Sustainability is frequently described as a journey rather than a destination in retail but the crucial aspect of that journey for any brand or retailer is that it is authentic. It’s very easy to get led in a particular direction as expectations of consumers reach new heights following the UN Climate Change Conference at the end of 2021. The reality is that many brands and retailers are still grappling with what sustainability really means to them and how to implement this long-term change in the way that they do business, rather than simply greenwashing.
There are some big changes afoot in the sector and the likelihood is that legislation to push change forward is not too far away. With the fashion industry already under increasing scrutiny because of its poor record in carbon emissions contribution (around 10% of the global total) and overall wastage, the sector is starting to face pockets of legislation that will drive change. In the USA a Fashion Sustainability and Social Accountability Act has been proposed in the state of New York whilst the EU has presented a proposal for a corporate sustainability due diligence directive. Both of these are only small changes in what will be a long road to significant improvements, but they demonstrate that the governing powers are taking sustainability seriously.
Investors are also exerting pressure to take the bold step into positive sustainability. ESG investment can have a huge hold over retailers and brands, especially post Covid-19 when many turned to investors to protect against the short-term effects of the global pandemic. Companies are doing their level best to become B-Corp recognised – symbolising an organisation that balances profit with people and the planet. There are some great B-Corp brands out there – many of them smaller businesses that have been founded on the principles of authentic sustainability. However, some bigger brands are also starting down this route although the progress will inevitably be slower and more cumbersome as the big corporate machines adapt to take on a complete change in ethos.
What is very clear is that sustainability is gathering pace, pulled by consumer demand and soon to be pushed by global legislation. The retailers and brands that will gain in this battlefield are the ones that are prepared to be open and honest about their sustainable credentials and not try to claim to be something they are not. Consumers are fully aware that to be truly sustainable takes time – after all we all know the battle on an individual basis of trying to be completely sustainable – but being true to who the brand is can be infinitely more valuable in the long term.