at Amazon, REI, and Patagonia.


Joshua Landon said...

Hi, I'd like to speak with you about this blog. I'd like to share a possible blog topic with you. Either way, please email me at your earliest convenience. Thanks! -Josh

Henry said...

I freely admit to not researching the origins of most things I buy, but even when I attempt to dig a little deeper, the more I research, the more confusing it gets. For instance, I need to buy a large rug. Many websites, including Target, have eco-friendly choices, many made of "Olefin" which seems to be a plastic made from recycled plastic bottles. Obviously the recycling part is great, but a plastic rug? Who knows what could be emanating from it? Any thoughts?

Liz said...


It can be really difficult to determine the origins of materials and whether they live up to their claims of "eco-friendly" or "sustainable." Or if, like in your case, "eco-friendly" means "healthy" or "non-toxic."

Sometimes a simple google search will turn up way too much information. Or without specific search clarification, you won't learn very much.

I just did a search for "olefin VOC" to see if maybe olefin was known for off-gassing any volatile organic compounds. While I didn't find anything terribly conclusive, a list of VOCs included some olefins on it.

When shopping for rugs or carpeting, choosing natural materials like wool or sea grass is the safest bet. And be sure they are made with natural, plant-based dyes.

You can find some examples of this at Sustainable Lifestyles. You can even find nice vegetable-dyed wool rugs on ebay (we did!).

Thanks for your excellent, considerate question!

Liz said...

Josh, I'm not sure how to contact you, but you can email me here.

NaturalBornJuicersNYC said...

Thats awesome. Every company should have to do that by law.

Liz said...

NBJ, wouldn't that be great if we knew where everything came from?

sadly, there is no such law. we can only depend on the conscience of the corporations, and often there is none!