Since 2006 Bonded Logic, an Arizona-based cotton fiber insulation manufacturer, and Cotton Incorporated, an association of cotton manufacturers, growers and retailers, have teamed up to change the final resting place for approximately 200 tons of unwanted denim from the landfill to new homes in the United States, in the form of denim insulation. The “Cotton. From Blue to Green.” (BtG) initiative, created by Cotton Incorporated, collects donations of denim from a network of American clothing retailers, college student organizations, community groups, the readers of National Geographic Kids Magazine, and more. Bonded Logic processes the collected denim into Ultratouch denim insulation, which is then donated to Habitat for Humanity affiliates in regions of the United States affected by natural disasters. The BtG campaign has developed over half a decade from a small, experimental donation drive to a major national-scale success, procuring 662,111 pieces of denim (typically denim jeans, shirts, or hats) and insulating 1,322 homes so far.
The product at the heart of this campaign is Bonded Logic’s Ultratouch insulation, a batt housing insulation made from about 90 percent recycled denim and 10 percent binding materials. More environmentally friendly than common fiberglass insulation, Ultratouch is free of formaldehyde and airborne particulate pollutants, and doesn’t itch to touch. It also qualifies for up to 12 LEED Credits.
Denim may sound a bit too flammable or rodent-friendly to make a good insulation product, but an EPA-registered borate solution makes Ultratouch as resistant as fiberglass to mold, fungi, bacteria, pests, and fire. Ultratouch also offers similar thermal and R-value performance and superior sound insulation, and is rated as a Class-A building material, though it is more water absorbent and expensive. One pair of jeans makes enough Ultratouch insulation to cover an area the size of a light switch faceplate; 500 pairs will insulate a house. And Bill Nye is fond of it.
The BtG campaign began in 2006 as a component of Cotton Incorporated’s Dirty Laundry Tour on college campuses. Cotton Incorporated worked extensively with student groups — especially public relations groups such as Syracuse University’s Hill Communications Club and chapters of the Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA) — to conduct student outreach campaigns, set up collection boxes and kiosks across campuses, and encourage donations of denim with retail coupons and campaign T-shirts. These efforts obtained twice as many donations as Cotton Incorporated had expected: 14,566 pieces of denim nationwide, converted into insulation for 30 new homes in New Orleans. For the month of April 2007, Cotton Incorporated ran BtG drives at five university campuses, procuring 4,000 pieces of denim. That fall, BtG expanded to 11 campuses and won the participation of Guess Jeans’ G by Guess specialty stores, which offered a 20 percent discount to customers who traded in their old jeans for a new pair at any of their 33 locations. BtG acquired over 36,000 pieces of denim in 2007.
In spring of 2009, National Geographic Kids magazine joined with BtG in a bid to set a Guinness World Record for Most Items of Clothing Collected for Recycling. The magazine targeted an audience of children ages 6 to 14 via consumer publications and mommy bloggers, celebrity donations and role models like 11-year-old Eco -Erek, who has collected around 10,000 pairs of jeans for donation over the course of the BtG campaign. National Geographic also encouraged donations through a coordinated social media campaign on Facebook, MySpace and Twitter, promoting videos, interactive graphics, and contests. They succeeded in setting the Guinness World Record, collecting 33,088 pieces of denim over four months. Added to the efforts of eight colleges and universities, and drives at jean retailers such as Vanity, BtG collected 180,000 pieces of denim in 2009.
Every Gap retailer in the nation, over 1,000 stores in total, participated in the 2010 drive, offering a 30 percent discount to customers who traded in old denim for a selection of new denim products. Gap alone acquired 320,000 pieces of denim. Similar donation drives at other retailers, workplace donation drives at several companies, as well as the participation of five colleges and universities, raised the total collection count for 2010 to nearly 400,000.
Cotton Incorporated has been somewhat overwhelmed by the success of their own campaign. They aren’t currently running drives–they’re distributing the massive amount of insulation they’ve produced through a newly created Grant Program. Architects, builders, or licensed contractors may apply for a donation of insulation through the grant program.
The BtG campaign has appealed to many of its business partners as a means to encourage sales of new product lines. A prominent example is Gap’s “Recycle Your Blues” campaign and promotion of their new “1969″ collection during the 2010 campaign. Gap’s involvement in BtG is part of the reason the company’s stock price increased by 56.46 percent in 2010, after a sluggish 2009 fiscal year. Beyond the retailers mentioned in this article, Bloomingdales, Lands End, National Jean Company, Rock & Republic, Saks Fifth Avenue have all been involved in the program at some point.
Interested businesses can contact Cotton Incorporated to get involved or partner with a similar initiative that is currently accepting donations, such as USagain. Cotton Incorporated estimates that they will begin drives again in late 2011.
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