How much does a Sustainability strategy underpin the overall business strategy? During the financial crisis of 2008, those businesses that survived had reviewed their operational practices with a keen eye.
Headcount was reduced, recruitment was frozen and discretionary spend had to be reduced to create a reasonable bottom line. At GreenEarth Cleaning, we would be talking to manufacturers and brands about promoting green dry cleaning on their care labels, and although there was no cost to this, sometimes the answer would be something along the lines of “as much as we’d love to, sustainability isn’t a priority right now, we’ve got to save our business.”
Realistically, this was a sign of not being prepared for the crisis rather than not being on board with sustainability. As a result, many brands leaned from this and have taken steps towards a greener recovery, ensuring that Sustainability IS business.
The signs have been there with the increase of sustainability roles, and also the integration of sustainability led objectives built into core roles. There has also been the advent of different organizations that focus on sustainability and ethics topics, performance measurement, and key initiatives.
Different organizations have held conferences that have focussed purely on the topic and some events where sustainability has featured on the agenda. The topics within events have also been diverse, from sustainable garment aftercare to modern slavery to leather garment production.
A survey carried out by Drapers in 2019, gave an excellent insight into the state of play in terms of the company’s actions, requirements from government, and consumer expectations.
It stated that 91.6% acknowledged that their customers are showing a growing interest in environmental issues, whilst also acknowledging that to achieve a more sustainable product (and all that involves), the consumer will have to tolerate more expensive prices to achieve the common goal. Brands and manufacturers still have a way to go in terms of creating focussed sustainable ranges, but they are on the increase, with brands also including a higher proportion of recycled materials in the product and packaging.
Encouragingly, over 80% of respondents believe that sustainability is important to the senior leadership team and just under 60% said that their firms are investing more into sustainability compared to the previous year. There is a focus on how the government can play its part. One of the main features is about education, with the possibility of ensuring that alterations and repairs skills feature heavily on the national curriculum. Certainly, a large amount of the skills provided to businesses who offer these services, come from other parts of Europe. How these U.K. skills gaps are filled post-Brexit, remains to be seen.
Over 70% of respondents felt that there should be ‘Mandatory environmental targets for retailers with a turnover above £36m’ and over 60% agreed that the government should use the tax system to incentivize ‘re-use, repair, and recycling’. In addition, it was felt that there should be a reduction in VAT for repair services.
So, how intact will sustainability strategies be, as we hopefully begin the dawn of a new era, starting the unmeasurable recovery from COVID-19?
Since the new normal of the pandemic, GreenEarth has run several webinars on sustainable aftercare, which have all been well attended and the feedback suggests that there is an appetite to adopt a more sustainable way of caring for clothes.
Also, brands and manufacturers are still adding style codes to the list, where GreenEarth is recommended as the preferred form of garment aftercare. And certainly, a lot of the content for other webinars has featured sustainability and ethics to some degree.
And on the political spectrum, there appears to be early signs of cross-party agreement (at committee level) to see the “new normal” brought about by the pandemic, as a ‘golden opportunity’ to find sustainable solutions for certain industries.
There are many angles to the sustainability of the fashion industry, and it starts with all of us. A big part is indeed aptitude, but another significant part is attitude. Let’s keep the momentum going!