Burberry’s Pam Batty, vice president of corporate responsibility at the luxury brand, who has seen the company through a decade of development, believes sustainability is a learning curve and those who learn are the ones who can really progress.
Getting her start on the supply chain side, Batty took on sustainability before anyone was “talking about sustainability,” she says. From helping the company implement wide-reaching emissions reduction targets — to even navigating controversy (over the brand burning millions in unsold stock in 2018), Batty has learned, if it’s one thing — all eyes are on sustainability now.
Many would not be up to the challenge, but the variety of the role is what keeps Batty excited about each day at Burberry.
WWD: What brought you into this role?
P.B.: When I started my career, nobody was talking about sustainability, certainly not within fashion. When I started working in fashion, I was really focused on sourcing and product development and that gave me the most incredible opportunity to travel pretty much all over the world for quite a number of years. It also gave me a real window inside the fashion and textile industry in this extended form and what was happening from an environmental and a people perspective inside those supply chains.
It grew and grew and grew. Honestly, for the last 20 years that’s what I’ve been working on.
WWD: What is your typical workday like?
P.B.: I spend an enormous amount of time working with the various functional leads and their accounts and their teams discussing progress, discussing strategies, discussing any areas of challenge, and that can be very diverse. I just had a call with our Yorkshire team, for example, talking about some of the engagements we have with our schools and this afternoon we’re talking about COP26 [the U.N. climate summit which will be held in Glasgow in November]. It’s very varied, but we have amazing engagement from our senior leadership team.
We have a sustainability steering committee [which launched in 2019], which is chaired by our chief executive officer, our chief financial officer is on there, our head of supply chain, head of ready-to-wear — all of the key players who can influence our ways of working and our sustainability agenda. We meet with them every six to eight weeks and bring different topics to discuss and base our future strategies on. There’s a lot that comes out of those meetings. Once we make a commitment to do something, then we have to put the plans in place in order to deliver that.
WWD: How have you contributed to the sustainability conversation in recent years?
P.B.: In my 10 years at Burberry, I think we’ve built really deep engagement in the topic and understanding of everyone’s roles. It’s through all of our people that we deliver on our agenda across retail and supply chain — people who are really helping to drive this agenda forward. I suppose internally, the knowledge and understanding of roles has grown dramatically.
The engagement and energy that we’ve put into our partnership with the United Nations Fashion Industry Charter for Climate Action is something that we’ve stayed very actively engaged with at the outset, and more recently the Fashion Pact, too, both of which are really starting to move the needle as far as the industry is concerned.
WWD: What about some of the negative press? Certainly Burberry has had issues in the past with unsold stock being burned.
P.B.: There are any number of things all the time that we’re working on — and there are always things we can improve upon, too. That’s a really good example, it shined a light on something. I’m actually really proud of how the business responded to that and came out with a really strong position, which we have maintained. It’s moved us forward enormously. I think you have to take good things out of things that, at the time, might be a little uncomfortable.
WWD: Coming out of Climate Week, what is on your mind as you helm Burberry’s broad-reaching sustainability aims?
P.B.: We made a big commitment [to] becoming Climate Positive by 2040. Our focus is on defining and setting that road map out to 2040. Obviously, 2040 feels like a long way away so, importantly, we’re setting interim milestones in order to make sure we keep our progress on track. We set a public target of achieving a 46 percent reduction on Scope 3, which is our [indirect] supply chain by 2030, so that’s not that far away, actually, so we have to build year-over-year plans to make sure that we keep on track, and we will report annually on our progress towards those publicly to make sure we are on track and not having some lofty ambition that’s decades in the future that is not very tangible.
Especially with all the interest and the focus around COP26 [the U.N. climate summit] coming up in a few weeks’ time now and it being in the U.K. as well, it makes it even more critically important that we move at some pace on this.
WWD: Burberry entered resale with The RealReal two years ago, what’s materialized there?
P.B.: It’s just a really interesting space. There’s so much happening with rental and resale, and we know our products remain desirable for quite a long period and very popular on resale sites. Something we’ve recently been working on is that after-care piece — how to keep our products used and loved by the customers who buy them for longer. Whether that’s by re-proofing a trenchcoat or restitching a bag, we’ve found that those are some of the ways we can make our products last longer and be ultimately more sustainable.
WWD: Does Burberry have anything larger planned on the resale front?
P.B.: Not really at the moment. We really put a lot of effort into keeping our products with the customers who buy them directly from us.
WWD: On that note, do you have a most loved Burberry piece?
P.B.: I do, and you’ll think this is odd, but it’s my military red lipstick. You’ll never see me without it on. I’ve got my favorite items of clothing, too, like this beautiful pair of black boots I bought a couple of years ago, but if I have to point to the one thing I love most it’s the red lipstick.
WWD: What’s your advice for those looking to pursue a career in luxury fashion today, perhaps in a responsible way?
P.B.: I think there’s two sides to that. I think there’s people who want to work in fashion and perhaps who have no idea of all the roles that exist in a company like ours, and then there are lots of people who perhaps don’t think of working in fashion, but I wish they do equally consider the extent of opportunities. We don’t have floors and floors of designers. My advice is really explore the different opportunities and find something that speaks to your passion.
WWD: What are you goals as we approach COP26?
P.B.: We’re heading for a pretty defining few months, not just with COP26 [the U.N. climate summit], but COP15 [the U.N. biodiversity summit that began Oct. 11 and runs till the 24th in China], in part this month, and moving into the next year on biodiversity. There’s a real light being shone on this topic, and it’s really important for the luxury industry that we’re part of that conversation and being ambitious and driving positive change. The luxury industry really needs to play its part in terms of that global debate.
That’s where all my focus and all my hope is to see real commitment but not just from business — from government, from consumers.