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, Christina Raab, president and CEO of Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute discusses how sustainability is more interlinked than people think.
Name: Christina Raab
Title: President & CEO
Company: Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute
What were your company’s best ESG-related achievement over the last 5 years?
At the Institute we released a new version of the Cradle to Cradle Certified Product Standard in March 2021. This standard is the most ambitious framework yet for designing and making products today that enable a healthy, equitable and sustainable tomorrow. I am very proud that the standard is the result of extensive collaboration and engagement with our stakeholder community and is based on latest science. The underlying framework redefines and validates what products look like that are safe, circular and responsibly made. More so, it is also a practical pathway for transforming ESG commitments into action and a guide for future-proofing product innovations.
What is your personal philosophy on shopping and caring for your clothes?
I shop clothes very deliberately, never randomly. I buy from brands that are either engaged in the Cradle to Cradle Certified Products Program or from brands I have met in the past and I know firsthand about their sustainability efforts. In addition, I always look for clothing of timeless style, quality and longevity.
How much do you look into a brand’s social or environmental practices before shopping?
Ever since I am with the Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute I take a much closer look into the holistic sustainability practices of companies and pay special attention to design for circularity. Brands that have an integrated approach to material health, circularity, climate protection, natural resources stewardship and social fairness can make it onto my shopping list. I typically also research which type of fiber and product certifications the brands use since this gives me a good indication on the leadership and credibility of their social and environmental practices.
Anything new you are doing to boost sustainability beyond the fashion industry?
At the Institute we not only work with the fashion industry but also with companies from furniture and built environment, cosmetics and personal care, household goods, plus packaging and electronics. It is our bold ambition to power solutions for a sustainable and circular lifestyle across each product category of our daily lives. For example, my home is largely composed of building materials and furniture that are Cradle to Cradle Certified. These products contribute to a healthier indoor climate and can be safely introduced as valuable resources into a circular economy. Clean and circular beauty is increasingly finding its way into the mainstream as well and in my household only third-party certified cosmetics—and cleaning products—are being used.
What is the biggest misconception consumers have about sustainability in fashion?
Misconceptions still exist on the scope of sustainability in the fashion industry—not only about the single topics of recycling or biodegradability, water and chemicals management, or social practices. Sustainability in the fashion industry is a comprehensive, interlinked topic that cannot be reduced to a select issue. This also translates into some consumer misconception in relation to sustainability certifications and circularity claims. Consumers still need better guidance and communication about the scope, underlying data and credibility of labels to help them make informed and meaningful purchasing decisions. At the Institute we are preparing educational consumer campaigns on Cradle to Cradle Certified and work closely with suppliers and brands to convey holistic and validated circularity achievements in simple yet substantial ways.
What was your company’s biggest takeaway from the Covid crisis?
A big takeaway was that it is possible to accelerate paradigm shifts in very short timeframes. The Covid crisis has brought sustainability newly into the spotlight as a way to reposition and differentiate companies for the future. I have observed an uptake of ESG and circularity topics at executive level and more awareness on the linkages between health, circularity and climate. Furthermore, sustainability claims are being looked at by stakeholders more closely and need to be rooted in science and verified data for credibility. I remain hopeful that the Covid crises will also result in moving faster from commitments to tangible, impactful actions. There also seems to be post-pandemic willingness to collaborate more along supply chains and to venture into unusual or novel partnerships that might not have easily formed before.
What is your company’s latest sustainability-related initiative?
Our ambition is to significantly scale Cradle to Cradle Certified and the future-proof innovations that result from application of our certification framework. One of our latest initiatives is a series of “Solution Forums” that showcase innovative and certified components that enable safe and circular garments. These formats bring together chemical companies, suppliers, manufacturers, brands and retailers in a pre-competitive format with the intention to accelerate circularity along the value chain and to collectively find leadership solutions to some of the most pressing systemic challenges.
What is the apparel industry’s biggest missed opportunity related to securing meaningful change?
The industry has a big opportunity to better link with and learn from other sectors that either use similar materials or operate in adjacent supply chains. In particular for the setup of circular infrastructures, collaboration with other industries has the potential to accelerate reverse logistic systems. The fashion industry could also benefit from more open innovation that makes select solutions and learnings available to a broader pool of companies and professionals. Like any other sector, to drive meaningful change the apparel industry must prioritize action, transform business models, measure and verify sustainability performance, and demonstrate bold leadership towards a safe, circular and equitable future.