COPENHAGEN — Sustainability needs to sharpen up its act.

 

That was among the main messages from keynote speakers addressing more than 1,000 fashion industry delegates gathered at the recent Copenhagen Fashion Summit here. Participating brands were eager to prove that they are ahead of the curve.

“Conscious consumers are not tree huggers anymore, they are trendy fashionistas,” asserted Helena Helmersson, head of sustainability at H&M. The Swedish fashion giant is working to engage with its customers “to inspire and surprise” and demonstrate that sustainable materials and working methods do not equate to compromising on style or price, she said, referring to the brand’s Conscious and Red Carpet collections.

Organized by the Nordic Fashion Association, under the patronage of Crown Princess Mary of Denmark, the summit bills itself as the world’s largest industry-specific conference on CSR and sustainability.

Rossella Ravagli, Gucci’s corporate social and environmental responsibility manager, presented the brand’s soon-to-be-launched bio-based conceptual eyewear frames made from liquid wood with recycled metal hardware, with eco-friendly foldable eyewear packaging designed to reduce plastic waste, paper consumption and CO2 emissions, as well as its new certified Marola shoe collection that biodegrades in compost.

Executives highlighted the need for measurement tools to gauge the full environmental impact of textile production. Such tools would motivate change and improve business practices, and highlight the “cost tag” of a product, instead of just the price tag, according to Rick Ridgeway, chairman of the Sustainable Apparel Coalition and vice president of environmental initiatives at Patagonia. By making sustainability simply “the way things are done” is a commitment to change, he said.

Holly Dublin, special adviser to the chief sustainability officer at PPR, supported the notion of best practices, referring to the luxury conglomerate’s efforts to identify the environmental impacts of the production process. “Operations are the tip of the iceberg as the process itself creates the biggest footprint,” she said.

PPR’s recently introduced environmental profit and loss account, which places a monetary value on environmental impacts along the entire supply chain of a given business, allows each brand to map the benefits and damage of their actions on the environment and actively work to changing this.

Drawing parallels to the consumer-demanded changes regarding transparency and sustainability in the food and cosmetics industries, executives agreed on the need for a joint approach to increasing the scope and scale of opportunities within sustainable consumption and to engage and educate the fashion consumer through the use of product standards — for instance, guidelines and consumer awareness campaigns.

Søren Pedersen, head of networks at UN Global Compact, called for business communities to commit to establishing solutions for the future. Governments have traditionally played the lone role of “fixer” and engaging the private sector in sustainable consumption is an impetus for change, he said, urging companies to commit to a common code of conduct.

One such initiative is The NICE Consumer Framework for Achieving Sustainable Fashion Consumption Through Collaboration, a set of governmental recommendations designed to drive a holistic approach to fashion production and consumption through long-term, pan-industry involvement. Handed at the summit to the European Commission through the Danish EU Presidency, the framework builds further on the NICE (Nordic Initiative, Clean and Ethical) code of conduct for the fashion and textile industry, geared to motivating governmental and industry change for consumer sustainability. The initiative comprises 16 principles promoting ethical and fair trade within the industry and will be promoted at the Rio+20 UN Conference on Sustainable Development later this year.

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