Tuesday Thoughts- On Cowspiracy, Fast Fashion and Saving the Industry without Destroying the Planet
I’m sitting in a cafe in South London, having just eaten a vegan breakfast. (Freelancing goals)
This breakfast choice isn’t a symptom of being a millennial, or my latest iteration of perfectionism, more a result of watching the documentary Cowspiracy.
Cowspiracy is an environmental documentary that lays out the impact our high meat diet is having on the planet. In the era of Greta Thunberg and Extinction Rebellion, more and more people are waking up to the climate emergency, and one of the most significant ways an individual can have an impact is by going vegan. Watching this documentary kicked off exploration for me, and while I haven’t fully committed to a plant-based life, I’m nearly there. For a lot of other people, the documentary that changed their perception was 2017’s Blue Planet 2- who can forget those images of plastic in the oceans?
As I’ve explored this topic in the last few weeks (and tried every type of nut milk under the sun), I’ve been struck by a disconnect in the future of the retail industry, and the extremely necessary movement away from fast fashion and consumerism. How do we revive the industry without destroying the planet?
According to the United Nations, greenhouse gas emissions from textile production equals 1.2 billion tonnes every year- more than every international flight and maritime shipping combined. Greenpeace has called out the 10 UK major supermarkets for their responsibility– 810,000 tonnes of single-use plastic every year. And when it comes to water, fast fashion is only second to the animal agriculture industry, using enough water a year to support 5 million people.
On the other hand, every week there’s news of another retailer struggling. Last week Mothercare announced its UK store closures, with the loss of nearly 3000 jobs. These losses are tragic- not only for the unemployment, but also for the decay of a historic industry that’s part of our culture, and a destination for the UK tourism industry.
The good news, as pointed out by Retail Week in this week’s long read, is that we’re getting a lot better at realising the problems- both in what is causing these retail stalwarts to collapse into administration and the impact the industry is having on the environment. Knowledge is power, and beginning to understand the issues brings us closer to addressing them and making positive change.
Why should retailers care?
Aside from being good corporate citizens, a report by the Retail Industry Leaders Association (RILA) found that 93% of global consumers expect more of the brands they use to support social and environmental issues. It also found that 68 million adult Americans make purchasing decisions based on their personal, social, and environmental values and that they’ll spend up to 20% more on environmentally sound products. Leading by your values is big business- particularly in the younger generations with their rising purchasing power.
KPMG research recently found that shoppers would actually be prepared to pay an average of 8.5% more for more environmentally-friendly products. Indeed, two-thirds (67%) of consumers said they care more about the environmental impact of the goods they buy today, compared to five years ago. Historically, words didn’t always tie into actions, particularly for fast fashion, but the negative sentiment around high environmental impact is increasing- and it’s fast becoming a basic requirement for Generation Z.
Quick Fire: What can retailers do now?
Avoiding making this blog too long was a challenge- I’m passionate about both of these subjects! So here are some quick-fire actions retailers can take to reduce their impact on the planet:
- Reduce overstocking- Excess stock goes to landfill. Connect your technology systems better to get an accurate and single view and reduce the perception of out of stock situations. Manage your inventory better. Read more here.
- Go paperless- Email receipts to customers and build up your marketing database too! Email marketing is critical to eCommerce. Check out your head office- make sure you’ve minimised printing.
- Recycle clothes. H&M offer a discount on future purchases as an incentive to recycle- and it drives store visits and upsell opportunities.
- Sort out manufacturing processes- conduct a continuous improvement audit and ask suppliers to be forthcoming with information.
- Make it part of your brand story, like Patagonia at NRF 2019
- Review alternative packaging options- Pink Boutique have switched to sugar cane bags
- Review store efficiency. Retailers like Selfridges are trying to reduce their operational environmental impact by buying 100% green electricity or using new technologies to make their shops more sustainable
- Think outside the box- Only you know your business. Walmart has recently implemented some transformative tech with IBM that has enabled greater tracing of fruit and veg, therefore reducing waste.
Shout out corner
Each time I publish a Tuesday thought I’ll do a shout out to the retailers who I think are getting it right. I’ve linked to their environmental and ethical policies or a recent story, in case you want to find out more.
By 2020, the high street stalwart aims to no longer send anything to landfills from their own headquarters, logistics centres, stores and factories. All of its collections will be made from 100% sustainable fabrics before 2025. Inditex, which also owns Pull&Bear and Massimo Dutti, wants to be a force for change.
In 2013, H&M were the first fashion brand in the world to launch a global garment collection initiative, allowing customers to hand in any unwanted clothes or materials to any H&M store regardless of the brand or the condition of them in return for a £5 voucher to spend in-store
A pioneer in sustainable fashion since 1991, every People Tree product is fairtrade and ethical from beginning to end. Every product is made to the highest ethical and environmental standards from start to finish.
This one needs a whole article in itself. Luckily, Wired have done just that. From ridicule in high fashion, to 160 brands following suit, and business is absolutely booming.
While previous generations maybe see sustainability as being socially conscious, it’s really just a way of life for younger consumers. We’re seeing more purposeful social activism and political involvement from younger generations. In order to remain part of this $28 trillion industry, brands now need to prove that they are making credible efforts to be more sustainable- it’s what consumers want, and increasingly, expect.