Our Research & Infographics
(shareable with attribution to Junket/Julie Kearns):
Our premise: when it comes to consumer emissions, small things (and changes) translate into rapid exponential impact through their cultural adoption.
Our goal at Junket is to #MainstreamReuse by removing barriers (cultural, legal, commercial, procedural) to the widespread and enthusiastic adoption of the most sustainable goods possible (the ones that already exist).
One such barrier? We are shockingly ignorant as to our (individual, collective, and/or organizational) use of limited resources. Our goal is to help institutions and individuals learn how to make informed choices through the learning of a mission-critical competency known as carbon literacy (alternative term: climate literacy).
Our data: These are our go-to sources:
- Manufacturing emissions for textiles: Stockholm Environment Institute’s Ecological Footprint and Water Analysis of Cotton, Hemp, and Polyester
- Manufacturing emissions for most everything else: https://www.epa.gov/warm/**
- Shipping/transit emissions: https://carbonfund.org/how-we-calculate/*
*Carbon Fund’s calculations are also based on EPA analysis, but we find this version easier to use than the government’s source data.
**Users of this data are encouraged to extrapolate WARM data: the emissions factor for steel can production, for example, may also be applied to the manufacture of steel beams or steel paper clips…
Short story: American consumption is a massive problem for the future of a livable planet. As a cohort, we have far more room to reduce our emissions – and, I’d argue – exponentially greater responsibility to do so based on both historical and present day emissions – than most humans alive on the planet today.
As a proxy for All The Things, let’s consider the humble paper clip:
If the manufacture of *paper clips* results in this many GHG emissions, can you even *imagine* how much of our collective ecological overshoot is perpetuated via the manufacture of anything and everything else?
HINT: 40% of US emissions are directly attributable to the production of goods. The US is second only to China in present day emissions (and China has 3+ times as many people as the US… the only nations with higher per-capita consumption are tiny middle-east nations with massive oil exports…).
Want the straight scoop? Our per capita consumption is astounding even *before* we account for the 25% of China’s ‘most in the world’ emissions that are created on account of outsized US demand for cheap shit (you know: anything with a ‘made in China’ sticker, and especially all of the stuff sold on Amazon that can get to your house from China for less than a dollar and free shipping? Yup. That’s the connection. Also, thanks to an obscure and historic postal arrangement, America is on the hook for reimbursing China for all actual shipping costs…
Think about it: Amazon is enabling the fleecing of the US government (and taxpayers) via the en masse sale of products like earwax pickers and all manner of intentionally short-lived plastic entertainment, with each item offered with a sub-$2 price point and ‘free’ shipping from a communist country halfway around the planet (but hey, YOLO, and these adhesive fingernail rhinestones are LIT…).
For the second half of our ‘paper clips vs the climate’ equation (would shipping emissions undo all of our carbon savings when sending those old clips to new places?), we contrasted manufacturing emissions for the most environmentally virtuous manufacturing method possible (using 100% recycled steel) against the transit emissions generated using three different standard US commercial shipping methods.
Here’s how that worked out for us (please note that there’s a *decimal* that’s hard to see when digesting the ‘by air’ section — and then consider that you can STILL get used paper clips halfway across the country – even on a PLANE – before approaching the emissions of the same product made using *the most virtuous manufacturing methods possible*).
Through that process, we learned that pound for pound, almost *any* used product can travel across the country repeatedly before approaching the manufacturing emissions of the same product made new, even when it’s been manufactured using 100% recycled materials. This holds true for everything except a few bulky construction materials (i.e. recycled asphalt shingles or heavy duty stone countertops) –and one long-haul transit mode: to consistently avoid doing more harm than good, always avoid putting those used products on an airplane (and even then, there are times when a plane + reuse is a better choice than buying something produced from 100% recycled materials, oh, say, in your own back yard).
This brings a whole new level of transparency to ‘Shop Local.’
For our second case study, we decided to do just that.
Amazon justifiably takes heat for refusing/failing to be transparent about their company’s emissions levels, so we decided to extrapolate what we *could* determine using publicly available data.
The resulting ultra-conservative spitballed analysis of empty cardboard boxes (yes, just the boxes) suggests that more than 4.5 million TONS of carbon dioxide are generated just via the manufacture, shipping, and one-time use of new cardboard boxes each year, by Amazon. We assumed all sales were US domestic (err on the side of caution). And while we gave them credit for using boxes made using 100% recycled cardboard for the purposes of this analysis, we know nothing about whether this is true in practice.
Even more compelling, Julie’s analysis here is SO conservative (including the use of average box dimensions no greater than 8″ on any side) that these 4.5 million tons of CO2-e per year could very well be attributable to just those cardboard dimensions that house nothing but empty space and puffed air packing filler. What does Amazon value? Clearly, not avoiding extinction for 1 million species (including homo sapiens), nor maintaining the only planet we know to be capable of hosting sentient life.
Even better? Take your business to sites where you can constrain your product search by condition (for example, ‘used’ on eBay or ‘vintage’ on Etsy…Amazon technically offers used items, but they’ve increasingly buried actual used goods from their smaller business partners beneath any and all Amazon new product returns. In addition, it appears they’ve decided it’s more profitable to skip the QC between return and resale: when our ‘dead on arrival’ rate hit 60% (and, of course, new packaging), we quit in protest of the company’s perpetually extractive decision-making strategies.
Of course, at shopjunket.com, our entire model is built to support carbon-informed commerce: knowing what we were up against (ahem), we took the time to understand the data so that we could both use it and share it for accurate (and ethical, and trustworthy) claims. Unexpected bonus: this expertise has made us better able to help our friends make better choices elsewhere, too.
If Amazon is The Only Place for That Thing You Absolutely MUST Acquire, you can still mitigate some of that damage by deliberately placing Prime orders via SLOW (4-5 day) shipping and/or from *local* warehousing only.
Why? Because putting things on planes = 10x more CO2-e than ground shipping. It’s bad enough already. Don’t let poor planning (or impatience, or your default selection) make things 10x worse.
You know what’s even worse than using public data to point out environmentally shady corporate conduct? Using an organization’s OWN publicly-shared, ‘look at us being transparent!’ data to confront their subsequent and ethically dubious attempts to spin data that’s clear about the direct connection between manufacturing and product emissions to *tell people they should buy more jeans and do less laundry.*
What we see when we want the numbers to support a specific sales target is very different than what we see when we are legitimate in our desire to understand and mitigate our adverse environmental impacts.
Julie built this data-based case for extending the useful life of secondhand clothing as a climate mitigation strategy using data offered by the Levi Strauss company in their own product lifecycle assessment summary statement (props to The Wayback Machine for keeping the original PDF available to the public after Levi’s removed it from their own web site earlier this year…).
How to read this (if you haven’t already figured it out)…
When using the above decision matrix to compare different purchasing choices (new vs. used, local vs. national, laundry frequency, etc.), these colors will help you quickly see trends:
- Turquoise = This is the control item for a given column’s analysis.
- Red = Much worse than: significantly more CO2-e emissions generated (at least 20% more) if this choice is made instead of choosing that column’s control item.
- Yellow = About the same as: not a statistically significant difference in impact (less than 20%) for better or worse when choosing between this option and the control item.
- Bright green = Much better than: significantly fewer CO2-e emissions generated (at least 21% fewer) when this choice is made instead of opting for the control item.
- Orange text block explains why ‘Recycle your jeans!’ incentives are a misleading sales inducement.
- Mint green text block explains how laundry habits are factored into the chart. This shows you at a glance which choices always result in significantly more emissions (red = much worse!), as well as which choices always result in significantly fewer emissions (green = much better!).
Time and again, we see that the most environmentally potent (and damaging) aspects of most product life-cycles all happen before said merchandise ever reaches the sales floor. The occasional exception involves replacing a low-efficiency/gas-run version of an old appliance or vehicle with a new, super-high-efficiency model (solar/electric). Otherwise? The virtuous choice is a no brainer: it’s consistently the best option to skip traditional retail, and choose to reuse.
You, too, can crunch these numbers!
If you’d like to learn how to analyze product data, we’d love to teach you!
Julie loves helping people improve their climate- and carbon competency, whether face-to-face in the Minneapolis metro, or via virtual connection anywhere else.
During your training, she’ll provide and explain relevant data sources, and provide rationale and strategies for building conservative, hard-to-challenge logic into your model. Come with a single product you’d like to analyze, leave with both answers and the knowledge you need to figure out others on your own.
Learn more about Julie’s private instructionals, corporate trainings, & lunch & learn offerings for this topic and several others right here.