Category: Sustainability and Business

Fast fashion: What's the true cost of a bargain?

Posted by MIT Sloan Executive Education - 24 days ago

Fashion waste, photo by Levi Brown/trunkarchive.com

American consumers love a bargain. In fact, consumers will often choose a bargain over ideals; this past spring an Associated Press-GFK poll found that, "when it comes to purchasing clothes, the majority of Americans prefer cheap prices over a Made in the USA label." This, despite decades of political rhetoric about the need to bring manufacturing jobs back to America.

But there's a bigger, hidden cost behind our love of a deal—particularly our love of cheap clothing. In today's market, there's no shortage of options for buying amazingly inexpensive, yet trendy clothing, including big box stores, "fast fashion" stores such as H&M and Primark, and off-shore clothing retailers advertising on Facebook. Some of the messaging inherent in these brands is that the items are so cheap, it's OK to purchase them for only one wear. You can buy that novelty sweater for the "ugly sweater holiday party" or any other frivolous clothing item for a one-time event. After all, it cost less than a night out, or even an entrée at many restaurants.

However, the dirty little secret that these retailers, manufacturers, and their supply chains don't share is the true cost of the disposable clothing industry. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, "15.1 million tons of textile waste was generated in 2013, of which 12.8 million tons were discarded." According to MSNBC, "10 percent of the world's total carbon footprint comes from the fashion industry, and apparel is the second largest polluter of fresh water globally."

The fast fashion industry not only generates textile waste, but the economics behind it demand the clothes be produced using massive amounts of cheap material and cheap labor. This means relying on the laborers at the very lowest end of the wage spectrum in countries with few protections for workers. While the fashion industry on the whole is a job creator, many of those equate to low wages, forced labor, unhealthy and dangerous working conditions, and even child labor, which is now rampant through apparel supply chains.

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Next steps for C-ROADS and climate change

Posted by MIT Sloan Executive Education - 2 months and 12 days ago

Earlier this spring, MIT Sloan Professor John Sterman presented an important and well-attended live webinar, The Dynamics of Climate Change--from the Political to the Personal. One of the highlights of the webinar was a live demonstration of C-ROADS (Climate Rapid Overview and Decision Support) a free, award-winning computer simulation that helps people understand the long-term climate impacts of policy scenarios to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

In the live Q&A sessions immediately following the webinar, Sterman fielded a great number of questions from the audience. However, there were simply more questions than could be answered in the time allotted. We recently posed three of the larger, unanswered questions to Sterman, and we have shared his responses below.

What's next for C-ROADS?
The next steps for C-ROADS are driven by the negotiations and conversations occurring during the Paris climate agreements. First, there will be a new interface that will be easier to use and more widely available. (You can view a video preview of it here). And while the team behind C-ROADS will continue to work with negotiators and policymakers, they are also actively seeking to increase the number of skilled users. If you are interested in learning how to use C-ROADS in any setting--from the classroom to the community room to the boardroom--you can join the movement at: https://www.climateinteractive.org/programs/world-climate/

The team behind C-ROADS also has a number of other related projects in the prototype phase, one of which is EN-ROADS, a simulation tool (similar to C-ROADS) for understanding how we can achieve our energy transition and climate goals through changes in energy use, consumption, and policies. The tool focuses on how changes in global GDP, energy efficiency, R&D results, carbon price, fuel mix, and other factors change carbon emissions, energy access, and temperature. It is ideal for decision-makers in government, business, NGOs, and civil society.

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Learning about climate change through interactive simulations

Posted by MIT Sloan Executive Education - 3 months and 18 days ago

Learning about climate change through interactive simulations

Scientists like to think that fact-based presentations using the best scientific evidence could change the opinions of people who don't believe in climate change. Unfortunately, that approach doesn't work. Even seeing the impact of climate change doesn't always work; NPR recently reported that some visitors to the Mendenhall Glacier in Juneau, Alaska, still dispute climate change, despite seeing first-hand how quickly the glacier is shrinking. That's not just a story about a few people: Research shows that showing people research doesn't work. If facts and evidence don’t work, and first-hand experience doesn't work, can anything help people learn for themselves that climate change is real, and that the world powers and developing countries alike must act now to prevent further damage to human well-being?

John Sterman, Jay W. Forrester Professor of Management at MIT Sloan, believes the answer is yes. Sterman says "No one can tell you what to think. The key is creating an environment in which people can learn for themselves." But how can this be done for climate change? By the time the effects are obvious, it will be too late. In such situations, simulation is the best method.

As Sterman detailed in a recent MIT Sloan Executive Education innovation@workTM webinar, "The Dynamics of Climate Change—from the Political to the Personal," C-ROADS (Climate Rapid Overview and Decision Support) is a free, award-winning computer simulation that helps people understand the long-term climate impacts of policy scenarios to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. C-ROADS translates how national and international policy changes will affect greenhouse gas emissions, average global temperatures, sea level, and ocean acidification. Users--be they policy makers, scientists, business and community leaders, citizens, or students--can analyze up to 15 different nations or negotiating blocs at the same time, while also asking "what-if" scenario questions of the model. The model runs in less than a second, so users get immediate feedback showing the likely impacts of their policies. "No one tells you what scenarios to try," Sterman says. "You are free to explore and see what it would take to limit global warming and climate change."

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Flexible jobs help make every day Earth Day

Posted by MIT Sloan Executive Education - 7 months and 13 days ago

work from home

April 22, 2016 marks the 46th year of Earth Day, a movement that gave voice to an emerging consciousness, channeling human energy toward environmental issues. And while this one day brings wider recognition to achieving any number of sustainability goals, each and every day is an opportunity for people to think and act in ways that can impact climate change.

One surprising way people and companies can have a positive impact on climate change is to offer employees flexible work options. According to Flexjobs, the leading job search site specializing in telecommuting, part-time, freelance, and flexible jobs, “Much of an individual’s carbon footprint is based on when, where and how he or she is required to work.”

In fact, the company found that if people who held telework-compatible jobs worked from home just two days a week, the U.S. would:

  • Save nearly 52 million gallons of gas
  • Save over 2.6 million barrels of oil
  • Reduce wear and tear on highways by over 1 billion miles a year

"In the U.S., where commuters travel primarily by car, where access to public transportation is often limited and inconvenient, and where super commuting is on the rise, we need to do more to promote the environmental benefits of working from home," says Sara Sutton Fell, founder and CEO of FlexJobs. "Remote work generates meaningful benefits, from lowering commute-related gas and oil consumption, pollution, and carbon emissions to reducing a company’s need for office space to overall energy savings and minimizing the need for work-related travel through remote collaboration tools like web and video conferencing."


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#OurAccord: How individuals can play a role in climate change

Posted by MIT Sloan Executive Education - 10 months and 4 days ago

Jason Jay, Lecturer on Sustainability and Director of the Sustainability Initiative at MIT Sloan believes the December 2015 UN international climate change negotiations, commonly referred to as the Paris Accord, "represents a possibility that the world can come together and solve one of the most complex problems we face as a civilization."

In his article, "The Paris Accord is #OurAccord," published in the Huffington Post, Jay argues that when it comes to climate change, "There is no 'they'… the beauty of this moment is the possibility for every building block of our society to come together behind this singular crisis and opportunity--our organizations, our neighborhoods, our schools, our families, all of us as individuals."

It might be hard to envision how the actions of individuals can truly impact climate change, but perhaps we should all embrace the challenge and recall Lao Tzu's famous quote, "The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step." So what steps can we take to play our own role in climate change. 

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Can collective intelligence solve climate change?

Posted by MIT Sloan Executive Education - 1 year and 7 months and 15 days ago

Climate CoLab connected earth

Earth Day is just a few days away, and climate change and its effects are everywhere in the news. For many of us, the dire state of our environment feels overwhelming, and climate change can feel like an unsolvable problem. Which is why the key to tackling it may be to treat it not as one problem, but as many.

Climate CoLab, a project of the MIT Center for Collective Intelligence, seeks to break down the large, complex problem of climate change into a series of more manageable sub-problems. A crowdsourcing platform and virtual think tank, Climate CoLab is an online platform where experts and non-experts from around the world collaborate on developing and evaluating proposals for what to do about global climate change. The project seeks to harness collective intelligence through online contests, constructively engaging a broad range of scientists, policy makers, business people, investors, and concerned citizens.

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System dynamics, sustainability, and Earth Day

Posted by MIT Sloan Executive Education - 1 year and 7 months and 29 days ago

Earth Day--which will celebrate its 45th anniversary on April 22--has come a long way since its inaugural kick off back in 1970. Capitalizing on the energy of the sometimes turbulent 70s, today's Earth Day is much broader in scope than the original event.

This year's theme focuses on bringing together the different communities of climate, sustainability, poverty, and development to build a more inclusive global movement, according to Kathleen Rogers, President and CEO of Earth Day Network (EDN), an international nonprofit organization that coordinates Earth Day actions globally.

Launching the field of sustainability at MIT Sloan

In that watershed year when Earth Day was first celebrated, then-MIT Sloan Professor Jay Forrester—known by many as the father of system dynamics—initiated MIT's involvement with sustainability. Forrester created a system dynamics model of the world's socioeconomic system, which he published in a book titled World DynamicsThrough novel computer simulations (his World2 model), Forrester showed the dangers of continued, unrestrained resource usage and population growth. This project led to an extended study (World3) by one of Forrester's former Ph.D students, Dennis Meadows, and the publication of Limits to Growth, which sold 12 million copies, was translated into 37 languages, and has been credited as launching the environmental movement globally. The book was updated on it's 20th and 30th anniversary.

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Tackling Climate Change—Collectively

Posted by MIT Sloan Executive Education - 1 year and 11 months and 13 days ago

Climate change is an enormous issue that affects us all. Unfortunately—according to MIT Sloan Professor Tom Malone and his colleagues at the MIT Center for Collective Intelligence—national legislative initiatives, while significant, haven’t done enough. However, now through a crowdsourcing platform called the Climate CoLab, people throughout the world can collaborate with experts and contribute ideas that might alleviate the climate change problem. 

The old adage, two heads are better than one, has never been more applicable than at the Climate CoLab, a virtual think tank based at the Center. Except instead of two heads, we’re talking about 33,000. The Climate CoLab is a platform that gives anyone from anywhere the opportunity to collaborate with experts to create and develop possible solutions that address climate change. By its very nature the Climate CoLab community is diverse—comprised of a mix of concerned citizens, business people, and investors, as well as scientists and policy makers. Talk about collaboration.

 “Anyone is allowed to contribute. No matter who a person is or where they come from, they can contribute ideas and have them reviewed by an international community of thousands of people—including world-renowned experts from organizations like NASA, the World Bank, and the Union of Concerned Scientists, and leading universities like MIT, Stanford, and Columbia,” says Malone, who is Director of the Center and principal investigator for the Climate CoLab. 

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