Fashion companies prioritize sustainability amidst coronavirus crisis
Despite the challenges posed by the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, fashion companies are more determined than ever to go green, according to a new study from the U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol and the Economist Intelligence Unit.
Based on a survey of 150 executives working in the fashion, retail and textile industries in Europe and the U.S., the study found that 60% of those interviewed considered implementing sustainability across their organizations as a key strategic objective.
This meant that the target was the second most important for the surveyed executives, behind improving customer experience, which was considered a main objective by 64%.
In terms of the practical application of a sustainability strategy, sourcing sustainably produced raw materials was ranked as a top objective by 65% of those surveyed, while both reducing greenhouse gas emissions and introducing a circular economy approach were mentioned by 51%.
One of the specific sustainability actions most frequently mentioned by survey respondents as a measure being undertaken at their companies was the collection of both business and supply chain data in order to monitor the organization’s sustainability performance, having been referenced by 53% of the executives.
Companies understand the importance of data then, but as the survey discovered, efforts to collect it are often inconsistent. 45% of the businesses involved in the study reported that they do not collect data on their greenhouse gas emissions, while 41% do not collect data on the amount of water and energy used to produce their raw materials. 38% of the companies do not collect data on worker rights in their supply chains.
In light of these figures, it would seem there’s still a way to go before fashion companies will be able to achieve truly sustainable operations, but the majority of those surveyed were optimistic about the feasibility of this objective, with 70% agreeing with the statement that “fast, affordable and sustainable fashion is achievable.”
As for the reasons motivating fashion companies to invest in sustainability, the top driver appears to be consumers, mentioned by 51% of survey respondents, closely followed by fashion and textile brands and retailers (50%), and environmental activists (35%).
“It’s clear from the survey results and our interviews with business leaders that the industry is
committed to driving progress on its sustainability performance,” commented Jonathan Birdwell, the regional head of public policy and thought leadership at the Economist Intelligence Unit, in a release.
“We were particularly struck by the fact that sustainability is largely considered as pre-competitive – behind the scenes brands are sharing resources and lessons learned,” he added.
Nonetheless, with 67% of survey respondents agreeing that the implementation of sustainable measures always leads to higher operating costs, the current financial crisis triggered by the coronavirus pandemic looks likely to put the brakes on the efforts of some companies to achieve sustainability.
Indeed, 54% of those surveyed said that they believed that the economic impact of Covid-19 will mean that sustainability becomes less of a priority for the fashion and textile industry. For now, the sector's desire to go green still appears to be strong, but as the health crisis drags on, the path to this goal may well gain further obstacles.
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