Too important to be used for Greenwashing.
Sustainability is a term that is being used very frequently in the business world. Companies claim that their products are sustainable, their business operations are sustainable, and their goal is to be even more sustainable in the future. Sounds great but are you really?
The term sustainability was coined in 1987 in the UN’s Brundtland report, and its original meaning is “satisfying the current needs without compromising the future generation’s needs”. It focuses on the Triple Bottom Line: environmental, economic, and social. Consumers are looking for sustainable products and chose brands with sustainable business processes over brands that do not care. 72% of consumers under the age of 20 say they are willing to pay more to brands that are committed to positive social and environmental impact (Nielson) and 67% of consumers consider the use of sustainable materials as an important factor when it comes to purchase decisions (Mckinsey). Therefore, to meet the consumer expectations, brands label their products as sustainable.
Companies try to integrate sustainable business processes throughout their whole operations. From their offices, over their supply chain, to the ultimate product. Especially in the fashion industry, the push for being called a sustainable brand is massive. According to a 2021 report by the World Economic Forum, the fashion industry is responsible for 5% of global emissions. In other reports it is estimated to be even higher. Over 42% of Millennials and Gen Z’s shop in the resale market, and strong generational attitudes towards topics like climate change are a significant reason. An estimated 36bn items of clothing are thrown away each year in the US according to the 2021 Resale Report by Thredup. This shows how much of an impact on the environment the fashion industry has and that the consumers are aware of the problem and are looking for and expecting solutions. All of this to say, there is really no such thing as “sustainable fashion.” There is fashion that may have a relatively lower impact, but it is a matter of degrees, and the data collection has been so weak in this industry that it’s often even difficult to conclude that a product labeled “sustainable fashion” actually has demonstrably lesser impact.
There are multiple ways of how brands can further increase their sustainable efforts to decrease their negative impact on resources. Besides recent events that showed how vulnerable supply chains are, which easily results in product shortages and delayed deliveries, brands need to re-think their supply chain and only collaborate with suppliers with sustainable sourcing and operations. From the start to the finish line. Additionally, educate internally and externally about the topic and what is means to be sustainable.
Everyone has to do their part for all of us to reach our goals. Innovation and following sustainable concepts and business models can and should be used for the fashion industry:
- RECYCLED: Swap existing materials for sustainable materials.
- HIGH QUALITY & LONG LASTING: Create a repairable and long-lasting product with high quality materials that can be used over and over AND be customized.
- MODULAR: Create modular products (for example footwear) that can have parts replaced easily. Additional parts can be added or changed for performance and design.
- CIRCULAR: Often a product made of all one material that can be recycled as one piece and made again. Resources and products stay in use as long as possible before being recycled or regenerated into new products repeatedly.
- UPCYCLED: Use existing materials to make new products.
Unfortunately, some brands use the term sustainability for greenwashing where in fact only a small part of their products are sustainable. If you are not fully committed, don’t label yourself as sustainable because it decreases the value and effort of companies that integrate sustainability to their core principles of operations.
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