I was recently assigned a paper in which I thoroughly analysed the “lifecycle” of a product I use regularly. It included information about the raw materials that are sourced to construct the product, what happens when the product is disposed of, and every stage in between. The purpose of this assignment was to determine how much a particular product influences a person’s overall ecological footprint. I chose to write about my Birkenstock sandals and it was eye-opening to see the impact they have on the environment.
Despite being a company that prides itself on its supposed sustainability, its ecological footprint was still fairly large. The production process includes: the release of greenhouse gasses while shipping raw materials thousands of miles to factories in Germany; the reliance on nonrenewable energy to mix, bake and assemble parts on a continuous loop; the use of toxic synthetic fibers and compounds; and ultimately, the product’s slow biodegradation rate once sent to a landfill by the consumer. These are just a few of the parts of the product’s “lifecycle” that have an adverse effect on the environment. While Birkenstock does take measures to increase its sustainability, and succeeds in comparison to many other mainstream shoe companies, it is apparent that there is significant room for improvement.
This assignment has heightened my awareness of the impacts of all the products and goods I encounter everyday. It is so easy to get caught up in the “magic” of our society of consumerism, in which products seem to appear on store shelves infinitely and abundantly, and not think about how much goes into getting them there. We buy; we use; we throw away; and then we buy again without thinking twice. As my study of Birkenstocks demonstrated, even products that seem to be sustainable on the surface have greater environmental impacts than one might assume.
I encourage you to take thirty minutes to research a product that you use regularly. Look into its raw materials: from where they’re sourced; who produces them; how far they travel. Find out what the production process entails and who is working in the factory. It is so important to realize the environmental and social impacts that are inevitable at every stage of a product’s “lifecycle”. By becoming more knowledgeable about what we consume, we can start to make more conscious choices and lower our own ecological footprints.