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. Here, Richard Ringeisen, president of trim, packaging and RFID technology solutions Charming Trim, discusses how small QR codes can have big impacts on reducing materials.
Name: Richard Ringeisen
Company: Charming Trim & Packaging, inc.
What do you consider to be your company’s best ESG-related achievement over the last 5 years?
Certifying our sustainability achievements. So many companies claim they are “sustainable” but cannot or will not prove it and maintain it. That, and developing our own water treatment facility at our China factory.
How can the fashion industry reduce its impact?
I work in the product protection and identification business, so my views can be considered a little myopic, especially since the size of the products we make can be considered small—but we really need to look at modernizing labeling laws so that they are effective for today’s needs.
Simple things like adding a QR code—an essential need for product digital passports that will soon be required in the EU—can dramatically reduce usage of materials/tape needed to print all of the requirements by law.
A QR code can transmit the required information quickly and efficiently, and also provide a method for the brands to communicate more effectively with their customer. When we think of care labels it seems like a small thing, but the AAFA (American Apparel and Footwear Association) estimates that in any given year, the amount of material used in care labels globally would stretch from the Earth to the moon 12 times per year! That’s almost 3 million miles of typically polyester tape each year.
What is your personal philosophy on shopping and caring for your clothes?
My goal is always to buy quality and wear the heck out of them!
How much do you look into a brand’s social or environmental practices before shopping?
I look more for sins of omission (what don’t they do) as opposed to what they say they do.
Any examples of something you didn’t buy because of this?
Anything that makes sustainability claims about using or processing bamboo. The material itself is sustainable, but the processes used to break it down are nasty.
Anything new you are doing to boost sustainability beyond the fashion industry?
Personally, I only purchase “free” consumer products—no unnecessary dyes, inks or scents added. Companywide, we are working to eliminate virgin poly bags. I have no horse in the “natural versus manufactured” argument, as the amount of water and pesticides needed to grow “natural products” does not strike me as any real advantage over a man-made product that can be more easily recycled – our goal for our manufacturing inputs and finished products is the same as recycled or recyclable.
What would you say is the biggest misconception consumers have about sustainability in fashion?
It is a misconception that only grown or “natural products” are considered “eco or sustainable.” As far as helping consumers, we try to guide our customers into doing or working with sustainable products or claims, so that that they do not mislead consumers and make claims that could be considered “greenwashing.”
What was your company’s biggest takeaway from the pandemic?
That you can do more with less. As an example, physical travel and the associated GHG that is caused by that. My counterpart in Europe made his own personal pledge last year—no travel that involved added carbon emissions (great job, Andy Van Duyse!), and he would only travel if he could bike to it.
What is your company’s latest ESG-related initiative?
As mentioned earlier, converting our wastewater from our China factory to an in-house water treatment rather than releasing it into the local system.
As consumers become more aware of worker conditions and how clothing is produced, how can the industry best spread the word on progress? It is assumed these days that all are treating the workers better, but I would suggest that brands start listing their certifications (audited and proven) on their care labels. This is easily done and does not add cost, especially if the brand is using some of the more modern tools like NFC or QR codes. QR codes, especially, add very little to no costs and can start a real conversation with these consumers.
What do you consider to be the apparel industry’s biggest missed opportunity related to securing meaningful change?
Inertia, or the hope that you can go sustainable without incurring a cost. Most of the experts you listen to preach the notion that consumers will pay more for a proven sustainable product, yet I have not seen that to be true. You can mitigate the cost of components by going green when you look at the longer-term savings, but the scale and/or supply chain is not yet mature enough to provide true savings.
Understand the tradoffs. Getting closer to the actual production locations or “closer to the needle” does present huge greenhouse gas savings, but remember that the raw material or supply chain for that input may not be local. Accurate demand forecasting is essential so suppliers can get the materials in place by effective transport—think ship rather than air, which will in turn reduce the product cost, as will a ramp up of scale. The more demand for the sustainable product inputs, the faster the cost and availability will improve.