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These are the 7 Critical Sustainability Priorities for Apparel CEO’s in 2018

Global Fashion Agenda has set out to help fashion CEOs collectively reduce their companies’ carbon footprints with a new outline for where to start with sustainability.

On Tuesday, the fashion sustainability leadership forum introduced its first CEO Agenda for the industry. Established in collaboration with leading brands like H&M and Target, the CEO Agenda advises company executives on where to focus their sustainability efforts for a more circular future.

The agenda divides the seven sustainability priorities in two main categories—three core priorities for immediate implementation and four transformational priorities for fundamental change. The aim is to provide fashion CEOs with attainable efforts to improve their supply chains.

“It takes a coordinated effort to move the needle on sustainability, which is why this agenda for a common industry focus holds the potential to be a major breakthrough. Fashion is one of the largest industries in the world, but also one of the most resource and labor intensive,” Global Fashion Agenda CEO Eva Kruse said. “That’s why there’s no alternative but for sustainability to become an integral part of any company’s business strategy.”

1. Supply chain traceability

The fashion supply chain is complex, which could present challenges for fashion brands that want to keep track of where their products are made. Tracing tier one and tier two suppliers can help identify and improve the ethical, environmental and social impact of fashion production. Fashion brands can trace the origins of their products, identify challenges and risks in their supply chain in collaboration with stakeholders, and efficiently communicate with consumers about the impact of their products on the environment. Following this first step, the agenda suggests that fashion brands disclose a list of tier one and tier 2 suppliers annually, and continue to further supply chain traceability.

2. Efficient use of water, energy and chemicals

According to data from the Global Carbon Project, the fashion industry currently contributes 2 percent to the global carbon budget. However, if fashion brands don’t conserve natural resources, data from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation says that share could reach up to 26 percent. The 2017 Pulse of the Fashion Industry report said some of the largest impacts on climate, chemical and water pollution derive from the processing stage of the fashion value chain that may include processes like leather tanning and denim processing. The agenda suggests CEOs work with their suppliers to track and identify water, energy and chemicals consumption in this stage, so they can implement programs that minimize the use of natural resources.

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3. Respectful and secure work environments

Though the fashion industry has made progress on protecting garment workers, the agenda suggests that more work needs to be done to promote safer and more respectful working environments. According to the 2017 Pulse of the Fashion Industry report, the 60 million people employed along the fashion value chain have historically been exposed to occupational hazards on the job, including discrimination and unsafe facilities. The report said respecting universal human rights of employees is key for supply chain sustainability, since fashion brands that respect their employees can yield higher productivity and shorter turnaround times. The agenda advises CEOs to enforce policies that protect workers, including safe working conditions and the prohibition of forced labor.

4. Sustainable material mix

The way fashion brands source raw materials could make or break their sustainability progress. Data from the 2017 Pulse of the Fashion Industry report says, across segments, the choice of raw materials can determine up to 50 percent of a fashion brand’s environmental footprint. Despite this statistic, some fashion brands aren’t developing more sustainable materials, potentially due to the complex undertaking of shifting sourcing practices.

The agenda says changing the mix of materials could significantly minimize the carbon footprint of fashion producers. Eco-friendly alternatives, including bio-based and low-impact materials, could help the industry reduce pollution, since they require less water and energy use compared to other raw materials. Making the switch to more sustainable materials also prompts consumers to buy less and engage in more eco-conscious practices, including apparel recycling.

5. Closed-loop fashion system

The fashion value chain’s “take, make, dispose” model  is no longer working, since most clothes end up in landfills. Fostering a closed loop-fashion system could be a solution to the global apparel pollution problem. According to the 2017 Pulse of the Fashion Industry report, if today’s textile collection rate were tripled by 2030, it could be worth more than $4.96 billion for the world economy.

By shifting from a linear to a circular model, the industry can depend less on natural resources and produce garments that have multiple life cycles. The agenda says CEOs can better train their design and product development teams to create products that are durable and recyclable. In addition, CEOs can also work with other industry organization on clothing take back programs, so consumers can also take part in a more circular economy.

6. Promotion of better wage systems

Sustainability involves multiple components of the fashion value chain, including workers, that are directly impacted by fashion brands’ environmental choices on and off the factory floor. While some factories are compensating workers fairly, the agenda suggests that others are not working to fortify better wage systems. Establishing better wage systems could yield improvements in productivity and improve the quality of life for garment workers, since workers would feel valued by fashion brands. The agenda advises fashion brands to ensure that their suppliers comply with local wage laws and compensate workers fairly, so workers can support their families outside of the work environment.

7. Fourth Industrial Revolution

The Fourth Industrial Revolution is approaching, as fashion brands continue to ramp up their technology investments to speed up apparel manufacturing. Despite concerns over robots replacing humans in the fashion value chain, digitization could provide a myriad of sustainability benefits, including better labor practices and less reliance on natural resources. By embracing technology innovations, fashion brands can develop responsible automation that positively impacts garment workers, reduces the carbon footprint of their supply chains and allow consumers to take part in the design process for on-demand customization.