In the first half of 2020, the biggest effort around sustainable cotton, the Better Cotton Initiative, welcomed hundreds of new members, while the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s Jeans Redesign initiative tripled in size from 16 to 53 cross-industry players since launching in July 2019.
Amid a dizzying array of choices, it has proved challenging for fashion players to know which initiative to join.
“At Business for Social Responsibility, we are very much driving forward acceptance of the cross-industry frameworks, as for the others. It’s highly dependent on your goals as a company,” said Elisa Niemtzow, BSR’s vice president, consumer sectors and membership. The nonprofit advises fashion, beauty and luxury players like LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, Chanel and Kering on their sustainable business strategies.
At the end of the day, as Niemtzow stressed, “it’s knowing your supply chain — knowing all the players along your value chain,” a point echoed by Maxine Bédat, executive director of The New Standard Institute, a fashion-focused think tank that counts a robust advisory council across academia, fashion and business. Bédat and Niemtzow caution of the “duplicity” of efforts, as momentum builds.
While experts agree there is no one-size-fits-all approach to sustainability, they contend it is generally good to explore the existing initiatives as individual tools in a greater tool kit. Here’s a look at 10 initiatives gaining traction in fashion.
JEANS REDESIGN INITIATIVE
Jeans Redesign is a brainchild of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s “Make Fashion Circular” division that launched in July 2019 to push the denim industry to full circularity.
Aim: Minimum requirements are set across value chain partners on garment durability, material health, recyclability and traceability.
Signatories: There are 53 members, including brands like Gap, Reformation, H&M Group, Lee Jeans, Outland Denim, Frank And Oak; as well as manufacturers and fabric mills like Cone Denim and Denim Expert.
Differentiator: Covering the entire value chain, Jeans Redesign guidelines are specific, measurable and informed by more than 40 denim experts to set a precedence for circularity — with styles from brands already hitting the market. An an incentive, only compliant jeans will be granted permission to use the Jeans Redesign Logo.
ZDHC’S ROADMAP TO ZERO
The ZDHC Roadmap to Zero program started in 2011 as a means for transforming the fashion industry’s harmful chemical use, in response to a campaign started by environmental nonprofit Greenpeace.
Aim: The goal of ZDHC’s program is to reach zero discharge of hazardous chemicals across supply chains and product life cycles within garment and footwear production.
Signatories: ZDHC counts more than 100 members of its program including Esprit, Lenzing, Isko, Sustainable Apparel Coalition, Levi Strauss & Co., Kering and H&M Group.
Differentiator: Users applaud the program’s guidelines and method of stakeholder engagement, which increases accountability along the supply chain further aiding the greening of the textile sector.
THE UNITED NATIONS SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT GOALS
The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals were adopted by all United Nations Member States in September 2015 as a blueprint “to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity by 2030.”
Aim: Of the 17 total SDGs, there are concrete actions for combatting the hot-button issue of climate change, as well as for gender equality, decent work, reduced poverty and inequality.
Signatories: SDGs are used as a guide by more than 10,000 companies. Its newfound notoriety among the fashion business makes it difficult to identify a brand — be it Chanel or Patagonia — that isn’t aligned with the global goals in some way. In fact, it’s why the U.N. launched its Alliance for Sustainable Fashion to foster coordinated action between the fashion set and its SDGs.
Differentiator: Its holistic nature, mass-appeal and acceptance as an international standard gives fashion industry players at any stage of their sustainability journey the green light to adopt the SDGs.
THE FASHION PACT
The Fashion Pact was unveiled by Kering’s chairman and chief executive officer François-Henri Pinault in August 2019, ahead of the Group of Seven summit hosted by France in Biarritz. It follows the Fashion Industry Charter for Climate Action launched in December 2018 at the U.N. Climate Summit, which drew support from the United Nations and various working groups.
Aim: The Pact sets science-based carbon emissions reduction targets in line with a 1.5-degree Celsius trajectory, defined by the landmark Paris Agreement, which is the global blueprint for reducing temperature increases this century.
Signatories: Some 150 signatories signed onto the Fashion Pact, including Adidas, Burberry, Capri Holdings, Chanel, Gap, Giorgio Armani, Hermès International, PVH Corp., Prada, Ralph Lauren, Salvatore Ferragamo and Tapestry.
Differentiator: The Fashion Pact is organized by three areas: climate, biodiversity and oceans, which is unique among the existing climate pledges. Interestingly, some industry veterans say the group’s chairman adds more grip to the pact and could help align efforts.
15 PERCENT PLEDGE
Spearheaded by the Council of Fashion Designers of America member and Brother Vellies designer Aurora James, the #15PercentPledge launched via social media at the end of May as a call for equal representation of Black-owned businesses at major retailers.
Aim: The goal is to get retailers to devote 15 percent of their respective shelf space to Black-owned businesses.
Signatories: Already, Sephora, Rent the Runway, West Elm, MedMen, Vogue and Yelp have taken the pledge.
Differentiator: The pledge represents a measurable way for companies to diversify their purchasing practices.
B CORPORATION STATUS
Since 2006, the nonprofit B Lab has sanctioned B Corp status for companies across dozens of industries including apparel, footwear and accessories and retail.
Aim: B Lab creates a purpose-driven model of business that “creates benefit for all stakeholders, not just shareholders” and ensures corporations are held accountable to the B Corp certification and set of standards.
Signatories: As of September, there are 3,522 Certified B Corps in 74 countries. The fashion cohort is led by sustainability stewards like Patagonia and Athleta, with start-ups like Nisolo, Soko Inc. and Another Tomorrow also in the ranks.
Differentiator: B Corps are gaining increased trust in the industry and with consumers, helped in part by certified businesses sporting B Corp logos on their e-commerce sites. B Lab said B Corps were 63 percent more likely to survive the Great Recession because of that trust.
BETTER COTTON INITIATIVE
Global nonprofit Better Cotton Initiative leads as the largest cotton sustainability program in the world. Last year, Better Cotton alone accounted for 22 percent of global cotton production.
Aim: BCI aims to promote better cotton standards for the farmer and the environment, across 26 countries.
Signatories: In all, BCI counts more than 2,000 members. Most recently, Seven For All Mankind, All Saints and Tommy Bahama signed on.
Differentiator: Amid allegations of forced labor in the Xinjiang region of China this year, BCI set up an expert-led task force on “forced labor and decent work,” drawing on human rights and supply chain experts from civil society, retailers, brands and consultancies.
THE HIGG INDEX
Prior to spinning off into a separate for-profit entity last year, Higg Co. was part of the Sustainable Apparel Coalition’s suite of tools. Its investment today is in building out additional technology capabilities within the Higg Index measurement platform to better service the industry.
Aim: With an assortment of product, facility and brand tools or “modules,” the Higg Index aims to transform fashion manufacturing at scale by making sustainability measuring and reporting easier across the value chain.
Signatories: More than 250 members have joined the Higg Index, including Target, H&M Group and Patagonia.
Differentiator: Designed as a “holistic” set of tools, everything from social impact during manufacturing (employee treatment, worker health and safety, hours, wages) to environmental impact (emissions, energy, water and chemical use) is recorded.
For nearly 20 years, Vancouver-based nonprofit Canopy has promoted forest stewardship alongside businesses and their suppliers to develop solutions that protect ancient and endangered forests. Through its CanopyStyle wing, the nonprofit engages directly with 800 fashion companies.
Aim: Under this fashion-focused initiative, the goal is to help companies reduce, and eventually eliminate, rayon and viscose sourced from ancient and endangered forests.
Signatories: More than 320 brands, retailers and designers — representing more than $587 billion in annual revenue — have signed on to the commitment. Recent signatories include e-commerce titan Amazon which joined in June, as well as Target, Uniqlo and Burberry.
Differentiator: An expert in the field, Canopy audits the procurement policies of companies and works with them to craft and expand sustainable purchasing guidelines that are designed for permanence.
THE CFDA’S SUSTAINABILITY INITIATIVES
In January 2019, the CFDA launched its open-sourced Sustainability Initiatives to help designers do their part to clean up the fashion industry.
Aim: From certification to assessment strategies, the CFDA’s web-based Sustainability Initiatives aim to “centralize resources, stakeholder contacts, useful tools, relevant information and case study spotlights.”
Signatories: While not exactly signatories, the CFDA’s membership counts more than 500 members, among them Ralph Lauren, Donna Karan, Michael Kors, Marc Jacobs, Vera Wang, Yeohlee Teng and Virgil Abloh.
Differentiator: The CFDA’s information targets small-to-medium-sized enterprises and designers who may otherwise face cost restrictions and limited access to sustainability resources. One such guide, which was built in tandem with New York University’s 2019 Stern MBA graduates, details a comprehensive set of sustainability and financial key performance indicators.
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