Over the past few months, we've been exploring the environmental and social impact of fashion in an in-depth series, so we have our eyes peeled for budding trends. From reuse and upcycling to addressing supply chain worker rights, here are 10 that caught our attention.
Perhaps best known for certification in coffee, Fair Trade is a market-based approach to improving the lives of farmers and workers, protecting the environment, and delivering quality and safety. At its core, Fair Trade puts people at the center of sustainability.
Whether on a farm or in a factory, participants must adhere to rigorous standards, covering areas such as safe working conditions, grievance procedures, freedom from harassment, regulated work hours, absence of child labor, freedom of association and environmental best practices. As a result, workers make more money and feel empowered--but those aren't the only benefits.
Last month marked the one-year anniversary of Bangladesh’s tragic Rana Plaza factory collapse, where 1,129 garment workers were killed. This tragedy resulted indeed in significant steps taken by individual companies and European and American coalitions, aiming to improve the safety of the garment workers in Bangladesh and ensure clothing supply chains are more ethical and transparent.
Still, even with all of these efforts to build what H&M describes as “sustainable fashion future,” one question is still hanging out there: Can fast fashion really be sustainable?
Some wonder if it's possible for companies to grow while diminishing their footprints, but the latest Sustainable Business Performance Summary from Nike, Inc. proves it can be done. The summary outlined all of Nike’s sustainability achievements, which include impressive strides in energy, waste and water reduction.
Perhaps the most interesting takeaway was the company's emissions-reduction wins: By the end of 2013, the footwear company achieved a 13 percent reduction in carbon emissions per unit, bring it closer to its goal of a 20 percent reduction by 2015. The company also reduced carbon emissions per unit in Nike Brand footwear manufacturing by 17 percent from 2011 to 2013, and reduced carbon emissions per unit in inbound transportation by 29 percent from 2011 to 2013.
In theory, eco-labels can provide relevant environmental or social information about a given product to consumers to encourage an environmental goal or objective by shaping purchasing choices. At first glance, eco-labels seem like they could provide such useful information to shoppers, but opinions on their effectiveness have been mixed.
Released in July 2012 by the Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC), the Higg Index is a sustainability measurement tool that allows apparel companies to measure the impacts of their products across the value chain. Late last year, the SAC–a trade organization comprised of brands, retailers and manufacturers–announced an updated version of the index reflecting 18 months of development effort.
The SAC represents companies totaling nearly 40 percent of the apparel and footwear market, Executive Director Jason Kibbey told TriplePundit, and the index is already being widely adopted at all levels of the value chain, so its reach and relevancy is clear. As more companies jump on board, could the index inspire industry-wide sustainability standards?
As one survey conducted last year by Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Sloan Review and the Boston Consulting Group discovered, customer opinion is at the core of many of the green changes that businesses are making today.
“[Companies] are 80 percent more likely to increase collaboration with customers as a result of sustainability than are companies that did not change their business model,” say the authors. “They are also much more likely to collaborate with competitors, suppliers and across their own business units.”
But can customers’ green values and engagement in sustainability be enhanced by business strategies?
Today’s globalized economy and its extended supply chains, rising income inequality, and stagnant economic and trade conditions makes the preservation of worker rights more problematic and difficult. This is especially true for supply chains in manufacturing and retail apparel sectors. While it can be a challenge, some companies are taking the lead in moving supply chain worker rights beyond good intentions.
These days, clothiers as well as consumers are giving more thought to the end result of discarding used clothing. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, only about 15 percent of the 13 million tons of clothing and other textiles that are thrown away each year are recycled, turned into products like rags or broken down to be reused as sustainable fibers.
Thankfully, companies and organizations across the world are working to change that disparity. Some are incorporating sustainable feedstocks like recycled cotton and PET plastic, while others are making entire lines from upcycled materials.
Fashionistas now, for the first time, can see beyond clothing labels with the Fair Trace Tool developed by fair trade fashion retailer INDIGENOUS along with Worldways Social Media. This new tool, a QR code on hang-tags, offers transparency throughout the garment’s supply chain, including a glimpse of the artisans who actually made it and insight into the product’s social impact. The content is delivered in text, video and animated map format.
Enduring the threefold challenge of economic, social and environmental issues, cotton production is often implicated as unsustainable and subject to the allure and consequence of profit at all cost. But the Better Cotton Initiative is out to change all that.
The group's Better Cotton Standard is demand-driven and allows for capacity-building at the initial production stage. In-the-field training, support and measurement of production methods help farmers reduce environmental impact while increasing efficiency and productivity. Instead of being paid a premium for output of certified fair trade or organic cotton, small-holder farms, and indeed farms of all sizes, learn to better manage their cotton production and in the process increase their income.
Image credits: RawPixel and EVG Photos via Pexels
Mary Mazzoni has reported on sustainability in business for over a decade and now serves as managing editor of TriplePundit. She is also the general manager of TriplePundit's Brand Studio, which has worked with dozens of brands and organizations on sustainability storytelling. Along with 3p, Mary's recent work can be found in publications like Conscious Company, Salon and Vice's Motherboard. She also works with nonprofits on media projects, including the women's entrepreneurship coaching organization Street Business School. She is an alumna of Temple University in Philadelphia and lives in the city with her partner and two spoiled dogs.