Fast Moving Consumer Goods & Sustainable Fashion
Input from a Workshop on Sustainable Fashion in cooperation with: Kiwifalter, ScandinavianHealth, &LadyMondegreen and Bona Buni
Contribution by Tove Schränkler, ScandinavianHealth
24. September 2020
From the 20th to the 26th of September, the annual German Sustainability Days were taking place. It is part of the European Sustainable Development Week.
In order to make a change it is not about making an effort for only one week, but the idea is to create a momentum for a change in habits and to increase awareness.
My background is in business and I am a nutritional therapist. With regards to sustainability, my focus is on our food systems and food sustainability. I am offering my services to smaller businesses within the food industry, but also passionate about reducing waste at home.
Let me just give you a few inputs on Food & Sustainability before I move on the todays topic, Sustainable Fashion.
- Food production accounts for 25% of greenhouse gases – the gases responsible for global warming.
- It is though that 33% of food is unnecessarily wasted and households accounts for a large part.
- The UN Goal is to reduce food waste by 50% by 2030.
- The impact private households would have if this is achieved, would be equal to a 2% reduction in GHG.
- This is almost as much as the GHG caused by airplanes. It wouldn’t even be a sacrifice to rescue this food from the bin.
If you want to know more, you can visit my blogpost on food waste or my instagram account; @sustainability_health.
Below you will find inputs, questions and many links to interesting sources and more reading about sustainable consumption. I hope you enjoy the reading.
You can not talk about Sustainable Consumption without talking about Sustainable Fashion
Is fashion and sustainability really compatible? Isn’t the aim of the fashion industry to sell as many clothes as possible? With the entry of Zara, fast fashion really became a concept.
An increased awareness of climate change, resource scarcity, pollution, and social inequality is causing manufacturers and customers to adopt different behaviors.
Businesses and governments are increasingly being held responsible. There is a need for positive, sustainable change and adaptation to growing global concerns and shifting landscapes.
The private sector is increasingly becoming involved and as individuals, we can show businesses and governments what we want by making sustainable choices and encourage positive change throughout our society.
Sustainability and environmentalism is not the task of NGO’s and some crazy activists anymore. It is becoming mainstream.
My motto is, every little helps. Nobody can change the world, but everyone can do something.
This is why I don’t buy the defeatist argument;
What does it matter if I save some ‚fuel, electricity, plastic, etc.‘ it is all too little and my contribution is just a drop in the ocean. No, it isn’t – every little helps and what you do will have an impact, it gives a signal to others – it creates awareness. It shows that you care.
UN Sustainable Development Goals and The Paris Agreement
What is the Paris agreement and what is responsible consumption?
Sustainability is not only about recycling and green energy, but also about social responsibility, i.e. fair working conditions, and access to health and education.
The Paris agreement is a voluntary agreement that most countries in the world (195) have signed. The goal is to limit the global temperature increase to 1.5 C by 2030. And by 2050-2100 net GHG should be 0. In order to achieve this, the UN outlined 17 goals.
As you might be aware, the US wants to leave the agreement. However, single US states are still committed to the agreement. i.e. California.
In addition a large number of big corporations are voluntarily committing themselves to following the agreement and adopting the UN goals, even though it is not put into legislation or regulations.
What are the most important goals if we consider consumer goods?
Goal 8: Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all.
Goal 12: Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns. (For more detailed information, see below). *
Who is involved?
Sustainability is complex, global and interdisciplinary. In order to achieve the goals it is necessary to engage in multi-stakeholder collaboration. It means that governments, businesses, consumers and the finance sector needs to work together – across borders. Businesses also need to collaborate with NGOs.
Governments might be slow to implement changes and might be driven by conflicting goals. Economic stability, environment, balancing budgets, reelections, etc.
Businesses carry a responsibility towards shareholders, employees and customers, but are increasingly becoming aware that to be competitive in the future, they need to adapt. Changing environmental factors are increasingly becoming a threat to businesses.
There are three main categories of business behavior:
- Business as usual (i.e. do nothing – risking to lose competitiveness, seeing sustainability as an inconvenient cost-factor)
- Big business & corporate responsibility – business case, image, long term strategy, commitment, (understanding that system-thinking and long-term strategies are needed to validate being a responsible participant in a global complex system)
- Use company as platform for campaigning (social entrepreneurialism) – e.g. Patagonia or FairPhone (https://www.fairphone.com/en/)
At Patagonia it all started when the employees got sick – the ventilation system could not cope with the formaldehyde in the cotton of new t-shirts. Instead of buying a new ventilations system, they changed the product. Patagonia initiates initiatives to get other people on board and use the company as an activist platform.
„Initiatives takes place at grassroots level and at companies, not governments“: Yvon Chouinard, Founder of Patagonia.
„Private companies account for 60% of the global GDP, 80% of the financial flow and about 90% of the global job creation. It has the funds, it has the people, it has the technology and, I think, it is in businesses’ interest is to embrace this.„ (Paul Polman, co-chair, World Economic Forum and former CEO of Unilever)
Rana Plaza and ethical production
The building collapse at Rana Plaza in Bangladesh really changed the way fast moving consumer goods companies were held responsible for working conditions in the countries they produced in and responsibility has moved to include the whole value chain of a company.
Rana Plaza led to International pressure from customers, better access to finance mechanism, improved supervision, advise against price bargaining and more empowerment for workers.
Initiatives: E.g. Ethical Trade Initiative (voluntary) ETI – https://www.ethicaltrade.org
Trends that can be seen:
- Voluntary criteria are becoming regulatory
- e.g. California Transparency in Supply Chains Act – https://oag.ca.gov/SB657
- UK 2015 Modern Slavery Act *
- Technology is moving to more transparency, e.g. clothes tracking
- Workers gets more voices, e.g. yell platform, social entrepreneurialism
The Transparency in Supply Chain Provisions require businesses that have an annual turnover above a threshold (£36 million) to confirm the steps taken to ensure that slavery and human trafficking are not taking place.
Consumers behavior and awareness is shifting. Consumers demand more information, they are asking for sustainable products.
Fast Moving Consumer Goods – Fashion
What is Sustainable production?
The creation of goods and services using processes and systems that are: non-polluting; conserving energy and natural resources; economically viable; safe and healthy for workers, communities, and consumers; [and] socially and creatively rewarding for all working people. If production is sustainable, then the environment, employees, communities, and organizations all benefit.
(Lowell Center for Sustainable Production, n.d.)
What is green growth?
What is growth? Can we have growth at the expense of social and environmental welfare? We now realize that this is unsustainable. By 2030 it is believed that we by continuing the pattern that we now have, will use up the annual planetary resources twice – i.e. 2,0 planets.
Green growth takes social and environmental aspects into consideration. Not only economic.
„Green growth means fostering economic growth and development while ensuring that natural assets continue to provide the resources and environmental services on which our well-being relies.“ (OECD)
We see a shift from a linear economic model to a circular economy, where the materials stay in the product chain and waste is greatly reduced.
Footprinting and Impact – How much resources are used up in the production process?
- 1 toothbrush = 1,5 kg raw material
- A4 paper = 10 L water
- 90% of raw materials = waste
- 80% of products are thrown away < 6 months
- 1 mobile has 40 elements
„It becomes very important to talk about what happens in production, because over 90% of natural resources are tied up in the supply chain. The purchasing power and power to influence is to a large extent centered at production level. This is why I also think that the responsibility lies to a large extent with the big companies.“ (Paul Polman).
Polman also questions if the purpose and position in the market place for a company that only maximizes profit for its shareholders is a valid one.
- Design out waste and pollution
- Keep products and materials in use
- Regenerate natural systems
More and more companies are embracing the circular economy model. Thankfully it is not something new, but has been an integral part of many companies strategy for 20-30 years. However, there is stills much that can be done.
When talking about the circular economy, it is also common to come across the term, closed-loop system.
To find out more about the circular economy concept, go to the Ellen MacArtur Foundation Website.
Under a closed-loop system, businesses reuse the same materials over and over again to create new products for purchase. It’s a way to conserve natural resources and divert waste from the landfill, and increasingly, more companies are adopting it.
A“closed-loop system” is “an industrial system that is restorative and regenerative by intention or design,” (World Economic Forum’s definition).
E.g. iPhones components used to be glued together and thus the raw materials could not be recycled.It is necessary to be able to separate materials. Now we are increasingly able to ‚mine‘ materials from discarded products.
Biomimicry is a practice that learns from and mimics the strategies found in nature to solve human design challenges. The approach is: ask nature. You will find many really interesting facts about how we can learn from nature on the AskNature Website.
E.g. by using a technique copied from nature the company Colorifix, managed to reduce water usage by 93% when dyeing black.
Initiatives and Collaborations
Sustainability is complex and can only be achieved through global cooperation between and across industries, governments and NGOs. Some of the initiatives are;
Fashion for Good
Fashion for Good is a collaboration between companies in the industry who works on common sustainability goals.
„Fashion is stuck in a pattern of ‚take-make-waste’……we buy 60% more clothing than we did 15 years ago — but we keep each item only half as long……… nearly 60% of all clothing produced ends up being burned or in landfills within one year of being made.“
„The fashion industry can transform from the linear ‘take-make-waste’ model to a circular Good Fashion approach that is restorative and regenerative by design.“
The Better Cotton Initiative
The Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) is a global not-for-profit organisation and the largest cotton sustainability program in the world.
BCI aims to transform cotton production worldwide by developing Better Cotton as a sustainable mainstream commodity to make global cotton production better for the people who produce it, better for the environment it grows in and better for the sector’s future.
In the 2018-19 cotton season, 2.3 million BCI Farmers received training on more sustainable farming practices and produced 5.6 million tonnes of Better Cotton – that equates to 22% of global cotton production.
BCI’s specific goals:
- Reduce the environmental impact of cotton production
- Improve livelihoods and economic development in cotton producing areas
- Improve commitment to and flow of Better Cotton throughout supply chain
- Ensure the credibility and sustainability of the Better Cotton Initiative
For a complete list of companies, who are participating, go to:
Consumer Goods Forum
´The CGF is the only organisation that brings consumer goods retailers and manufacturers together globally. It is a CEO-led organisation that helps the world’s retailers and consumer goods manufacturers to collaborate, alongside other key stakeholders (e.g. NGOs).
CGF wants to drive positive change and help address key challenges impacting the industry, including environmental and social sustainability, health, food safety and product data accuracy.
The members are CEOs and senior management of some 400 retailers, manufacturers, service providers, and other stakeholders across 70 countries. The companies have combined sales of EUR 3.5 trillion and directly employ nearly 10 million people, with a further 90 million related jobs estimated along the value chain.´ Follow the link to read more about CGF:
Examples of innovation in the fashion industry
However, there are a number of smaller innovative companies and initiatives.
Bolzano – naturally dyed leather made from apple waste
AlgiKnit – Materials made out of kelp fibre
Our ‚new’ Wardrobes
There are now companies offering to deliver to your hotel, a rental wardrobe that suits your needs when you are there, be it New York or Amsterdam.
‚Good on you’ is an App with ethical brand ratings. The motto is ‚Wear the change you want to see.‘
Make something new out of your existing wardrobe.
Use your clothes for longer.
Move from red carpet dress to ‘green’ carpet dress.
Swap your clothes with good friends.
Children’s clothing swaps.
Donate, but be aware that most of donated clothes ends up in landfills.
Sell your clothes through second hand stores or online or through an App.
Buy from sustainable sources.
Check out Fashion Revolution to find out more about how to ‚save‘ clothes and how to find clothes from sustainable manufacturers:
Upcycling (environmental) – I.e. Natalie Tonnes with &LadyMondegreen
Sustainable production (social, environmental) – Paushali Lass with Bona Buni
Categories of Public
Global Activists vs. Global Cynics
- Fighters, realists and opportunists (ca 10%)
- Deniers, protectionists, avoiders, worriers, quitters, antis (ca 20%)
I do not belong to any of the two groups above. I do however care about the planet and I think we in the last 20-30 years have past a point where our actions are not sustainable. I am not a warrior and do not want to preach or shame. I also don’t want to spend my time on convincing the cynics.
Most people are however open-minded and are welcoming opportunities to make positive changes. It is just a matter of knowing how.
I am optimistic, because I have learnt that there are so many positive things being done – and we really have the technology for reaching the goals. The concerning thing is that it is all happening too slow.
Every Little Helps !
Thank you 🙂
This contribution was part of a talk on Sustainable Fashion at Kiwifalter in Kalkum on the 24th of September 2020. To find out more, please visit scandinavian_health and sustainability_health on instagram or on facebook.
Some more interesting readings: