Sustainability is hot, and fashion brands want in. But becoming “sustainable” is a challenge for many, as the catch-all term for going green encompasses a broad spectrum of moving parts, many of which are seemingly difficult to identify and implement.
By the numbers, sustainability is trending up: Self-described ‘sustainable’ apparel in stock across 52 global retailers has grown by 139 percent from 2016 to 2018, according to data from Edited. Vegan products grew 116 percent, bamboo is up 36 percent, and recycled products increased by 35 percent.
“Fashion is playing catch-up,” says Nancy Cleveland, the cofounder and ceo of Sustrana, a software solution that streamlines sustainability needs for businesses. Sustrana eases the process of becoming sustainable for brands wanting to pivot by directly addressing the full scope of needs and homing in on all of the particulars, such as its built-in “issue assessments” for biodiversity and land use, materials management, climate change, customer health, and management for energy, water and supply chains. The full breadth of the platform even expedites processes for more nuanced objectives — its “policy governor,” for example, supplies well-researched templates to help brands draft management and operational policies for sectors such as human rights and waste management or a carbon neutral shipping policy, respectively.
Here, Cleveland talks to WWD about the increased demand for sustainability, market dynamics and the ins and outs of Sustrana.
WWD: How is Sustrana’s sustainability solution differentiated in the market?
Nancy Cleveland: Sustrana offers the most comprehensive sustainability software available in the business-to-business market. It is a management system that covers the full range of sustainability needs from single projects to multi-year plans that are tied to company-wide strategies, goals and metrics. The platform includes broad-based and industry-specific education and templates to support this work. This is further complemented by a robust repository of sustainability articles and how-to guides.
WWD: What’s driving the demand for sustainable solutions in the fashion industry? Is it led by consumers, brands or both?
N.C.: Fashion is one of the most resource-intensive industries in the world. The requirements of clothing and textile manufacturing include natural resources, water, oil, pesticides and other chemicals, transportation, and other variables long recognized to be bad for the environment and the people who come in contact with them. Making the problem worse is the large size of the fashion industry — $600 billion globally. Fashion is playing catch-up with other sustainability-challenged consumer industries such as food and automotive.
The increasing demand for sustainability in fashion is being driven first and foremost by consumers and their resulting influence on brands to dig into business models and their supply chain practices and processes. Manufacturers are facing mounting pressure from their stakeholders to take advantage of financial and other risk-mitigating benefits of sustainable practices. Sustainability is becoming an increasingly important variable as consumers make fashion-purchasing decisions.
WWD: Would you describe some of the challenges and opportunities facing your clients?
N.C.: Some of the challenges our clients have faced include creating long-term orientation, comparisons with competitors, and the reputational and market risks of not being sustainable.
We’ve also noted additional concerns such as the cost and availability of raw materials, difficulty of collaborating and coordinating sustainability across an entire company and its suppliers, and stakeholder pressure from investors, boards and other governing bodies, employees and customers. There’s also the threat of harmful public policy, increased regulation and proliferating sustainability rankings and reporting standards.
Conversely, brands have a real opportunity to convert their supply chain to more sustainable business practices and implement a more innovative, longer-term approach to product development and technologies, inclusive of the circular economy. [By implementing a sustainability solution], they can create service-led versus product-oriented business models, build further trust among employees and other stakeholders and bring about positive culture change.
WWD: What are some of the KPIs this technology addresses? What ROIs can be expected after implementation?
N.C.: The Sustrana platform provides numerous benefits for sustainability teams. They realize process efficiencies, enjoy streamlined capabilities for stakeholder collaboration and integrating sustainability across a company, and build institutional knowledge about sustainability for greater innovation. KPIs in Sustrana are flexible and dynamic. Companies can create whatever metrics they choose to track. They can also tie metrics directly to goals and generate milestone-based progress dashboards. A few of the KPIs we’ve implemented include materials consumption; percentage of recycled input materials; energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions; water consumption; percentage of water recycled and reused; waste streams, and compliance.
ROIs for sustainability work vary widely depending upon the industry, company/organization and sustainability project or initiative. Quantitative ROIs from efficiency, productivity, and employee attraction and retention projects are relatively easy to measure and track using the Sustrana cost/benefit analysis and metrics tools. For other sustainability projects, qualitative considerations such as stakeholder relations, improved market share, and brand reputation are key objectives and more difficult to gauge. The software provides education and tools to help users construct, document and measure reasonable assumptions about the value of sustainability activities like these.
WWD: Are you noticing any other trends in the market?
N.C.: Across industries, more and more brands are paying closer attention to working with suppliers to ensure Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) best practices. An increasing focus on how business efforts are linked to progress on achieving the global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), has been noted, as well as artificial intelligence. AI is in its infancy, but is starting to play an increasing role in how companies are improving efficiency, developing new products, and addressing challenging environmental and social problems.
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