From Cocoon to Silk Scarf, an Environmental Assessment

Linnea is a student of environmental science from Sweden. This afternoon she made a presentation highlighting what she observed during a recent visit to Little Flower weaving unit to assess the environmental impact of their work; IM Fair Trade, Sweden asked her to do the assessment.

We were a small group of available MESH staff, two interns and two artisans from a women’s society in S. India and what Linnea said had to be translated into Telugu and Hindi. But it was a great session bringing to our understanding the kind of things we all need to be looking at in our work.

The slide we all enjoyed the most was a flow chart explaining the activities involved in making a silk scarf one after the other with red arrows coming off wherever there were areas that should concern an environmental scientist. She explained to us that Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) is a technique for assessing the potential environmental aspects and potential aspects associated with a product (or service), by:

  • compiling an inventory of relevant inputs and outputs
  • evaluating the potential environmental impacts associated with those inputs and outputs
  • interpreting the results of the inventory and impact phases in relation to the objectives of the study.
So her chart mentioned the cocoons that come from Assam to Little flower and that transport might be by road or rail with the resultant emissions. Then the cocoons are boiled using gas…another little red arrow shot off calling attention to how much fuel is used, and what type and what was the likely impact; and so on through all the process from cocoon to finished scarf. It was easy for everyone to understand and think about and immediately after she had finished we asked for the cycle chart to be displayed again and the women from S. India wrote out their own chart for their craft.

Linnea has not yet completed her report but I asked her to include details of the national environment legislation as our initial goal will be that our suppliers comply with national environmental law. She also told me that overall she was amazed at how little use of finite resources there are in the process, with hand work and human energy being used in the majority of the activities. One possible cause for concern was the disposal of the dye water, she will be making recommendations on how that could be improved.

Mr. Mehtab is one of our staff who is originally from the lower Himalayas, after the presentation as we discussed the possible LCA for the weaving unit in Faridabad the question on firewood to heat the dye bath was discussed … “of course it comes from the timber shop said Narayan” only to have Mehtab tell him how the forests in his homeland are probably the source of the wood which travels down to Haridwar by river and then is hauled on trucks to cities like Faridabad….suddenly it all became much easier to understand.

It was a very good way for us all to learn how we can look at what we do from an environmental perspective. Linnea is leaving her LCA flowchart behind for us to share with other people in the coming year.