It’s Earth Month! Time to celebrate our beautiful green planet! Environmental sustainability is one of the 9 fair trade principles and there are lots of great fair trade products made from recycled, upcycled, and re-purposed materials. Matr Boomie, one of our artisan partners, takes sustainability to a whole new level though. In 2012 they issued a Sustainability Report and are the first fair trade wholesale company in the U.S. to publish such a report. What’s even more impressive is that Matr Boomie has created this transparent measure of sustainability across their entire network of over 20,000 artisans across India.
Matr Boomie’s mission is to do good for people and the planet by developing products that do not harm people or the planet, empowering artisans to have a dignified quality of life, working towards a zero-waste supply chain, and building a tribe of engaged global citizens. Below is a an image from their sustainability report showing their conceptualization of a sustainable product. One example would be the purse pictured below – it’s made of sustainable, no-kill leather and upcycled kantha quilt and it meets all the criteria for being a sustainable product!
Matr Boomie considers a product sustainable if it embodies four distinct qualities:
- respectful of people
- environmentally friendly
For every product they make, Matr Boomie considers:
- materials and production
- packaging and logistics
- use and care
- disposal/end of life
Using a scorecard like the one on the left, Matr Boomie determines the environmental impact of their materials. They use Indian Rosewood in many products like our popular Eyeglass Holder and Labyrinth Games. Indian Rosewood is a fast-growing tree, that grows locally near Matr Boomie’s production workshops so it scores well on the low impact scorecard.
In addition to the Indian Rosewood, Matr Boomie also uses recycled tin sheets to create hand-formed bells and recycled cotton scraps to create handmade paper products like journals and gift bags.
For an inside look into Matr Boomie’s Sustainability Report, we caught up with founder, Manish Gupta to ask him some questions:
With such a large network of artisans, how did you ever begin to try to measure the impact of your sustainability as a company?
We essentially measured the impact for each individual community instead of having one overall measure for the company. Every community is different and their challenges and impact are unique. The only way to measure it is to go in depth with each community and identify the work required. Averages in social aspect are hard to apply.
Can you tell us a little about the sustainability report from 2012? (i.e. what you learned, anything surprising, biggest areas for improvement)
The process of measuring impact has been a lot of work. It needs a lot of communication with artisans, understanding and interpretation. We realized though that a structure can help us be lot more organized and strategic in our approach to bring changes. One of the challenges in publishing was to build a report that is not too heavy. Something a layman can understand quickly but also have depth for folks that are interested. That is hard to do with social stories. Also realized from response of folks that such work has never been done. That was a surprise. This is not ground breaking science.
When people think of sustainability, they usually think of recycling, energy use, renewability, that sort of thing. But you also include the livelihood of producers. Can you speak to the importance of considering people as well as planet in your approach to sustainability?
Our vision is to create sustainable communities. For that environment and people go hand in hand. You cannot expect communities to support their environment if they don’t have sustainable sources of living. Environment goes out of the window at this time. Similarly communities without thriving nature are not sustainable. Early on we had decided that our work should support them both.
Now that it’s been a couple years since you released the report, how have you used it to make further improvements? What sustainability projects are you working on now?
The most important part was identifying the challenges for each community and work towards improvement. Another important use has been inspiring other companies to take on this level of measure and transparency. Our key current projects include literacy classes for women, women’s health, vocation classes for youth. Fun stuff!
Thanks so much to Manish for chatting with us, and to the entire Matr Boomie team for all they have done to create an impressive benchmark for the sustainability of fair trade companies and for their continued commitment to the health and well-being of people and the planet!