We are in Delhi. With Saurabh and Johanna we are visiting the nearby school. Johanna and Saurabh have asked the factory employees what they are missing in their lives and how they could be supported. The employees replied: “At the end of the month, the money is often too short to buy school books for our children”.
Saurabh and Johanna decided to help. Both are giving school books, pens and pencils with erasers to the local school where most of the children of Saurabh’s employees are going to. Johanna and Saurabh share the money.
We are in the rickshaw to the school. The roads are so narrow that not even a car could pass through. Arriving at the school we pass by a small corridor. On the left a dark class room. Children of the second grade are sitting on the floor very close to each other. It is so dark, you hardly see the children.
We are climbing up the stairs to the roof of the school. For each child, the teachers and Saurabh’s staff have packed a colorful gift. 301 packages of books, pencils, pens and erasers.
At the roof of the school Saurabh is calling to start. Johanna and Saurabh explain to the children why they are getting the books. How important the school is and encourage the children to study and to be diligent.
Each child is coming to the front. Saurabh and Johanna are giving each child in each class from nursery to the 10th grade their individual present. Than the whole class, each child is holding up their books.
We go to the next class. The children are looking at us with big eyes, serious eyes, curious, happy, shy, mischievous…. Each child is unique, worldwide. Every child has the right to education but it needs books, light in the classroom, a chair, water to drink ….
As we drive back, Johanna and Saurabh are already talking about their next plans to help the students and school. They have many ideas. “We will do it, step by step.” It sounds like a promise.
The Oeko-Tex Association presented findings of a new research study “The Key to Confidence: Consumers and Textile Sustainability—Attitudes, Changing Behaviors and Outlooks“, focusing on global consumers rather than the textile trade.
The more than 11,000 participating consumers completed an online survey with a full spectrum of questions designed to gauge their attitudes about sustainability, harmful substances, environmental responsibility and the social welfare of textile workers.
The study found that consumers do want to live more sustainably and that their concerns about the textile industry are growing. Consumers who learn about the textile industry think differently about their purchases and they want to make sure to “buy the right products”. In addition, Oeko-Tex certification raises confidence and climate change is a serious issue for people worldwide.
Consumers prefer sustainable lifestyle
However, though a significant 70 percent of those surveyed indicated that they are “committed to a sustainable, environmentally friendly lifestyle”, their actual behaviour does not – yet – reflect this. As the study puts it: “Many are indeed making changes…. However, the gap between the 70 percent who want to live sustainably and the percentages reporting changes show that this desire is aspirational: people may be on their way but they aren’t quite ‘there’ yet.”
In terms of knowledge and concerns about the textile industry, 4 in 10 consumers globally admitted that they “don’t know much about the way textiles or clothes are produced”. In fact, most do not consider the textile industry to be a major polluter at this time (it is perceived to rank sixth after the following industries: energy, car, home care products, airline and food). However, twice as many people (41 percent) who live in manufacturing regions consider the textile industry a major polluter and rank it as the third most polluting industry after the energy and car industries.
Consumers worry about harmful substances in clothes
What the researchers found surprising, however, is that a higher percentage of consumers than thought – 4 in 10 people – are concerned about harmful substances in clothing or home textiles. In fact, there is only a 20 point difference between concerns about harmful substances in food (where the consumer sustainability movement started) and in clothing: the gap appears to be closing. For the researchers, this is an indicator that impressions of the textile industry might be changing.
The study found that most of those surveyed – 80 to 90 percent – are aware of “eco-friendly” clothing and home textiles and that there is a positive perception of the label among those who have purchased eco-friendly clothing (36 percent), which they describe as “high quality”, “soft”, “innovative”, “unique” and“durable” or “long-lasting”. Those less likely to purchase also describe these items positively but perceive them to be “expensive” and “hard to find.” Parenthood seems to be a portal to a more sustainable, healthy lifestyle as parents start to eat better and use less toxic personal care or home cleaning products and purchase is higher (54 percnt) for “clothing or home textiles for babies or young children made with organic or other sustainable fibers.”
Brands play an important role for consumers
However, today’s educated consumers are often skeptical of claims like “eco-friendly” or “sustainable” and two-thirds (64-65 percent) admit to checking those claims, i.e. by looking for a certification label (52 percent), checking fibre content (49 percent) or the brand’s sustainability practices (33 percent). The latter should note that they play an important role for consumers who hold them accountable, count on them for assurances of responsible production and look to them as role models to sustainable living.
Specifically, 4 in 10 consumers (42 percent) “like to know the values and principles of brands of clothing they buy”, 38 percent “like to know what small steps brands have taken to be more sustainable – even if they’re not fully ‘green’” and many consumers commented spontaneously that a certification label helps (or would help) them know which brands to trust and which to avoid.
“I want to know if the brands or manufacturers I buy cause less pollution than others”, said one Chinese consumers, while another one from Spain said: “Certified clothing proves to us that a company is committed to making clothes in the most environmentally responsible way.” “As a mother, I’m very interested in making sure that our clothes and home textiles are safe from harmful substances and environmentally and socially sustainable,” declared a respondent from Germany.
A brand’s sustainability story is key in winning consumer confidence
In terms of consumer education, although most consumers confessed that they know little about how clothing is produced, “it is clear that there is growing awareness of ‘facts’ about the impact of the textile industry” according to the study. For example, almost one in two consumers (45 percent) indicated that they would favour responsible clothing and textile brands. “This suggests that there is a need for brands to tell their sustainability story across a variety of communication vehicles so consumers would be able to get the information they want easily”, concludes the study.
Fashion is not a sector that exists by itself. The fact is that the fashion industry is not unlike any other key economic drivers; it is a key component of a global economy and certainly an important sector.
On 25 September 2015, the United Nations adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, a ‘plan of action for people, planet, and prosperity’. The agenda includes 17 sustainable development goals (SDG’s) for 169 targets, which should inspire action at the national, regional, and international level over the next 15 years in areas of critical importance for humanity and the Earth. Goals span from ending poverty to ensuring healthy lives, achieving gender equality, promoting sustainable economic growth and decent work, reducing inequalities, and taking action to combat climate change.
Considering that the fashion industry is one of the largest employers in the world, especially of women, with some estimates that women make up roughly 80% of the supply chain, it makes sense that fashion and apparel are involved in not only sustainability discussion– but development- where the sector is a powerful driver of job creation.
And not for nothing, fashion is a $2.5 trillion-dollar industry and considered a top user of natural resources and polluter of the communities in which it operates. It’s not surprising then that fashion as an industry is now having a moment, especially in the sustainability dialogue.
Fashion and the UN
Looking ahead, the United Nations is increasingly interested in engaging new and dynamic sectors to play a part in the Sustainable Development Goals.
Changing the production and consumption patterns of the fashion industry would have a domino effect on many aspects of development and provide a visible and meaningful contribution to the achievement of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The fashion industry in particular offers two entry points for action: top down (as governments and business corporations have the power to foster change), and bottom up – as we as consumers do have a choice to make when buying a garment and can therefore influence the production and market.
However, to make a real change both approaches need to be combined, and at the moment government- and business-led initiatives to make the sector more sustainable are scattered, unco-ordinated, and often address only one side of the problem. Similarly, the market of sustainable fashion is limited to small businesses, is not well-marketed and remains mostly unknown.
The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development thus offers a unique opportunity to bring sustainable fashion to the forefront of the international debate and to demonstrate the contribution it could make to the achievement of many of the sustainable development goals.
New research from Unilever shows a third of consumers want to buy sustainable products and would purchase more if their benefits were made clearer.
The FMCG giant questioned 20,000 adults across five countries about how sustainability impacts their purchasing choices. It then backed up their claims using information on real purchasing decisions.
It found that 33% buy a product because they believe it is doing social or environmental good. Plus one in five say they would choose a brand if its sustainability credentials were made clearer on packaging or in marketing. That equates to a €966bn (£817bn) untapped opportunity, according to Unilever, given that the size of the marketing for sustainable goods is €2.5tr (£2.1tr).
The research backs up previous claims from Unilever that sustainability is becoming an increasingly important part of consumers’ purchasing decision. Chief communications and marketing officer Keith Weed has previously admitted there is a “say-do gap” but the survey suggests this is closing.
And separate research from Harvard Business Review and Ernst and Young showed that companies with a strong sense of purpose are able to transform and innovate better, while it also helps to improve employee satisfaction.
Brand must act quickly to prove their social and environmental credentials and show consumers they can be trusted with the future of the planet and communities, as well as their own bottom lines.
Despite the findings, the trend for purpose-led purchasing is greater among consumers in emerging markets rather than those in developed. Some 53% of shoppers in the UK and US said they feel better when they buy sustainable products, compared to 88% in India and 85% in both Brazil and Turkey.
There are a couple of reasons for this; firstly consumers in emerging markets are more likely to be exposed to the negative impacts of unsustainable business practices such as poor air quality or water shortages. And secondly there is more societal pressure to buy sustainable products in emerging markets than there is in the UK and US.
Weed says: “This research confirms that sustainability isn’t a nice-to-have for businesses. In fact, the very opposite is true. To succeed globally, and especially in emerging economies across Asia, Africa and Latin America, brands should go beyond traditional focus areas like product performance and affordability.
“They must act quickly to prove their social and environmental credentials and show consumers they can be trusted with the future of the planet and communities, as well as their own bottom lines.”
More than a dozen of the world’s biggest clothing and textile companies have signed a pledge to source 100% sustainable cotton by 2025 in a deal brokered by the Prince of Wales.
The pledge is supported by the Prince of Wales’ International Sustainability Unit and aims to reduce the environmental and social impacts of cotton farming.
All 13 brands must publish information by 2018 on their progress toward reaching their target.
The global cotton market is currently valued at £12 billion, according to Soil Association.
Aiming to reduce social and environmental implications of cotton farming will produce a whole plethora of benefits.
Collaboration across the sector is needed to bring about transformative change, said Marie-Claire Daveu, chief sustainability officer at Kering: “Working together with other companies who are also committed to using 100% sustainable cotton will help create a strong market signal to improve the methods for cotton cultivation and contribute to reducing the overall impact of the sector.”
Consumer demands for sustainability are also having a transformative effect on the demand for natural resources. Today, green concerns have an impact on the purchasing decisions of almost all consumers.
Given that the supply, demand and price of natural resources are at the core of business, natural resources and material risks pose a threat for all companies in all sectors.
Environmental concerns contribute to the demand for some materials at the expense of others. A prime example is the changing energy mix, with coal in decline at the expense of renewables and natural gas.
Similarly, the increased pressure to replace the use of toxic materials such as lead in batteries with lithium drives demand for specific niche materials. From 2010 to 2015, lithium production increased by 30% globally.
There is also an increasing emphasis on recycling and pressure for manufacturers and retailers to use less packaging. The introduction of a five pence charge for single-use plastic carrier bags in the UK is one example. In 2012, the government estimates that over seven billion single-use plastic bags were given out by supermarkets alone in the UK. Since the change in legislation, some retailers are claiming decreases of up to 80% in the number of bags used.
The World Economic Forum’s Global Risks 2016 report, identifies natural resources at the top of the agenda. Four of the five risks of highest concern for the next 10 years, identified by 750 members of the World Economic Forum’s global multi-stakeholder community, are related to natural resources and sustainability. Water crises top the list, with 40% of respondents identifying them as amongst the top five risks for the next 10 years.
The Top Five Global Risks of Highest Concern for the Next 10 Years
The supply and demand of natural resources give rise to a range of business risks:
Companies may struggle to secure supplies of key inputs and this could disrupt production. In addition, flow-on effects from natural disasters or climate change can resonate around the world and affect supplies of raw materials. Difficulties around managing high or volatile commodity prices also fall into this category.
The public perception of a brand or a company as a whole can be damaged if the business is exposed as using unsustainable sources of materials or damaging ecosystems or habitats. For instance, a company consuming large amounts of water in a water-stressed locale runs the risk of bad publicity.
Governments may legislate to protect supplies of critical materials or prohibit the use of environmentally damaging resources—for instance, the European Union has specific directives on recycling, such as the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive that sets collection, recycling and recovery targets for all types of electrical goods.
Market risks can include changes in consumer trends and demands. Consumers may switch to a competitor’s more efficient or more sustainable products and services as a result of increasing awareness and interest in environmental matters. For instance, consumer demands for sustainable sources of palm oil have forced many food and drink manufacturers to switch to sustainable sources or alternatives to palm oil.
These risks combine to create the new normal for companies, which must act to secure their supplies of key natural resources whilst also accommodating the increased demand for sustainable practices from government and consumers alike.
How can companies manage these risks?
Companies should conduct thorough studies of their reliance on key raw materials, constantly reviewing and updating plans and processes.
The simplest way for businesses to manage the risk is to make the most efficient use of their critical resources. Recycling and substitution offer additional ways for companies to manage their supply of raw materials.
At the more extreme end of the range of options available is a complete or partial change of business models to incorporate ideas such as retaining ownership of products and leasing them to clients and customers or introducing take-back and re-manufacturing schemes and switching to sustainable raw materials.
Euromonitor, Sustainability and the New Normal for Natural Resources, 2016
McKinsey & Company, Sustainability & Resource Productivity, 2014
Green concerns centre on self and family
Concerns about climate change are widespread among global consumers, particularly those in regions such as Latin America and Southeast Asia where environmental shifts are already noticeable. However, when money enters the equation, consumer concerns and willingness to pay move from a global view to one much closer to home.
Survey results confirm that consumers are more likely to be willing to pay for “good-for-me” product features that have a perceived tangible benefit to personal health and wellness, such as organic or non-GMO. While recyclable and eco-friendly product features may boost the buyer’s feeling that they are doing something to help the environment, there is not such great willingness to pay extra for those environmentally-focused features. Understanding that not all green features are the same in the eyes of consumers is crucial for any brand or company offering products in this space. By highlighting direct, personal benefits, companies can entice shoppers to pay a value-added premium for certain green products, particularly foods.
The organic cotton market is growing. Latest figures from Textile Exchange show a 67% growth in the global market which is worth US $15.7 billion globally. We expect growth in organic cotton towels, mattresses and homeware items as more hotels and spas brand themselves as organic. There’s also greater global awareness of the need to have more available good quality organic cotton seeds.
Organic fashion ranges are becoming more available. As well as price, lack of availability of organic fashion has stopped the market growing in the past. But this is changing. People Tree is available in selected John Lewis stores and Frugi now has ranges available in department stores and online. Seasalt, a Cornwall-based women’s fashion company, is also in John Lewis and has a growing number of high street shops.
Sales of organic baby clothes are booming. New parents have a strong tendency to opt for organic for their babies and toddlers. This is true for sales of food, beauty and, increasingly, in textiles. Parents feel that organic cotton that hasn’t been subjected to as many harsh chemicals and pesticides is a better choice for their little ones.
Campaigns and brands are raising awareness of sustainable fashion. Fashion Revolution Day is an annual campaign which brings organisations from different parts of the supply chain together to raise awareness of ethical fashion and those that are not so ethical. It was launched following the Rana Plaza factory disaster in Bangladesh in 2013.
Soil Association, Organic Market Report, 2016
The alliance is getting close to deciding on producing clothes without any toxic substances.
The members chose to take over the regulations from Manufacturing Restricted Substances List (MRSL) and Zero Discharge of Hazardous Chemicals (ZDHC). The list of MRSL thus also of the alliance are above the legal regulations REACH.
A big step forward shows the alliance in its progress of going international. Discussions are ongoing for example with producers from Bangladesh to reduce overtime and to make work places a safer place. The agreed goal of the alliance is to pay living wages. At this stage the standards are set and the ILO is in conversation with the alliance to help finalizing the standards.
This week Berlin showcased many national and international fashion brands. Part of the Berlin fashion week was the Ethical Fashion Show Berlin celebrating its 10th anniversary.
With 168 brands, 30 nations from Europe, Asia, Africa and America the show was bigger than ever before.
Conventional retailers are showing more and more interest the organizers were noting.
Austrian conventional retailer Herman Strobel said that last season was the first time that they have ordered from organic and fairtrade fashion brands, finishing with the comment that these styles have sold out in just a fews weeks time.
Tchibo mentioned that their sales were consistant after introducing organic cotton ranges to their customers.