WWF and National Geographic ask: 'How much stuff do you need?'

Jeremy Hance
February 04, 2013

Seven billion people inhabit the planet and all require food and water, but less than one percent of the water found on the planet is fresh and accessible and 70 percent of that goes to growing crops. Meanwhile temperatures are rising worldwide due to the overuse of fossil fuel energy. Given these issues, a new series of videos by WWF and National Geographic, entitled Make Choices Count, aims to get people thinking about the environmental impact of commonly used items. The first video (see below) focuses on one of our most ubiquitous items: the cotton T-shirt.

"The more we know about our world and the impact of our choices, the more we can change it. The main goal here is to teach people how to think, not what to think," Jason Clay WWF’s Senior Vice President of Market Transformation told mongabay.com.

The video makes clear that there are any number of ways to reduce one's environmental footprint: hanging a T-shirt on a line instead of using the dryer or simply washing your shirt less frequently will both reduce your water and energy footprint. But the video also asks an even more fundamental question: how much is necessary?

"How many t-shirts does one actually need? I used to travel and my kids asked me to stop bringing them T-shirts. They didn't need any more and they didn't always like them," Clay says. "So, what I took away from this is that if you don't wear a T-shirt in six months, give it to someone who needs it and will wear it. Share the wealth. Does anyone need more than 10-15 T-shirts? I looked recently and found that there are nearly 40 in my closet and clothes chest. That is way too many."

However even with the video's focus on cotton—which was once King—Clay says today cotton makes up less than half of the material used for clothing with synthetic fabrics replacing cotton in many cases. But, when it comes to environmental impact, one can't simply decide between cotton or synthetic.

"To make meaningful choices, we need to be able to make apple-to-apple comparisons. So, if you want to know whether cotton is better than synthetic on a finite planet, you need to think about the impacts and trade-offs for each material. Think about how much water, but also, what are the GHG emissions, what pesticides are being used in production, what soil erosion will result. Then there are the social issues--which created more income for more people, more jobs, etc.," he says, adding that "None of these issues are black and white. They are all grey."

Clay, whose 2010 TED Talk on how big corporations could save biodiversity has been viewed nearly a quarter of a million times, says that WWF and National Geographic are planning at least 5 more mini-videos in this series.

"We're finalizing some of the concepts now, but we know they will include a video focused on waste, and another on palm oil and noodles," he notes.

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Jeremy Hance
mongabay.com (February 04, 2013).

WWF and National Geographic ask: 'How much stuff do you need?'.