Does the End Justify the Means?

by Jeremy on March 4, 2011

In 2010, Atayne had a great year with our custom apparel program.  From Bowdoin College and the Army National Guard to Freedom’s Run and the Maine Track Club, we have found many organizations are actively seeking apparel made in a more responsible way (both for people and the planet).  Because of last year’s success, we decided to make our custom program a major priority for 2011.

Organizations are definitely attracted to our 100% recycled materials, made in the USA story.  We also saw a huge opportunity in promoting the product safety story of our products.  We thought a lot of races and events would want to buy apparel that has 3rd party certifications for human safety (all our yarns, dyes, and fabrics meet the Oeko-Tex 100 Standard).  Since races inherently attract a very health conscious audience, it seemed like a great story to tell.  This story seemed like a no brainer for races raising money for cancer (the Community Cancer Center shared this sentiment by purchasing Atayne tops for their 2010 Combat Cancer 10k Trail Race).

Alas, what we suspected does not seem to be true.  While we have a handful of events and races who are seriously considering Atayne for their 2011 apparel needs, many of the cancer-oriented events have decided to go in another direction.  The reason we are always given is cost.

I know cost is an important consideration for events, especially events whose mission is to raise money for a cause.  I also know that Atayne will never be the cheapest option. But, we don’t want to be the cheapest option: we want to be the safest option, for both people and the planet.

Very understandably, many events are focused primarily on price for their event-branded apparel.  What isn’t usually considered is the other costs that come with cheap apparel. When events are purchasing cheap apparel and other merchandise, they may be unknowingly contributing to a problem they are trying to solve (human health, environment, etc.).

Let’s consider the “other costs” of a couple of common event apparel items: 1) a conventional cotton volunteer t-shirt, and 2) a technical polyester participant top.

The conventional cotton in that cheap (probably $2.00) volunteer t-shirt took about 1/3 of a pound of pesticides to grow.  An event with 500 volunteers contributes to the use of over 165 lbs of pesticides.  Should the event consider the harm and potential cancer those pesticides could be causing for the workers in those cotton fields or even the people living near the fields who are exposed to the pesticides?

The $5 to $6 “performance” top was likely dyed with products containing carcinogenic heavy metals.  Should the event consider the harm and potential cancer those heavy metals could be causing for the people working in the dye facility, the people living near the dye facility where the factory pollutes the ground water, or even the wearer of the top?

But the questions don’t stop there.  If an event raises a few thousand dollars or even a million or more dollars for cancer organizations, is it worth it if their activities might lead to even one new case of cancer?

The most popular of these events sell out hundreds or even thousands of entries in minutes.  Should they consider raising the entry fee a couple dollars to purchase gear made in a more responsible manner, where the company making it actually cares about the health of the wearers, the producers and the planet?

I think anyone reading this would assume my answer to all these questions is yes.  Unfortunately, I think a lot of the people working on these events go by the theory that the end justifies the means.  Or maybe they just have a hard time getting their head around the “other costs.”  That is definitely a challenging task.  Here is one way to look at it.  The EPA estimates the value of a life lost to cancer between $9.1MM and $13.65MM.  That is a wide range, but here is the key takeaway.  Let’s take an event that raises $1MM for cancer research. If through the course of their activities they contribute to just one case of cancer, they are actually down somewhere in the range of $8MM to $12MM.  Does it even make sense for the event to exist?

I am not saying that all events should be buying Atayne apparel, although, I certainly would not complain if that were to happen.  There are several other companies that offer similar responsibly made products.  One of my favorites is fellow certified B Corp, TS Designs.  They focus on organic cotton and have one of the most innovative screen-printing processes out there.

What I am saying is that event organizers, especially those tied to an organization promoting human health or the environment, should base their purchasing decisions on more than just “What is the financial cost?”

So next time you consider entering a race, maybe ask the organizers if their apparel and other “freebies” have been proven to be safe for people and the planet?  If not, you might want to run the other way.

“Let no man turn aside, ever so slightly, from the broad path of honor, on the plausible pretense that he is justified by the goodness of his end. All good ends can be worked out by good means.”

-Charles Dickens

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Seeing “Hidden Costs” in New Light « Childress Communications
March 4, 2011 at 8:56 pm

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