Through We’re Working On It, a platform dedicated to openness and self-reflection, we invite you to follow our journey as we work hard to become a less harmful company. We’re figuring it out as we go along, and we are by no means experts on the subject (yet). We will be as transparent as possible however and report both our successes and failures along the way.
As I pointed out in my previous post, we are not a sustainable company. We’ll probably never fully be. The harsh reality is that every product manufactured or service rendered comes at an environmental cost. However, this does not mean that we shouldn’t do everything in our power to reduce harmful impact in every way we can.
The latest calculations show that things are not going in the right direction. At all. Carbon emissions in 2018 are at an all-time high, according to the Global Carbon Project.
For Ace & Tate, getting our shit together meant that we first needed to understand our impact — both direct and indirect. Essentially, ‘direct impact’ results from the activities we have a high level of control over (like our offices and our stores) and ‘indirect impact’ results from all other activities (such as manufacturing and shipping our products).
As we don’t own factories, we work with our partners across the full value chain to eliminate harmful practices and reduce impact. Luckily, our value chain is relatively simple as we are, to a large extent, vertically integrated. We design our own products, we work directly with the factories and then we sell them through our own stores (our website and physical stores).
So, we got to work. Back in 2017, we set out to establish a baseline for Ace & Tate’s environmental footprint¹ that we could use to measure our progress against.
First, our sustainability team set out to find a partner who could help us do the math. Sustainalize fit the bill and having them on board guaranteed an unbiased report. Together, we decided that the first order of business was to establish a baseline: an internal document that quantifies our entire impact as a company. This document could then be used as a benchmark for all future activities, helping us understand what the most harmful aspects of our business are, and pushing us further to address them.
In other words, we stopped talking and got cracking.
Such a baseline analysis can show many different types of impact. Today, there are over 80.000 different variables that one can use as a basis for analysis. After careful consideration, we landed on five single variables that measure either an emission (what we cause) or rate of extraction (what we use):
- CO2 — equivalents, measuring the release of carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere (emission),
- Toxicity, measuring the release of toxic emissions (emission),
- Phosphate, the standard metric of eutrophication¹, measuring the impact on biological systems (emission),
- Usage of non-renewable resources such as oil, measuring how we impact resource scarcity for future generations (extraction),
- Water usage, measuring the impact on water scarcity (extraction),
We specifically chose these categories because they are commonly used by other companies, making them relatable to our key stakeholders (our partners, our own team and our customers). They’re also diverse enough to give the full picture of our footprint, helping us set a benchmark. We can then compare and reduce the impact of our products.
Before the baseline, we expected logistics — the shipping and handling of our products — to be the main driver of our footprint. Makes sense, right? Our frames are made in Northern Italy (Cadore region) and China (Shenzhen, Hong Kong region) then lenses are cut and assembled in Amsterdam and Bangkok, with the final step being the shipping to one of our stores or a customer’s address as the end destination.
But surprise, surprise: the results showed otherwise.
The largest impact came from packaging making up 50% of our total footprint. It kind of adds up when you think about it: our frames are small, and you wear them for a long time but our packaging (and there was a lot of it) was single use. We decided to act fast: we got rid of all the unnecessary packaging and we completely redesigned the glasses case.
- We moved from a harmful metal and oil-based polyurethane case to a protective metal-free pouch made from water-based polyurethane.
- We got rid of our pretty white paper box that the glasses and case used to be shipped in and separately, we replaced our single-use HTO-kit² with a multiple use version.
- We now ship an average of 6,000 boxes made of post-consumer waste per month.
As I mentioned in my previous post on sustainability, there is no magic bullet, no end-state. However, by taking many steps — some small and some large — we will improve over time.
Thanks to the baseline report and our partnership with Sustainalize, we understand our footprint much better and now know specific areas in which to improve. We’ll go into our changes to our packaging in more detail in our upcoming We’re Working On It-post.
Until that time, we invite you to join the conversation. Any suggestions, questions or remarks? Hit us up at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow We’re working on it on Medium to stay updated.
We will continue to share: successes, failures — warts and all.
Until next time,
In 2019, we will publish a Footprint Analysis and a Life Cycle Assessment we are working on together with our suppliers and Sustainalize:
- A Footprint Analysis quantifies the impact of our all direct business activities, such our stores and our headquarters in Amsterdam.
- A Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) quantifies the environmental impact of all indirect business activities by looking at the life cycle of the product including its carbon footprint: from materials sourcing, manufacturing and distribution to disposal.
¹ I’d like to mention here that we are not blind to our social impact — that’s something we are working on as well, and we will report about it. To keep things focused and understandable, we will start by talking about our environmental footprint.
² Enhanced growth of plants and algae caused by the oversupply of nutrients that can lead to reduced stability of the ecosystem.
³ Check out our Home Try-on Service