The urgent demand for climate action means that we need all hands on deck. Since the climate crisis impacts all industries, communities and ecosystems, it is a bipartisan topic. There is no longer an argument necessary to garner chief executive officer buy-in on sustainability: it’s a given. The question facing leaders of top organizations is: What can we do to be a part of the solution vs. the problem? We know why we need to ignite the charge, but where, when, and how can we empower our teams with concrete actions to take?
According to the Pulse of the Fashion Industry 2019 Update, the pace of sustainability improvements in the fashion and textile world has been slower than expected. It seems the consensus of presenters and attendees alike at the Copenhagen Fashion Summit this year was: a lot of talk and little action. The only way to meet critical global goals is to act together: we must be bold, we must be vocal, and we must activate and be held accountable.
1. Tie Compensation to Sustainability
Sales-based bonuses and salary increases may never fade away. But, more and more companies are shifting to link executive bonuses to sustainability. Initiatives such as streamlining product development or reducing energy inputs, positively impact the bottom line and should be incentivized. From a design standpoint, sticking to deadlines and reducing sampling does more than save time and money. It improves vendor relationships, worker well-being and the creative bandwidth to react to ever-evolving consumer behaviors. Investing in 3-D modeling software like CLO or Browzwear is an imperative piece of this shift. Change-resistant employees may need convincing to overhaul their habits: a year-end bonus may be just the motivation they need.
2. Go Public With Bold (But Attainable) Goals
Gone are the days of protecting every tidbit of our existing long-term business strategies. It’s time for a redesign of our thinking. Transparency, at the core of today’s consumer desire, is the name of the game in sustainability — and we cannot solve big issues like the climate crisis or global poverty on our own. So, if you’re aiming to phase out poly bags by 2020, let the world know. If you want to commit to ensuring a living wage for workers at your top three factories by 2022, say it. If you want to transition your fiber usage to 100 percent recycled or regenerative organic by 2020, broadcast it. It will not only propel the brand, but it will challenge other companies to keep up. Be warned, however, against boasting hefty goals without planning the requisite actions toward them. Consumers are quick to boycott greenwashing brands on social media with the rise of a call-out culture. Need inspiration? Check out the 2019 CEO Agenda published by the Global Fashion Agenda.
3. Publish an Annual Audited Sustainability Report
I’ve spoken to CSR teams who wonder aloud if anyone reads their sustainability reports. They do. Regardless, simply knowing internally where your company stands in terms of key performance indicators may be the most fruitful benefit of reporting by far. With an abundance of resources available like the Higg Index, the Global Reporting Initiative, the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals and the Council of Fashion Designers of America’s Sustainable Strategies Toolkit, there’s no excuse not to benchmark, set targets and analyze sustainability metrics. Reporting is one of the most meaningful tools for communicating results openly in our quest toward global change. Reading other companies’ reports can be useful for ideas on what to or what not to do — we can all learn from one another’s missteps.
4. Speak Publicly About the Importance of Sustainability (Talk the Walk)
This is the perfect segue toward open and authentic communication. The industry is transforming at such speed that our evolving systems are unrecognizable from where we were just a decade ago. That pace of change is actually continuing to accelerate. The efficiency of industry change (the rate at which we get things right the first time) can be directly attributed to outspoken leadership. Ceo’s who believe in, talk about, and promote unprecedented sustainability innovations and successes drive the needle forward. The more we talk about sustainability, the more it’s in the front of our minds in our decision-making, and the more it will be in the minds of our employees and business peers. I love keynoting and speaking on conference panels because I can share the decades of sustainability expertise I’ve garnered through riding the green tide and constantly evolving. I once faced tremendous resistance in my vision to revolutionize the fashion industry; but it’s a new day, one where it’s cool to be conscious. By modeling dauntless honesty, others are empowered to share their own learnings — and everyone wins.
5. Ensure Supply Chain Partners Are Like-Minded
Because most of us do not own or manage our entire supply chain, it’s vital to nurture relationships with supply chain partners who complement our values. When I first began manufacturing organic and sustainable textiles, I realized how complicated it was to source sustainably from farm to finished fashion — the grower to the sewer. It inspired me to start MetaWear, a plug-and-play solution provider that embeds sustainable value and values throughout a turnkey manufacturing process. It’s just what I had needed back then, but also just what people are looking for now: streamlined supply chains as opposed to fractured suppliers with different certifications and values. When everyone is on the same page, working toward the same goals and lifting each other, we all benefit.
Being a leader is not just about getting on stage. It’s about driving strategic, meaningful, and swift action. The world desperately needs a united front, built on internal collaboration and external “coopertition”— each and every one of us at every level must promote and participate in this movement. We have the ability to transform words into collective action by putting change on our organization’s agenda every single day.
Marci Zaroff coined the term “eco-fashion” and is an internationally recognized eco-lifestyle expert, educator, innovator and serial eco-preneur.