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Eco-Hero: Mona Ohlendorf

April 2010

By Alexander von Mollard, Berlin

Mona Ohlendorf studied fashion design in Amsterdam and Berlin with her thesis on the environmental and social problems caused by the textile industry. She holds lectures on Cradle to Cradle* marketing and is a fellow of the Environmental Protection and Encouragement Agency (EPEA). In 2009 along with two friends she founded Common Works, a studio which outputs eco-fashion but also acts as a consultant agency for young fashion brands that want to work sustainably.

Alex: Where do you get the cloth for your production?

Mona: I work together with external suppliers such as Trigema. They are leading in biodegradable materials which perfectly fits my manufacturing philosophy. They developed a “Wellness shirt” recently, which is made out of cotton and is 100% self-compostable. Even the pigments they are using for printing can be recycled.

Alex: Along the lines of your business, which brands do you think can be considered truly “green”?

Mona: I am convinced by the work of the dutch fashion label Kuyichi. Their organic denim jeans are the result of an elaborated production chain which covers all aspects from fair trade to sustainable tailoring.

Also, I like the mission statement of London-based designer Katharine Hamnett, who did research on pesticide poisoning in cotton-growing areas and, as a result, completely relaunched her line under stricter ethical guidelines, including manufacturing and agricultural practices.

Alex: Do you see progress in the sporting industry?

Mona: The “Nike Considered“ line is a good example of how sustainable concepts gain more and more weight on the market. Based on the C2C-idea, paired with innovative approaches like using water-soluble glue or soles that that can be upcycled, they are definitely going in the right direction.

Alex: What about green technologies in the household?

Mona: I've never tried it but I heard that Philips presented a very eco-friendly vacuum cleaner which, in terms of wattage and construction (50% from post-industrial plastics and 25% bio-based plastics), seems to be an eco-friendly product worth buying.

Alex: Where do you shop for your everyday consumption?

Mona: When shopping in Berlin I prefer the LPG markets. They really have huge variety of organic food and beverages. For fresh products (e.g. eggs or milk) I also visit the Turkish neighborhood markets around Kreuzberg and Neukölln or organic farms in the country. The immediate vicinity plays a key role here as it helps to keep transport charges and energy low. Sometimes you even get interesting eco-products at the nationwide discounter chains such as Kaiser’s or Lidl. I’m not too dogmatic with that. It is always a question of one’s personal financial circumstances, so I don’t blame anybody in case of buying real organic products or more greenwashed brands.

Alex: Which products are a no-no for you?

Mona: There is no specific product that I wouldn’t buy, as I keep my purchase decisions on a day-to-day basis. However, I don’t buy canned drinks. I always try to buy products that come in recyclable packaging. I was a bit surprised that Bionade - a popular organic drink in Germany - now added PET-bottles to their assortment. PET is still a double-edged sword**, so people should discuss openly which aspects of personal, sustainable consumption matter the most to them. There is no green product par excellence but many factors that form it.


*Cradle to Cradle Design is a biomimetic approach to the design of systems. It models human industry on nature's processes in which materials are viewed as nutrients circulating in healthy, safe metabolisms. It suggests that industry must protect and enrich ecosystems and nature's biological metabolism while also maintaining safe, productive technical metabolism for the high-quality use and circulation of organic and synthetic materials.

**The plus is that these bottles are very handy to carry as they are lighter and less fragile than glass bottles. Therefore you can transport huge amounts of them while keeping energy consumption low. During the recycling process they are shredded and used again to produce new bottles or as a surrogate for polyester fibers. The disadvantage is that they usually contain plasticizers. Most of the bottled beverages (especially those with a carbonic acid base) are able to dissolve and absorb them, however, there is a small chance they might affect the endocrine system. This is considered an impurity and is why many eco-shops don't sell them.


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