Ryan Chin Thesis Defense

August 31, 2012


MIT Media Lab (E14-633)


This thesis examines the environmental benefits created by the manufacture, distribution, and consumer use of products that are mass customized (MC) or produced “on-demand” and tailored to individual end-user preferences. Traditional mass production (MP) models take advantage of economies of scale by efficiently producing multiple copies of the same standard product. However, this also creates waste throughout the product life cycle. The waste of stocks, transportation, overproduction, and non-actuality (markdowns and disposal due to inability to move products in time) pose a problem for manufacturers to achieve financial and environmental sustainability. Studies have found that the textile industry can lose approximately one-third of total revenue ($300B) a year due to waste alone.
The men's dress shirt industry serves as a comparative case study in this research, demonstrating the trade-offs between MC and MP methods and enabling evidence-based environmental decisions by manufacturers and consumers. In addition to an examination of the carbon footprint created by the manufacture and distribution of MC vs. MP men's dress shirts, this study includes experiments to understand, in detail, the environmental consequences of shirt acquisition and consumer use. Experiment participants are provided coupons to “purchase” two new dress shirts (one MC, one MP), which are embedded with washable and dry-clean proof RFID tags. A RFID tracking system deployed at the entrance and exit of the participants’ offices collects data over a period of 60 working days to determine overall utilization patterns. Armed with this “post-transaction” information gathered by this tracking methodology and ethnographic findings (information that manufacturers often lack), this thesis provides an evidence-based guide that takes into account the environmental benefits of both MC and MP models to enable manufacturers to produce more sustainable products and consumers to practice “Responsible Consumerism.”

Host/Chair: Kent Larson


Alex (Sandy) PentlandFrank T. Piller

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