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Systemic Sustainable Change Counts on Stakeholder Collaboration

As fashion companies seek to reduce their impact on the environment through eco-conscious commitments, they need to look beyond their own operations to the other links in their value chains.

During Sourcing Journal’s “Strategies, Struggles & Strides: Building a More Responsible Apparel Industry” webinar, speakers from Lenzing and the World Resources Institute explained why firms need to work with partners who are downstream in their supply chain to strengthen their sustainable developments. For instance, Lenzing looks to green the full lifecycle and “net benefit” of its cellulose fibers after it produces them, from the dyeing process and through to spinning, as well as assessing the footprints of its suppliers.

“The textile industry contributes to more than 2 percent of the global CO2 emissions,” said Krishna Manda, senior manager of sustainability integration at Lenzing. “And we recognize the whole industry needs to reduce its footprint dramatically, which means Lenzing needs to reduce its own footprint and help its partners in the value chain to reduce their footprint as well.”

Increasingly, standardized measures of sustainable action—such as the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTI) started by NGOs UN Global Compact, World Resources Institute and World Wildlife Fund—are catching on within the fashion world. Michael Sadowski, research consultant at World Resources Institute, noted that when the SBTI began about five years ago, there were only 10 or so apparel companies that had either committed to or established approved targets. Today, that group has grown to 60, including brands such as Levi Strauss and Nike.

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When adopting action plans based on centralized targets, whether SBTs or the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, companies should also ensure that they are taking into account more than the environment. In addition to goals centered on aspects like clean water and responsible consumption, the SDGs include targets such as stamping out poverty and hunger.

“[The SDGs] were deliberately laid out to really address sustainable development from a holistic perspective…While addressing climate is important, it can’t be necessarily at the expense of other topics, so we have to push all 17 of these issues forward together,” Sadowski said.

In action, Lenzing has found ways to simultaneously care for people and planet while focusing on its central raw material of wood. A forestation project in Albania is planting fruit trees, helping to not only improve environmental conditions on land but also improving conditions in the local community by raising forestry skillsets and creating a new source of economic development to alleviate poverty.

Establishing targets and methodology can be overwhelming, but Manda credits discussions and input from organizations like WRI and colleagues from brands with helping it shape its strategy.

Stakeholders and supply chain partners can also help to influence and further companies’ innovations. Lenzing’s Refibra technology began as an answer to clients’ quest for fibers made of recycled materials. “This kind of conversations and exchange of ideas are actually the hotbed for innovation,” Manda said.

At the end of the day, companies have to make the business case for sustainability. Having about 40 different conversations with multiple levels of decision makers within Lenzing helped to not only share the sustainability perspective but also aided the company in implementing its goals, Manda said. He also noted that policy changes and standardization will help to remove financial barriers to adopting more eco-conscious yet costly practices, such as switching to cleaner energy.

Setting organization-wide sustainable goals requires buy-in from all levels, including decision makers on the board that are also cognizant of the firm’s financial needs. “Growth could be an elephant in the whole room because every company wants to grow,” Manda said. “At the same time, you need to reduce emissions.”

Watch “Strategies, Struggles & Strides: Building a More Responsible Apparel Industry,” sponsored by Lenzing, to discover:

  • Why the Science Based Targets initiative was established
  • What companies can do to establish their own SBTs
  • How Lenzing prioritized and chose its own commitments
  • What is needed to drive progress towards a more circular fashion model
  • What Lenzing is doing with partners to promote circularity
  • How traceability can help improve client and consumer confidence
  • What impact COVID-19 will have on sustainable development

Click here to watch this webinar now.