Much of the media assumes that consumers want products that are made and sold in an environmentally conscious way.
Numerous research surveys show a picture of shoppers demanding that brands be environmentally conscious and willing to pay more for sustainable products. For example, the Retail Industry Leaders Association, a US-based trade association, reports that 93 percent of global consumers expect brands to support social and environmental issues.
However, other research suggests that sustainability is not the most important factor in consumer decision making. People may still emphasize price, suggesting that cost is specific and sustainability is abstract.
Sustainability is a broad term. There are many ways brands and retailers promote their environmental practices – supplier relationships, environmental footprint, product materials, packaging. Not all of these have significant impacts, and it’s sometimes difficult to separate legitimate sustainability efforts from marketing.
Clothing contributes around 10 percent to all global greenhouse gas emissions. Until recently, many manufacturers, especially high-end brands, burned their dead inventory instead of selling it at a discount. While this practice is much less common today, the apparel manufacturing process, supply chain and high customer return all contribute to environmental damage.
Swedish fashion maker and retailer H&M claims to be sustainable as it has a “conscious collection” of clothing that uses fabrics made from textiles such as recycled polyester and plastic, organic cotton, linen and silk, and sustainably produced wood pulp. Customers can also recycle clothing at H&M stores and receive a discount for future purchases.
However, H & M’s fast fashion business model – trendy, inexpensive clothing – is based on rapid inventory turnover. New items of clothing are delivered to the stores roughly every two weeks. The concept only works if the styles are sold out during this period. Three years ago, H&M had unsold inventory valued at $ 4.3 billion. H & M’s solution was to send it to a power plant in Västerås, Sweden, which burned the goods.
The business model of the subscription box is mainly aimed at women who regularly receive curated products. Customers keep what they want and return the rest of the goods for free. Such product returns cause a staggering amount of environmental damage, both in terms of packaging and vehicle pollution. Even so, most subscription box suppliers say they are committed to sustainability because they are committed to re-commerce or only using organic materials.
Examples of sustainable clothing
- Eileen Fisher, a female fashion brand, is a Certified B Corporation with Fair Trade certified clothing and a commitment to fair wages in their factories. There are several circular (longevity and minimal waste) and take-back initiatives (recycled and reused).
- Levi’s reduces the consumption of chemicals and water during production. Making denim requires large amounts of water, but Levi’s new Water collection does
- Patagonia Not only does it use sustainable materials for its clothing, but it also helps customers fix their clothes instead of buying new items. Patagonia follows fair trade practices and closely monitors its supply chain to make it safe for workers, consumers and the environment. Their goal is to find solutions to environmental problems without causing unnecessary harm to the world. Customers are encouraged to recycle old Patagonia equipment and purchase used items.
- Folk treeThe England-based company has employed fair trade artisans and farmers in third world countries to produce a wide range of eco apparel for more than 20 years. The clothing is vegan approved by PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) and made from organic and biodegradable materials.
- Sézane, a French manufacturer of women’s clothing, is committed to fair labor standards, natural materials and recycled packaging. It uses renewable energy sources. The brand focuses on avoiding waste when possible.
- Tentree is a Canadian clothing brand that plants 10 trees for every product purchased. 1 billion trees are to be planted by 2030. It is a certified B corporation that has removed tons of CO2 from the environment and has reforested over 5,000 hectares of land. Only recycled and organic materials such as cork and coconut as well as recycled polyester are used.
A validation agency similar to B Corporation’s certifications would help consumers find sustainable businesses. Certified B companies meet the standards for social and ecological performance and public transparency. You commit to balancing social good with profitability. B Lab is a non-profit organization that awards the B Corporation certification to non-profit organizations. B Lab also has a directory of 4,000 global B companies.
Another company, Good on You, rates companies on how they treat contractors, employees, animals and the planet.