Two of the most well known brands for basic apparel–Hanes and Gildan–pulled back the curtain on their sustainability and corporate social responsibility strategies and impact Tuesday at the virtual Stifel Sustainable Lifestyle Brands Conference.
Executives from both companies explained their goals, accomplishments and methods toward becoming more environmentally conscious and socially active in how their firms operate, source materials and treat their workers.
“Doing the right thing every day, treating people as we would like to be treated, taking care of the environment in the many places we operate around the world and driving sustainability in our manufacturing processes and into our products is honestly who we are and who we very much want to continue to be,” Chris Fox, chief sustainability officer at Hanesbrands, said. “We believe it’s just the right way to run a business.”
Fox noted that Hanesbrands operates on six continents and more than 40 countries, and unlike most firms in the apparel industry, the company owns and operates a large portion of its supply chain, employing more than 50,000 manufacturing level employees.
Under that structure, “sustainability takes on a very different meaning,” he said. Since spinning off from Sara Lee Corp. 15 years ago, Fox believes Hanesbrands has accomplished much, especially in its environmental efforts.
Since 2007, Hanesbrands cut greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 40 percent, and energy use by 26 percent–“big money savings there,” with nearly 50 percent of energy use now coming from renewable energy sources, Fox said. In addition, the apparel maker has focused on ways to eliminate waste.
“We are now recycling over 90 percent of our waste in our manufacturing and distribution center facilities,” he said. “What’s really cool in our focus on waste and recycling is that for 10 years, we’ve been actually selling much of our plant’s scrap and waste to recyclers – selling off what we used to throw out and send to landfill.”
Hanesbrands invests about $1 million a year from those proceeds into employee and local community development efforts, he noted, in a program called Green for Good.
“So, we’ve made great progress, we’ve accomplished a lot, but there’s a lot more to do,” Fox said.
With that recognition, the company “took a hard look at where we wanted to be 10 years from now,” he said. “We asked ourselves what impact do we, as a publicly traded company, want to have on this world, especially for the long haul. How can we make a true difference in people’s lives, how can we do our part to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, how can we make our products and packaging far more sustainable going forward, and at the end of the day how can we look back proudly in 10 years time in what we’ve accomplished and the significant difference we’ve made in the places we operate around the world?”
From that, the company landed on aggressive goals for 2025 and 2030 built around the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, resulting in specific targets built around three pillars–“People, Planet and Product.”
Under people, Hanesbrands aims to meaningfully impact and improve the lives of 10 million people by 2030. Fox said most important here is “operating world-class, safe facilities” and to expect those from which the company sources to do the same. In addition, this aspect includes diversity and inclusion policies and programs, education, wellness and philanthropy for workers and the community.
For the planet, the company’s goals center on reaching 100 percent renewable energy usage, zero landfill waste generation, 25 percent reduction of GHGs from 2019 levels, and a 25 percent energy usage reduction and water usage. The GHG reduction program includes a marketing campaign with P&G and Tide to encourage cold-water washing for basic apparel.
Hanesbrands is also well on the way to full adoption of the Higg Facility Environmental Module (FEM) throughout its supply chain.
For product, Hanesbrands is moving to 100 percent sustainable cotton and recycled or biodegradable polyester, a 25 percent reduction in packaging weight and the elimination of single-use plastic. Fox added that a vast majority of Hanesbrands’ cotton sourcing is from the U.S., which fits into the company’s Western Hemisphere focused production and helps avoid the risk or human rights abuses in the supply chain.
Peter Iliopoulos, senior vice president of taxation, sustainability and governmental affairs at Gildan Activewear, said environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) is not only an integral part of the strategy of the company, but also in many ways facilitated by the way it operates.
As a vertically integrated sustainable manufacturer of basic apparel, Gildan has invested $2 billion in large-scale, low-cost, environmentally responsible manufacturing operation, with 90 percent of sales generated from products produced in house, Iliopoulos said. Gildan has made a $500 million investment in U.S. yarn spinning assets close to U.S. cotton sources that make up 35 percent of consumption.
The company’s textile and sewing facilities are located in Central America, the Caribbean and in Bangladesh. Distribution centers are mainly located in the United States, the Montreal-based company’s largest market.
Gildan’s structure “allows us to exercise direct control over all aspects of our production and to apply responsible and sustainable practices consistently throughout our supply chain,” he said.
In addition, Gildan has made significant investments in technologies that he said are not only cost efficient, but also allow the company to reduce its environmental footprint. A biomass steam generation system and Gildan’s wastewater treatment systems illustrate its effort toward greening its operations.
Moreover, 83 percent of Gildan’s sourcing managers worldwide are local, and the company has invested in sustainable development and local communities. It spends some $260 million annually with local suppliers in Central America and the Caribbean.
The primary focus of Gildan’s ESG programs are a core area of the company’s overall Back to Basics strategy involving environmental aspects, “human capital management,” sustainable raw materials and supply chain, community/stakeholder long-term value creation, and transparency and disclosure, Iliopoulos said.
In this regard, he noted that Gildan is a member of the Fair Trade Association and that all its manufacturing facilities are WRAP certified.