ESG Outlook is Sourcing Journal’s discussion series with industry executives to get their take on their company’s latest environmental, social and governance initiatives and their own personal efforts toward sustainability. In this Q&A, Amina Razvi, executive director, Sustainable Apparel Coalition, discusses boosting credibility in sustainability assessments.
Name: Amina Razvi
Title: Executive Director
Company: Sustainable Apparel Coalition
What do you consider to be your company’s best ESG-related achievement?
Over the past 10 years, we’ve worked with our members to develop and launch the ground-breaking suite of Higg Index tools that offer companies tools to measure and assess their sustainability performance in a standardized and credible way. These tools provide the building blocks necessary to help companies make smarter and more informed decisions about the products they make, how they’re made, and how we create shared value while reducing impact on people and the planet. These impacts are two increasingly important non-financial factors investors use to evaluate companies.
Earlier this year we launched our transparency program to help members communicate their organizational and product level sustainability performance. Consumers, investors, and regulators are increasingly demanding more verifiable information about how, where and under what conditions products are made and the impacts they have on people and the planet.
Our goal is to have 100 percent of SAC brand, retailer and manufacturer members have public-facing ratings of sustainable performance that are credible and trusted by 2025. With the launch of the Product Module this year, for the first time the industry has a credible way to assess cradle-to-grave impacts of products. As we unlock further transparency for companies about the impacts of their business, their supply chain and their products, it has the opportunity to fundamentally transform our industry.
What is your personal philosophy on shopping and caring for your clothes?
I don’t shop often, but when I do, I start with resale. Research shows this is the most popular sustainable retail model used by consumers in the United States. We have some great second-hand shops in the Bay Area, and my girls and I will often go there as a first stop if we need something. I try to stress need versus want because I believe it’s important to make the distinction and shop with intention.
How much do you look into a brand’s social or environmental practices before shopping?
I will do research to better understand a brand’s social and environmental practices. I am always keen to support brands that are conscious of their impact, can measure and report on it, and make stylish, quality clothes. There have been brands I’ve bought clothing from before that I didn’t feel were doing enough on social and environmental issues that I’ve stopped buying from entirely. There are also brands who I never shopped with before that I will look to if I need to buy something. Since joining the SAC, I rarely buy from companies that are not SAC members.
Anything new you are doing to boost sustainability beyond the fashion industry?
The global use of the Higg Index has dramatically increased over the past 10 years. Today more than 21,000 organizations around the world use the tools. A good example is Target, which has deployed our tools across non-apparel categories. Our membership also includes home furnishing companies such as Williams Sonoma and other industries such as the hard goods within the outdoor industry who are using the tools. Given their broad applicability to more than just apparel and footwear, we expect the usage and adoption of the tools will continue to grow in the coming years.
What is the biggest misconception consumers have about sustainability in fashion?
That a silver bullet exists that can solve all our problems. This is simply not the case because of the scale and magnitude of the challenges. The SAC’s bold and ambitious plan for the future involves three key drivers: data, transparency and collective action. They are vital to unlocking smart, scalable solutions to help us tackle the systemic challenges that exist, and imperative in steering the industry towards a more sustainable and equitable future.
In an industry that is driven by trends and often shifts focus from one thing to the next, it’s easy to see why we haven’t made the progress that we need to. It’s easy to think that technology or new innovations will save us or that we have more time. And while it’s true there is white space, innovation and technologies that need to be created or scaled for us to succeed, we need to start doing all the things we know how to do now—implementing energy efficiency programs, scaling renewables, scaling preferred materials, and enabling purchasing practices that improve working conditions.
What was your company’s biggest takeaway from the Covid crisis?
We’re living in a time where we can make a significant impact on future generations for better or for worse. And our ability to lead differently through these challenges is what will change the course of history. Leaders will need to pause and consider that the actions we take today will drastically impact our road ahead. We must double down on existing, proven solutions, our commitment to leading with values of sustainability and compassion for workers’ worldwide, and to partnering across the industry with the end goals in mind. In the end, companies will be rewarded and remembered not only for what they do, but what is accomplished.
What is your company’s latest sustainability-related initiative?
While measuring and reporting is important to understand your baseline and show achievements, transparency is critical for holding the fashion industry accountable to actual progress on reducing our impact and increasing social justice.
This first phase of our Higg Transparency Program will disclose data on a product’s environmental impact based on its materials, but in the future, it will expand to include data on manufacturing and corporate responsibility. We’re committed to doing it right and partnering with others—in a way that lets customers make more informed decisions about the products they buy and the companies they buy from. Amazon, H&M, and Norrona were among the first brands to participate. We recently welcomed Tommy Hilfiger into the program and are getting ready to announce more partners soon.
What is the apparel industry’s biggest missed opportunity related to securing meaningful change?
The apparel industry has failed to leverage existing credible tools and solutions, building on them as they continuously evolve. Given that scientists predict we only have 10 years before the effects of climate change become irreversible, there is no need to reinvent the wheel.
There are many proven solutions to help us on this path toward a more sustainable future. Tools like the Higg index are already in place and being used at scale by companies like VF, Aditya Birla, H&M, TAL, Target, Columbia, Zalando, and so many more to drive change and impact reductions across the value chain. Now, we need to scale existing solutions and partner with others to leverage insights to drive collective action.