United Nations, academia

Asking the fashion industry to define a holistic vision of sustainability is likely to garner a mixed response, and as progress becomes slowed by “trade-offs” — the key is synergy. But how to achieve that exactly?

Within the last few months, a McKinsey report titled “Automation and Economic Disparity: A New Challenge for CEOs” projected widening economic disparities in the U.S. between high-growth cities and rural areas. The #lowestwagechallenge rippled out on Twitter to prod fashion companies to expose how livable or unlivable their wages are across their global value chains. More specifically within the luxury sector, fashion groups such as Kering, LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton and Prada Group have each recently convened stakeholders to bring the topic of sustainability to the forefront.

Unfortunately, there is no win-win scenario in sustainable development, but there are better decisions to help companies to close the gap between the United Nations’ “supremely ambitious and transformational vision” under its Agenda 2030 (including the 17 sustainable development goals), and the current reality. Best practices will involve taking a more discerning view of the interlinkages between each of the sustainable goals.

According to independent researchers, the ambitious goal of eradicating poverty may be a good starting point.

A Berlin-based research team comprised of Christian Kroll, founder of the social impact search engine Ecosia, and Anne Warchold and Prajal Pradhan of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research set to connect the dots, essentially predicting the causation, either negative (trade-offs) or positive (synergies), that exist by pairing off the Sustainable Development Goals.

Researchers Unpack Trade-offs in the SDGs

For example, the researchers looked at how focusing on poverty (SDG 1) will impact clean energy (pairing SDGs 1 and 7), good health (pairing SDGs 1 and 3), and so forth.

The research was published by Palgrave Communications on Nature.com and examines the last nine years within the scope of a global community using the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals Index and Dashboards database.

According to the research, “The first SDG [no poverty] will have the most synergetic relationships with other SDGs on the way to 2030.” Other goals such as good health, affordable and clean energy, decent work and economic growth as well as industry, innovation and infrastructure are also likely “to have significant synergies with the other goals.”

There is a “worrying finding,” since with numerous SDG interactions, “synergies are diminishing and trade-offs, as well as non-associations, are increasing,” as stated in the report.

As countries aim to lift millions out of poverty while providing much-needed health care, research will need to go into identifying smart solutions so that an affordable, clean and scalable energy supply is a reality — and not just in developed countries.

The researchers uncovered “both an imperative and incentive for the latter to step up their technical and financial efforts” to aid lower-income countries.

It’s not so far off of the collaborative work and consideration needed in the fashion industry whereby global enterprises and start-ups, which exist on the same playing field — but with vastly different experience, resources and expertise — can partner and mutually gain.

A Rising Tide Lifts All Boats

PC Chandra, fashion industry executive and advisory board member at Alante Capital, explained the importance of collaboration to WWD. Alante Capital funds companies that aim to radically improve social and environmental sustainability in the textile and apparel industry.

“Brand collaborations and partnerships are the opportunity for a fashion brand to leap-frog sustainability-oriented incumbents,” Chandra said. Naturally, this goes deeper than a surface-level interaction.

“From an operational standpoint, these partnerships are the opportunity for non-sustainable fashion brands to learn the ‘tools of the trade.’ For example: Where can a brand cost-effectively source sustainable fabric? The brand can tap into its partner’s supplier base, versus investing in the costly exercise of scanning the market and evaluating new vendors or even worse duplicating the research and development to innovate the same fabric. These collaborations are also an opportunity for the fashion brand to avoid the pitfalls of adopting sustainability investments that first movers may have made in their pioneering journeys,” Chandra said.

Both parties can gain from collaboration.

“The right sustainable brand partner has an undisputed and established authority and credibility in the sustainability space. So whereas investing in sustainability solo is a ‘1+1=2’ equation, investing in sustainability with the highly buzzed about pioneers in the field like Eileen Fisher or Stella McCartney is more like ‘1+1=10’ in setting credibility with the consumer,” he said.

Recently, the UN Women USA New York chapter held an event with Abrima Erwiah, Eileen Fisher, Gabriela Hearst, Karina Givargisoff, Neri Oxman and Tracy Reese to raise funds and awareness toward equal opportunity for women.

Read Fresh Takes on ‘Sustainability’ – Except Call It Ecology

In convening these six women entrepreneurs with a mission-oriented business, the conversations highlighted the need for synergies across industries, especially as it relates to achieving the environmental ambitions set forth by the Paris Agreement and other frameworks.

One in which women uniquely have taken a leading role despite being lesser represented in leadership roles in the fashion industry.

For More Sustainability News, See:

Green People: Queen of Raw Gives Life to Fashion’s Deadstock

Never Before Seen at Scale: Ralph Lauren to Digitize Its Entire Product Line

Polyblends Can Now Be Recycled at Scale, Södra Says

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