4 Ways Retailers Can Make Sustainability Part Of Company Culture
Driven by the rise of technology and e-commerce, mass consumerism and fast-fashion have seen tremendous growth over the last few decades. But as the new generation of consumers steadily grows, we’re seeing a change in brand behavior as Generation Z adds to the voices holding them to account on their environmental and social impact. As a result, a company’s approach to sustainability is becoming increasingly important as they attempt to capture the minds, and wallets, of this growing consumer group.
Sustainability is big business for big businesses, with LVMH recently announcing the appointment of Stella McCartney as their sustainability advisor, as well as investing in a minority stake of her ethical fashion label, but with so many ways to push the sustainable agenda forward, how can businesses of all sizes best invest in sustainability?
Not all companies can afford to acquire stakes in ethical businesses but there is plenty more to be done with a much lower capital commitment.
Formalize sustainability in corporate reporting
Whether your business has annual reports, a monthly blog post or even just an email distribution list, embedding social impact into your regular reporting demonstrates that you’re a business that takes an interest in wider issues outside of those that impact your profit margins.
According to a Vogue Business report, luxury fashion and fragrance companies used sustainability-related terms in their 2018 annual corporate reports six times as often as they did 12 years ago, reflecting the importance of the issue to their customers.
Companies traditionally reporting on their Profit & Loss (P&L) within their annual reports are branching out with an Environmental Profit & Loss account (EP&L), to demonstrate a company’s monetary valuation of its environmental impact. Originated by Puma in 2011, many other companies, including its parent Kering, now publish their own EP&L accounts alongside their regular corporate reporting.
Share sustainability values, in order to motivate and attract young talent
As a generation brought up with recycling programs as standard and climate change at the forefront of the social agenda, Gen-Z strongly believes that companies should be helping to address these urgent issues, with a study finding that 94% believe that companies should address social and environmental issues, compared to 87% of millennials.
When it comes to deciding where to work, a company’s social and environmental endeavors play a part in swaying the decision with two-thirds of millennials surveyed saying that they would not accept a job somewhere without a strong sustainability program.
Embedding your company values into your recruitment process can attract and retain a younger workforce—a growing opportunity for companies looking to hire rising talent, especially as this generation becomes a larger part of the workforce.
Optimize end-to-end business operations for sustainability
Younger shoppers are increasingly more aware of the impact of consumerism, with a recent Drapers report on Gen-Z and millennial consumers finding that almost half (48%) of shoppers surveyed had abandoned a purchase because a brand or retailer did not fit with their values.
This is starting to be reflected in sales, as products with sustainability claims generally outperformed the growth rate of total products in the same category. It's not just about the end product either, opportunities to be more sustainable exist throughout the whole process of creating a sustainable product.
It’s something that smaller brands are doing really well, which brings into question why established players are not evolving quicker. Mother of Pearl, a sustainable and ethical contemporary womenswear and accessories brand, consider creativity and ethics as equals in their brand philosophy.
“We believe in delivering beautiful clothes without compromising on integrity,” says Amy Powney, creative director. “From supply chains to the way we run the office, to whom we partner with, we promote sustainability where we can.”
What is happening in the fashion industry is very similar to what is happening in the food industry, with the use of heavy chemicals and pesticides taking a toll on the environment. As a result, choosing organic and natural fibers, such as wool, silk and cotton, can reduce the impact and also biodegrade faster than garments made with synthetic fibers.
“We’re aiming to reduce our use of synthetic materials and only use them where absolutely necessary, such as in pleating,” says Powney, “When they are washed, synthetic fibers shed tiny particles of plastic into the water system that end up our oceans. They therefore end up polluting our water, causing damage to the environment and contaminating fish and other marine life. Until innovation and development get to the level where we believe synthetics are a safe option, we remain committed to virgin and recycled natural fibers.”
Center your business model around sustainability
Sustainability isn’t limited to eco-friendly products, it also applies to the company approach to social justice issues. Dubbing itself as an “activist company,” Patagonia has declared environmental protection as a top priority for the business with its mission being “We’re in business to save our home planet.”
With a strong track record of funding environmental causes, Patagonia gives 1% of its sales to support environmental organizations around the world and has donated over $89 million to environmental causes since 1985. Employee activism is encouraged with the Patagonia Environmental Internship Program where employees from all parts of the company are allowed up to 2 months away from their regular roles to work for the environmental group of their choice.
The company also has a program called Worn Wear, which helps customers to extend the life of the products Patagonia makes by providing significant resources for repair, reuse and recycling at the end of a garment’s life.
Being sustainable doesn’t require big budgets, big names or acquisitions and sustainability doesn’t necessarily mean an upheaval of your current business practices. But whether it’s a change in your company culture, your business processes or corporate communications, what investing in sustainability does require, is change.