How much does a t-shirt really cost?
According to Dr. Kate O’Neill, associate professor of strategic leadership, too often we answer that question with the price of the shirt. She held up a shirt that she said retails for $9.97 at The Gap.
But, in shipping, environmental disposal, carbon footprint—that shirt is an economic reality beyond its price. I’m not sure of the analysis that led to the figure, but O’Neill pegged the real cost of the shirt at 70 cents above its purchase price.
And that doesn’t sound like much, but we live in the a country of more than 300 million souls and each of us owns multiple t-shirts. The hidden cost of just one shirt for each of us amount to a $210 million hidden tax on society—the costs of land-filling the shirt, for example, are borne by all of us and not the maker nor consumer of the shirt.
That was one illustration of the nature of the sustainability problem in economics O’Neill outlined in her talk “Global Social and Economic Sustainability: Supporting Environmental Practices” Oct. 22.
She spokes as part of the Mount Mercy University Fall Faculty Series “Sustainability: Human/Nature & the Future of the Earth.”
It’s an important series of talks that continues Nov. 1 when Rachael Murtaugh, director of sustainability and stewardship, speaks on “Iowa Lands and Water.”
I suspect part of O’Neill said may foreshadow the final presentation in the series Nov. 19, when Dr. Tracey Tunwall speaks on “Addressing Consumarism: The Life-Cycle of Stuff.”
One point O’Neill made, that I suspect Tunwall may come back to, is the idea of a “circular” economy that mimics nature. After all, nature doesn’t really have any waste products—what one biological entity leaves behind always becomes raw material for another biological entity. Nothing is wasted.
That’s the true sustainability model O’Neill pointed to. And it was interesting to hear of an industrial community in, I think, Denmark that comes close to that ideal—with numerous manufacturers each utilizing the waste from some other facility.
It was an interesting night. As I left, I turned on my lights and enjoyed an almost full moon lighting the streets as I pedaled home. And I was thinking circular thoughts as the wheels went round and round.
More of my images on Facebook. Some members of the audience listening: