We're glad you're curious about how this all makes sense. Let's take you through the process step-by-step.
Redactless is on a mission to make it as easy as possible for everyone to understand the problems they care most about. We plan to achieve this mission by making product impact the defining feature of everything we make through simple, integrated design.
Product impact describes the resources that it took to make a product. Every product has an impact, some bigger and some smaller than others. The type of product impact varies greatly depending on the product, as it takes a totally unique set of materials, resources and processes to make each different type of product.
While we have a vision to create a variety of everyday products, we wanted to start with something that everyone could understand: a humble T-shirt. We believe a T-shirt as our first product will act as the perfect test to show our impact-led design method while providing an approachable way of understanding the more general environmental impacts of the textile industry.
Numbers can be very helpful in understanding complicated information, especially about how products are made and what impacts they have. A report that collects all the numbers that measure the environmental impact of a product is called a Life Cycle Analysis (or LCA). These reports document the "life cycle" of a product, from the initial resources that are collected, to the manufacturing, use and eventual disposal of the product that is being measured.
These reports can provide a lot of interesting details, but visualizing what this data means in our heads can sometimes become overwhelming, especially if the data is in units that don't easily relate to our everyday lives.
At Redactless, not only do we want to communicate accurate product impact to our customers, but we want to do it in ways that makes the most sense to regular people.
So once we decide on a product in Step 1, we dive into the numbers. In this case, we took the Life Cycle Analysis results from a report on cotton fabrics to come up with four base units of measurement that describe the most important environmental impacts of a T-shirt:
1) Pollution emitted from the production of one t-shirt (in kg of CO2, the most commonly used metric for air pollution)
2) Energy used to create one t-shirt (in hours/day of the average person's energy use, based on the global average of 58 kWh used per day)
3) Damage caused to the global environment from the production of one t-shirt (based on the ReCiPe scale, where 1.0 = the damage caused by one average European's activities)
4) Cost to repair the environmental damage caused by the production of one t-shirt (in $CAD, based on the eco-costs value ratio)
The units we selected here allow us to compare all of these factors in the same relative order of magnitude, which is important for the next step.
Note: The data we used from the above report excludes the delivery, use and disposal done on the customer side. This is called a cradle-to-gate analysis in the LCA world. This simplifies the analysis process, since we aren't 100% sure how our customers are going to use their products (we're working on that for new products in the future, though).
After crunching the numbers from the Life Cycle Analysis we reference in Step 2 and estimating the thread count (18/1) based on the weight of the t-shirt (6.0 oz), we found that the overall environmental impacts of creating one white T-shirt are:
1) Pollution = 0.90 kg CO2
2) Energy = 0.32 hours/day of energy
3) Damage = 0.12 of 1 average person's ecological impact
4) Cost = $0.42 CAD to repair the above damage
Now, if we add all these numbers together, we get 1.76 "impact units" per 1 t-shirt produced*. Broken down into percent, this equals:
1) Pollution = 51% of 1 t-shirt's impact
2) Energy = 18% of 1 t-shirt's impact
3) Damage = 7% of one t-shirt's impact
4) Cost = 24% of one t-shirt's impact
*This is an oversimplification, and we recognize this. Even though we're comparing apples to oranges, this is currently the edge of environmental impact research. As stated by the Danish Ministry Of The Environment, "Weighting factors have not been established worldwide". However, there is lots of research currently trying to figure out how to normalize these impact categories so they can be compared side-by-side in a fully accurate way.
Great, so now we have impact values in easy-to-understand units, based in percentages of a whole product. How do we design a T-shirt using these impact values?
By matching the percent impacts to the colour composition of each T-shirt's graphic. Our graphics act as a fashionable pie chart for each of the four environmental impact categories discussed above.
Take the graphic for Chef Ash's Popsicle T-shirt, for example. The 4-colour distribution of this graphic is exactly correlated to the impact percentages we calculated in Step 3. Just by looking at the T-shirt, you can tell that it took (relatively):
1) As many emissions as there is yellow
2) As much energy as there is red
3) As much ecological damage as their is tan, and
4) As much environmental cost as there is pink
To make 1 T-shirt. This is true for every T-shirt graphic across all colours.
This is how Redactless makes products that are Designed From Impact.