Canadian Institute for Business and the Environment
Fisherville, Ontario, Canada
Tel. 416 410-0432, Fax: 416 362-5231
Vol. 17, No. 8, February 26, 2013


Our theme in this issue is the elimination of construction and demolition waste. The Forest Products Association of Canada is working to encourage appropriate partners, including architects and municipalities, to reduce the amount of wood going to landfill. The story makes interesting reading. CSA has standards and good practices for disassembly and adaptability of buildings as well as deconstruction: we bring you details. We look at why so many buildings are being demolished and how municipalities can encourage smaller buildings and better use of space. Vancouver actively encourages deconstruction of homes: maybe this is a model that other municipalities could follow. We share some ideas for tools for building deconstruction including knowing about and taking account of any hazardous materials the building may contain.

Building advocates, and, when it comes to homes, that includes almost all of us, should consider that the greenest building is the one that exists. But what does this really mean? An article in this issue shares some thoughts on this topic. Mission 2030 is a Canadian initiative not just to divert C&D waste from landfill but to end generation of C&D waste. We report on its launch. Superstorm Sandy created lots of C&D waste in New York City. We look at the data. An interesting new Canadian technology is helping to protect Manitoba from floods. We introduce you to the Amphibex. As most Canadian shoppers know, Target is moving into Canada. All of its 214 stores will be LEED certified, something which GallonLetter is prepared to consider a Canadian record.

In other news, we review a new book about those who make our clothes, inform you of the location of an Environment Canada consultation on the Federal Sustainable Development Strategy, and, in the context of the European horsemeat scandal, remind you of our previous story about racoons for dinner.

Finally, and on a somewhat different topic, our editorial comments on a flap that has arisen between the Marine Stewardship Council, one of the organizations that certifies sustainable seafood, and other marine experts. The lessons from this difference of opinion have broader relevance to many green product certifications.

MSC is not the only sustainability project that has come out of an industry - environmental group collaboration. Next issue we will review more such greener economy partnerships. Meanwhile, enjoy this issue and if you have comments please send them to We read them all and consider as many as possible for publication.


National Public Radio in the United States recently broadcast a three-part series on the topic of sustainable seafood. One of the articles in the series included a criticism, from other environmental groups, of the sustainable seafood certification program run by the Marine Stewardship Council. MSC certification is widely used in Canada as well as in the US and around the world. Although there are other sustainable seafood labeling schemes, MSC, a non-profit organization, claims that it certifies about 8% of global fish catches, making it by far the largest and almost certainly the best known such scheme. MSC was founded more than 15 years ago by the World Wide Fund for Nature and Unilever but is now independent of both organizations.

As we have noted in our GallonDaily reporter (see link below), poll evidence indicates strong support among US consumers for sustainable seafood. However, other environmental groups, including some with particular knowledge of ocean issues, are arguing in the NPR piece that MSC certification is somewhat misleading:

Biologist Susanna Fuller, co-director of marine programs at the Ecology Action Centre in Halifax, Nova Scotia is quoted by the NPR article as saying "We know ... that blue stamp [MSC logo] doesn't mean that you're sustainable". One of the certified fisheries is for swordfish off the east coast of Canada. The swordfish are plentiful, but the fishing industry is said to catch about five sharks for every swordfish. Some of the sharks caught are considered to be threatened or endangered. Though released, there is evidence that many of the captured sharks do not survive. That's where MSC and some of its critics disagree: do the released sharks survive or not and are there plenty of sharks in the ocean or not. Remember that sharks are a bycatch and are not themselves the certified fish. That honour, if one can call it that, belongs to the swordfish.

GallonLetter believes that the problem lies with MSC's use of the word 'sustainable'. In its response to the NPR series MSC states "A fishery cannot become MSC certified unless it scientifically demonstrates that it meets a performance standard level that represents at least a minimum level of sustainability." But sustainable is not a word that comes in various flavours. A fishery, to continue the current topic, is either sustainable or it is not sustainable. A little bit of sustainability is an oxymoron. What does minimum level of sustainability mean - that the fishery will be wiped out a little more slowly? That is clearly absurd.

Both critics and GallonLetter are also concerned that MSC puts a great deal of weight on the scientific process that it uses for certification without noting that in many areas of fisheries management there is either a lack of scientific information or controversy over the interpretation of limited information. It is inappropriate to interpret lack of science as a lack of ecological impact, even though work to fill the data gaps will take years and be very costly.

From a consumer perspective, seafood that is not certified by MSC (or, arguably, by one of the other certifiers) may or may not be from a sustainable fishery. It may be from a sustainable fishery but the industry utilizing that fishery may have chosen not to pay the fees and costs associated with certification. Seafood that is certified is almost certainly to have been caught using better practices ecologically speaking than many of the uncertified fisheries but the certified fishery still might not be sustainable. In fact, if sustainable implies zero ecological impact, there may not be such a thing as a completely sustainable fishery in just the same way as most human activities, including those labeled as sustainable, have an impact, and in many cases at least a partially irreversible impact, on the natural environment. If humans were not present on earth, the earth would be quite a different place.

From MSC's perspective the NPR flap should also prove instructive. In its response, MSC makes a number of claims which give GallonLetter pause. For example, in addition to the minimum level of sustainability issue, MSC claims that the certification process is open to anyone who chooses to participate but that lobbyists and special interests cannot sway the outcome. MSC grumbles that NPR did not include in its program comments from "the organization of fishermen who voluntarily entered the fishery into the MSC program." Who are the fishers, if not a very special interest?

Like most greener product certification programs MSC is not perfect and MSC certified seafood may not be sustainable. Even so, at least the MSC logo is setting a minimum standard and a minimum level of performance by fisheries. As we have suggested for other greener product logo programs, maybe MSC needs to revise its implied claim of absolute sustainability and to introduce a rating system that indicates to consumers whether a seafood product achieves a minimum, moderate, or high rating on MSC's assessment process. Without changes, MSC is likely to find itself under increasing attack as its certified seafood products are found to be less than sustainable.

Colin Isaacs

The NPR special series on sustainable seafood as well as the MSC response and other information can be found at Click on the article headings to open a text version of the broadcast as well as the original audio.

Results of a poll of US consumers on sustainable seafood purchasing habits can be found at



It is beginning to be not so unusual to find companies or their associations advising on how to use less of their product or how to reduce waste of their product. The message such as on energy conservation by electricity suppliers on the surface seems counterintuitive to the perception of corporate interest as it seems to encourage buyers to buy less. thus cannabalising sales. However, businesses are also finding that corporate action to protect  the environment attracts customers.  The Forest Products Association of Canada FPAC is among this group of innovators having created guides for various stakeholders, such as architects, contractors and municipalities who using or handling wood. The guides are entitled Don’t Waste Wood and are intended to help divert Canadian wood from landfills by, for example, reusing wood.

Canadian wood in North American landfills is estimated to produce 24 megatonnes of greenhouse gas emissions a year, equal to the annual output of 4.7 million passenger vehicles. Through FPAC, companies representing 2% of Canada’s GDP have set a goal for the Canadian forest products sector to be carbon neutral without carbon offsets by 2015.

Role of Municipalities

FPAC has also issued a guide for municipalities which are seen as having a unique role in influencing the management of wastes within their boundaries. FPAC has issued a “friendly challenge to municipalities across North America to achieve a target of 80 per cent wood waste diversion from landfills.”

As much of 40% of waste going to municipal landfills is from construction and demolition sources and wood is the largest part of the C & D waste, estimated in a number of US studies to be 31.5% of the waste stream. Waste streams from residential and non-residential (the industrial, commercial and institutional sectors) together contain about 7% wood by weight (not including yard waste) (Natural Resources Canada). The methane released by the decomposing wood is, over the long term, 25 times more damaging to the atmosphere than CO2.

Communities benefits by reducing waste wood in landfill. Reuse through deconstruction and recycling have twice the economic benefits of landfilling and the infrastructure for diversion provides a greater return with more jobs than the costs of a new landfill.

The value of the substreams of wood vary in value with pressure treated wood being the least valuable because of toxicity. The wood waste currently going to landfill is:
27% Untreated/Unpainted
24% Engineered
19% Painted/Stained
18% Other Wood
7% Pallets and Crates
5% Treated
Less than 1% Wood Furniture

Best Practices

Example of practices to reduce wood waste include:
Forest Products Association of Canada. Municipal guidelines for Successful Wood Waste Diversion in North America Website: Don't Waste Wood.


Designing buildings for disassembly and adaptability, known as DfD/A, in order to reduce landfill waste, use of natural resources and CO2 emissions is the goal of the Canadian Standards Association CSA-Z782-06 published in 2006 and intended for architects, engineers, planners and building owners. One estimate (Public Works and Government Services Canada, no date) is that about six million tonnes of solid waste are created in Canada every year through construction, renovation and demolition activities.

The guideline lists 14 principles of DfD/A including documentation of disassembly information, durability, and reusability. Adaptability principles relate to functional use of space and include versatility, convertibility and expandability. GallonLetter wonders whether some of these principles could have served us well when schools for the baby boomers were being built and now are being demolished just when those same baby boomers need supportive housing. Many tonnes of resources are being lost across the country as buildings are being demolished because schools are emptying.

Building Codes Rarely Reflect Environmental Standards

The two CSA documents, one a guideline and one a standard, were discussed at a conference on green design last fall. In their paper, the three co-authors, one of them Dwayne Torrey who has been a CSA contact for these documents, wrote about the gap to be filled in building codes:

"As public concern on environmental and sustainability issues has risen, so too has comprehension of the impact and interaction between the built and natural environments. There is a pressing requirement to promote sustainable development and, as a result of the increased
awareness and concern, a great potential for successful public acceptance of the required corrective and adaptive measures. This will require a modification to the conventional perspectives of standards and codes.

Traditionally, building codes and standards for design and construction have dealt primarily with the fulfilment of health and safety needs. Environmental and sustainability objectives are usually not addressed in building codes. Even the relatively inarguable necessity for improved building energy performance is inextricably linked to occupant-related health aspects such as indoor air quality and thermal comfort. Given the continuing increase in public concern over our environment and natural resource issues, and the maturing of the sustainable building industry, it is conceivable that building codes will one day address and include environmental and sustainability objectives."

CSA. Z782 Guideline for design for disassembly and adaptability in buildings. 2006. Overview.
[available for purchase]

CSA Z783 Deconstruction of buildings and their related parts. 2012. [available for purchase]

Kyle, Brian R,. Simon H.C. Foo and Dwayne Torrey. Standards Development Leading to Change in Design and Deconstruction Practices. in Proceedings of CIB (International Council for Research and Innovation in Building and Construction.) W115 Green Design Conference. Publication 366. Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina 27 - 30 September 2012. [search for part of paper title or Dwayne]


Why are so many buildings demolished was the question raised by a special issue of the peer reviewed journal Building Research & Information in 2011. Entitled Deconstruction, Demolition and Destruction, the issue looked at the social, environmental, cultural and health cost associated with those activities. Apparently there has been a surprising lack of research on how the built environment gets unbuilt. At the time Richard Lorch, Editor, Building Research & Information wrote, ""(Dear Gallon Environmental Letter) With the built environment playing a critical role in how we address the challenges of rising emissions, energy security and resource scarcity, why are so many buildings demolished? The topics of building survival and demolition are vital in any understanding of sustainability and the long term management of a significant resource. Until now, demolition has been seldom studied. A Building Research and Information (BRI) special issue addresses the phenomenon of demolition in terms of governance ('institutional regimes') that are a significant influence on demolition, and examines the conceptual and practical drivers for demolition and the social and environmental impacts."

Obsolescence as a State of Mind

In one of the articles, Netherland researchers (Andre Thomsen and Kees van der Flier) discuss how social and cultural expectations drive the perception that a building should be destroyed, sometimes even more than the physical state of the building. The goal should be to prevent buildings from becoming obsolete.

The researchers conclude that "Minimizing obsolescence and extending longevity are therefore indispensable for maintaining the physical, economic and societal investments." Avoiding demolition also is said to reduce CO2 emissions, resource use and landfill waste. Too often, they say, there is a mindset that old buildings should be demolished and replaced even though there are many cases for which demolition is an avoidable consequence.

Although obsolescence is named as a reason, many other reason enter into the complex factors for demolition such as land value. A matrix shows various reasons for why buildings might be considered obsolete: for example changing function especially for commercial buildings; urban blight may make the location of a residence less attractive; taxation; and behavioural reasons such as misuse by occupants or fashion e.g. the building hasn't the right look. GallonLetter notes the tendency to demolish buildings which have been the site of multiple murders. A survey of Dutch post war housing stock found four main key factors for considering a house obsolete: "design, construction, use and management, of which design was by far the main causal factor." Design of buildings for future space and structural flexibility is a key factor in longevity. Options for preventing demolishing buildings with such problems include: considering redesign, revitalizing the neighborhood, sometimes even moving a house might be a viable option to destroying it.

Thomsen, André & Kees van der Flier. Understanding obsolescence: a conceptual model for buildings, Building Research & Information, 2011 39:4.
The Editorial (which explains the context)
More information about the journal can be found at


Many building codes require a specified minimum number of square metres (feet) for living space especially for single family housing. Zoning bylaws restrict how many buildings/dwellings can be built on any particular lot. While such rules may have benefits, they also restrict innovative housing solutions which use less resources and land.

Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) are separate usually small living spaces in addition to the main house. Called granny flats, backyard cottages and sometimes built over the garage, in attics or basements they increase density. Portland waived development fees for ADUs. In Ontario, the term used is secondary units but this does not usually allow a totally separate building on the same residential lot  (zoning exceptions may exist e.g. extra buildings may be allowed for farm worker residence or a home for a farmer when offspring take over the main house.)

Portland Oregon waived Park System Development Charges on ADUs in 2010 to expire in June 2013. The waiver was extended to June 30, 2017. The charges ranged from $7,000 to $15,000 making the waiver result in a considerable saving. The size of the ADU is capped at 800 square feet. The number of ADU permits issued rose from 2.6 per month before the new policy to 12.8 per month in 2012. Lobbying is underway to get the city to adjust its SDC fee so charges are lower for smaller houses in general. The ADUs provide increased density, rental income making for more affordable housing as the rent helps pay the mortgage, allow for aging in place, offer more affordable housing for those who might not be able to afford larger places, and often restore neighbourhoods.

One of the Portland area builders of ADU units talks how the environmental benefit of size matters but so does performance. For waste reduction, a sample ADU uses framing so existing studs serve for all window and door openings requiring no extra framing. The sample ADU uses 20% less framing lumber than if framed conventionally.

Paid subscribers see link to original documents and references here.


Deconstruction has been discussed in Vancouver with at least one study reporting on the economic and environmental benefits in cities like Seattle, Portland, Chicago and Baltimore. In Vancouver an average of 750 homes are demolished each year. Demolishing a typical home produces 50 tonnes of waste, not including concrete foundation. Deconstruction can keep 95% of this waste from landfill or incinerator. Other benefits of deconstruction are lower energy use and greenhouse gas emissions due to more reuse of building materials which reduces extraction of resources, manufacturing and transport of new building materials.

If deconstruction is part of the project, the fee for waste disposal at the landfill or transfer station for material that cannot be reused or recycled is reduced by 50% for up to 15 tonnes. The deconstruction permit is expedited because it arrives faster than a building or development permit. Requirements to prove that deconstruction took place include:
"1. Track all work related to diverting or disposing of building materials. Keep your receipts.
2. Download the Deconstruction Compliance Report form
3. Fill in the form, and attach the receipts that show where the materials (lumber, drywall, and so on) went.
4. Submit the report and receipts to the City."

Paid subscribers see link to original documents and references here.


Construction waste is generally considered as non-hazardous but an increasing number of regulations require attention to be paid to hazardous materials during demolition or renovation. The CSA guideline and standard on design for disassembly and deconstruction do not explicitly address health and safety issues but say that these issues are dealt with by authorities which have jurisdiction. The US EPA has a RPP (Renovation, Repair and Painting) law which tries to improve safety, especially for children regarding lead (1). Separation of hazardous materials is usually required before construction waste is disposed of to solid waste landfills not designed for hazardous waste but this may not happen as regularly as it should. One of GallonLetter's associates was at a local waste transfer station and saw with some consternation pressure treated timber being ground up along with the leaves and yard waste already at the station: even if the finished product was used only as landfill cover, it is still toxic material. Although there may be rules about hazardous waste, fort example separating creosote treated hydro poles from building wood, there are likely to be more breaches than compliance when a state or city is in disaster mode, for example from storms in New York. Both the building materials and the contents of the buildings all become part of the waste.

Even when not in crisis mode, there are few records of what a building is made of. It reminds GallonLetter of a sort-of biodegradable pen sold in office supply stores which has a description on the package about which parts are biodegradable and which are not but since the pens are quite good pens they last for some time, one hasn't kept the box and the instructions don't seem to be readily available on any web site GallonLetter could find. If design for the environment takes off, each home will have a fire-safe storage unit (or a space on the Cloud) which holds the instructions for disassembly of the building and identification of hazardous materials, if any.

Flame Retardants: Fire vs Health & Environment

Among hazardous materials are flame retardants used in a range of building and construction products. To counter changes in tests for flammability such as in household furnishings in California, the American Chemistry Council an industry group, has set up the North American Flame Retardant Alliance which "works to support the use of flame retardants in the defense against deadly fires and in the preservation of life and property." Their position is that buildings today have many more flammable materials than in the past. The website lists how flame retardants are most commonly used in buildings:
Fires destroy buildings and kill and injure people yet flame retardants are being found in the water supply and evidence is mounting of harm to health and the ecosystem. GallonLetter notes that these are the kind of tough dilemmas that increasingly face our society.

Paid subscribers see link to original documents and references here.


Many historic buildings are demolished to make room for newer ones. A study a couple of years ago by the US National Trust for Historic Preservation reviewed how existing buildings stacked up against new ones. Among the findings were:
Some of the data mentioned:
The report recognizes the contribution of a Canadian person and organization giving "Special thanks to Pascal Lesage, PhD at CIRAIG, a leading LCA research group housed at the University of Montréal’s École Polytechnique de Montréal, for his technical review of this document."

Paid subscribers see link to original documents and references here.


Mission 2030 launched February 19 2013 at Evergreen Brickworks in Toronto is the Construction Resource Initiative's first “call to action for the whole industry to eliminate construction, renovation and demolition waste to landfill by 2030." CRI, a Canadian non-profit group based in Ottawa, Ontario was created in 2011 and is a partner in the United Nations Environment Programme-Global Partnership on Waste Management. In the document on Mission 2030, co-authors Renee Graton, Founding President of CRI and David Lynch, President, The Fios Group (self-described as market acceleration consultants) suggest that steps in the meantime should include "a fundamental re-thinking of how resources are used; promoting integrated design methods, minimal lifecycle impact based decisions and an immediate focus on the low handing fruit of the generally accepted waste hierarchy, while planning for the future."

Need for Change

According to the NAFTA Commission for Environmental Cooperation’s 2008 Green Buildings study, Canadian buildings account for
Case Example

In 2003, German construction and demolition activities created 214 megatonnes of waste (2/3 excavation, one third building and road demolition waste and the rest mixed construction site waste) yet only 15% of this was disposed to landfill and 85% was recovered and reused. German regulations address the whole life cycle of building materials with goals of a closed loop material system. Waste management and reduction practices are integrated into engineering and architectural education. The industry is proactive thus supporting the direction of the German regulation and is working towards zero waste production rather than just zero waste to landfill.


Among the tools needed are Specification guide/templates, Preferable Product Guide, Waste Management/Reduction Guide, guides to relevant standards, regulations, codes, certifications guide, interactive networking, a library for study cases, life cycle information, research and Green-washing Prevention Guide.

GallonLetter notes that the Evergreen Brickworks is a restoration of an old brick manufacturing plant from the mid 1800s, a good illustration that buildings can be adapted rather than torn down.

Paid subscribers see link to original documents and references here.


Major natural events, such as SuperStorm Sandy hitting the eastern seaboard of the US and New York City, illustrate the cross-cutting issues that affect waste creation.

Storm by the Numbers

When New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg wrote his blog on Hurricane Sandy Recovery on Nov 12, 2012, the statistics were:
GallonLetter notes that much of the tree debris was mixed up with buildings and other types of debris so when the tree wood was ground it is inevitable that there is some level of contamination in the wood.

Climate Change May Push Many Other Changes

The editorial and other observations in Nature magazine illustrates some of the issues that arose from the Superstorm:
Paid subscribers see link to original documents and references here.


Experience from previous storms influenced the decision taken by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to shut down early. This meant that trains and buses could be moved to higher ground and steps could be taken to protect equipment likely to be damaged by saltwater. Among actions taken were:
A serious problem was debris, downed trees and flooding on commuter rail tracks. Damage due to flooding of the subways was still devastating but buses started running within 24 hours of Sandy's landfall and a number of the subways were open not long after.

Metropolitan Transportation Authority. MTA prepares for Hurricane Sandy. October 26, 2012.


Sometimes preventing damage to buildings and infrastructure takes big resources. The Province of Manitoba, being in the interior of Canada, is unlikely to suffer anytime soon from sea surges but ice jams create dams which cause massive flooding on the flat prairie. The flooding is made worse because the Red River flows north bringing large amounts of warmer water into iced up sections of the river. The Red River Floodway, called Duff's Ditch for then Premier Duff Roblin and originally built in 1968 at a cost of $63 million, was barely able to deal with the 1997 flooding and received further investment of $110 million for flood protection in rural Manitoba. Subsequent projects total $665 million. But there is also the ongoing operations one of which uses an innovative Canadian technology.

Manitoba recently announced that its Amphibex icebreaking team is beginning around the clock work on the Red River. This year the ice is thicker than it has been in the last number of years, between 60 and 75 centimetres thick. There are four 24 ton Amphibex AE 400 icebreaking machines each costing over $1 million, seven icecutting machines and six amphibious transport and support vehicles; the heavy machinery is also transported to other areas. The ice is scored in a grid pattern and the Amphibex digs through the ice to make a channel. Then as the ice breaks up (hopefully) it flows away through the channel instead of jamming together in an ice dam causing flooding. The provincial fleet has the capacity to crush 25 km of ice each year. River users such as ice fishers and snowmobilers are told to heed safety warnings.

Quebec Manufacturer

The Amphibex 400 and some other heavier duty models are made by Normrock Industries of Terrebonne, Quebec. The boat-like excavators were originally designed for dredging and excavating not in ice but in water doing jobs such as installing marine cable or cleaning wastewater ponds where a machine that could move between solid ground and water was effective.

The company says the "The fruit of many years of research and innovations, the Amphibex 400 represents the ultimate environmentally sensitive machine by being able to work without disturbing marine and shore line ecosystems." It has a residential silencer to reduce noise from its operation and the hydraulic system also uses biodegradable vegetable oil to protect the environment. The website has pictures and videos which show the machines in action.

Paid subscribers see link to original documents and references here.


The Imperial Hotel designed by American architect Frank Lloyd Wright in Tokyo Japan has entered into legend because after the September 1, 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake, it remained relatively undamaged amidst a pile of rubble. In fact, other large buildings withstood the earthquake and some better than the hotel which suffered structural and non-structural damage, according to Robert King Reitherman, one of the authors of articles presented at one of the meetings (Turkey, 1980) of the World Conference on Earthquake Engineering, which also met in Canada in later years. Although there was worldwide protest, the Imperial Hotel was demolished in 1968; the reason given was that it was too difficult to repair: it was slowly sinking into the mud; settlement had been the primary cause of damage in the hotel in the earthquake and 45 years later, the rear of the central section had settled nearly four feet. Probably the most important reason was that it was a low rise, low density structure on some very expensive real estate in downtown Tokyo.

Although Reitherman challenges the myth somewhat by suggesting that the hotel was good but not outstanding for its seismic resistance, he suggests that Wright paid attention to key design features:
Reitherman lauds this great building for its multi-hazard design to protect against both fire and earthquake.

Paid subscribers see link to original documents and references here.


The retail giant moving into Canada from the US is promoting "Target’s long-term commitment to sustainable business practices" including integrating environmental sustainability of products, operations and building stores. In November the company announced that all of the 214 Canadian stores opening in 2013 would meet Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) certification with one of the goals to reduce waste to landfill. The U.S. Green Building Council’s (USGBC) LEED Volume Program streamlines the certification process for multiple buildings of a similar type and Target says it is the first retailer to apply the program.

Paid subscribers see link to original documents and references here.


Who are you wearing was a frequently asked question usually of women who were to walk the red carpet for the Oscars February 24, 2013. Many a designer is so eager to be the named person that they offer stars rich incentives to wear their gowns. The lifestyle of these rich and famous is quite a contrast to the garment workers described in a book by Kelsey Timmerman who would ask a different kind of question "Where are you wearing?" and more specifically "Where am I wearing?"

Timmerman, a freelance journalist, travelled to countries such as China, Cambodia, Honduras. Bangladesh and even America where his clothing is made, posing sometimes as a buyer because a reporter or a consumer is unlikely to be admitted into factories. He visited with, eat with and talked to all types of people, the garment workers, executives of national textile industry associations, farmers, factory owners, and hopeful entrepreneurs hoping to cash in on the burgeoning growth of clothing manufacturing in their developing countries. When Timmerman talks about who made his clothes he means someone a little different to the designers featured at the Oscars. Timmerman writes, "It's mind-boggling to compare the luxuries of our lives to the realities that the people who make our clothes face every day In the past, I didn't care where my clothes were made or who made them. And then I met Amilcar, Arifa, Nari, Ai, Dewan and Zhu Chan. Now I can't help but care. And I'm certain that the more you know them, the more you'll care too."

This book would probably not be found in the business section but by combining almost too vivid a view of dismal reality with the personal stories of people who try to live and raise their children while working endless hours for almost nothing, this author may do more for raising workplace standards than all the rest of us writing about the need for sustainable and responsible businesses.

In many ways the book tries to lean towards not being overly judgmental: the people who run sweatshops aren't necessarily evil lords but just trying themselves to survive in difficult circumstances; child labour may not be a good thing but the problem is that the poverty is so grave that unless children work, the whole family might sink. Sickness of a single family member can threaten the whole family. Boycotting clothing labelled Made in Bangladesh may not be the best solution.


The recent fire in a Bangladesh factory making clothing for Walmart is just one of many hundred such events that have resulted in the death of hundreds of worker. Many more are injured by unsafe working conditions. A 2010 fire in another factory where the exit doors were blocked to prevent theft of GAP children jeans resulted in workers being burned alive. Even if the retailer checks the factory of its contractor, there is a shadow chain of subcontractors with factories built so substandardly that some just collapse.

Arifa, The Garment Worker is the heading of Chapter 9 which talks about the textile industry in Bangladesh where 2 million people work as garment workers. When the author visited her, Arifa worked 60 hours a week for 10 cents an hour or $6 a week. Protests by hungry workers unable to feed themselves or their children led to an increase in pay from $24 to $43 but in those five years, cost of living had doubled so the pay bought even less than before. Her 18 year old son left to work in Saudi Arabia not to be seen again for at least the next five years so he can send half of his monthly pay cheque of $146 home. The girl children can't go to school because of poverty and with parents working long hours all girls are at risk..

In 2005, Jeffrey Sachs, Director of the Earth Institute wrote that the garment industry for Bangladesh was the path "in the next few years to put itself on a secure path of long-term economic growth." But Arifa lived on the sixth floor, the top floor of a concrete building with the "smell of rotten cabbage and shit" in an area rife with highwaymen and crooks, where the stairs look like they could crumble anytime, no railing and inside and out looks like it has been scarred by a huge fire. The room itself is mostly a couple of large beds, with cardboard for insulation on walls and roof, concrete floor, exterior wall of sheet metal with dimpled holes showing light from outside. The family has very little food, rice with some mashed vegetables (onions, potatoes, greens) but they share it with their visitor.

Timmerman writes that the electricity goes out and with it the single fan so the family puts him by the window barely covered with shredded curtains to catch what breeze might be cooling, "I look down on more tin roofs, rusted and holey, like the wall I lean against. It's a harsh, hard-to-imagine concept that on the sixth floor of a smelly, crumbling building, where 16 people share a single shower, I'm witnessing economic progress and the future of Bangladesh."

Hope Mostly in Engaged Consumers?

The book lists some initiatives which are helping. For example, one initiative which is helping is Bibi Productions founded by supermodel Bibi Russell whose company is said to help connect local weavers in villages in Bangladesh and India who don't know what sells and who to sell to in the global market. However, the author wishes most of all that consumers think more about not only what they are buying but how they relate to their community. Tips on becoming an engaged consumer include:
Timmerman, Kelsey. Where am I wearing A global tour to the countries, factories, and people that make our clothes. Revised and Updated. Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, 2012.


The Sustainable Development Office at Environment Canada is inviting Canadians to comment on the Federal Sustainable Development Strategy (FSDS), for the 2013 to 2016. Deadline is June 14, 2013.
Environment Canada. Sustainable Development - Public Consultation on Federal Sustainable Development Strategy.

Horsemeat on the Menu

As major firms such as the UK Tesco and the Swedish Ikea get hit with revelations that meat they sell as one species is actually another, GallonLetter wants to remind our readers that we wondered about the gap in food inspection a while ago. We had a story about a local hunter who came to our door to request permission to hunt raccoons which he sold to restaurants in a few towns and cities not too far away. In the article, we asked, "We wonder how often inspectors of food establishments check the species on the menu." Which of course raises the question, if there is unidentified horsemeat in those Swedish meatballs what else is in there.

Raccoons for Dinner. Gallon Environment Letter. Vol. 12, No. 3, March 19, 2007.


If you enjoy Gallon Environment Letter or find it useful for your work or interests, may we recommend the GallonDaily report. Found at , GallonDaily provides short articles and reports on topics of particular interest to green businesses. One article appears almost every day Monday to Friday - we recommend visiting at least once a week. Our real enthusiasts can also sign up for email notification as new articles are posted.
Recent topics include:
Copyright © Canadian Institute for Business and the Environment
119 Concession 6 Rd Fisherville ON N0A 1G0 Canada. Fisherville & Toronto

Send Letters to the Editor, for possible publication, to

All rights reserved. The Gallon Environment Letter (GL and GallonLetter for short) presents information for general interest and does not endorse products, companies or practices. Information including articles, letters and guest columns may be from sources expressing opinions not shared by the Canadian Institute for Business and the Environment. Readers must verify all information for themselves before acting on it. Advertising or sponsorship of one or more issues consistent with sustainable development goals is welcome and identified as separate from editorial content. Subscriptions for organizations $184 + HST = $207.92. For individuals (non-organizational emails and paid with non-org funds please) $30 includes HST. Subscription includes 12 issues about a year or more.