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VF Highlights Material Traceability Progress

VF Corp. is placing a premium on material integrity and traceability, with significant movement in tracking the origins of its cotton and leather.

The North Face, Vans, Timberland, Dickies and Supreme owner’s latest sustainability report details the firm’s achievements in people, planet and product throughout the pandemic—and showcases the strides it has made since its last self-imposed audit in 2018. The newly released summary of social and environmental efforts, evaluated from April 2019 through March 2020, details a move toward science based targets, sustainable, certified materials and community development within VF Corp’s sourcing locales and home offices.

“So much has changed” since the brand’s last report, chairman, president and CEO Steve Rendle wrote, citing not only the impacts of a global health crisis, but growing recognition of the effects of climate change and greater awareness of social injustices. These “landmark issues” have instilled within the company “a greater sense of urgency to make things better now, and protect our collective future.” The company’s new roadmap aligns with Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) standards, the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB) standards, and serves as VF’s annual communication on progress for the United Nations Global Compact.

Within the report, VF Corp has published new sustainability goals as well as elucidating its progress on existing targets.

Since 2018, VF Corp has reached 75 percent of its 100 percent goal of purchasing all cotton from suppliers in the U.S. or Australia—or from a third-party sustainable source. The crop made up 22 percent of the company’s overall material input for fall 2020. “We remain dedicated to responsibly sourcing cotton and continue to support the development of sustainable cotton practices in the U.S. and Australia through engagement with industry associations, farmers, universities and agricultural experts, such as Cotton Incorporated and Cotton Australia,” the company said.

Meanwhile, all of the company’s leather now comes from Leather Working Group certified factories—a goal it planned to achieve by this year, and it is currently working to transition to regenerative or responsibly sourced hides. Subsidiary Timberland has been working toward this goal in recent seasons, announcing a partnership with Other Half Processing to source leather from regenerative ranches.

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The company announced three new goals in product and material innovation, committing to cutting out 100 percent of unwanted chemicals or substances from production by 2025 and implementing new traceability capabilities, with the aim of tracking five of its key materials through their entire supply chain journeys by 2027. It will also eradicate single-use plastics from all packaging by 2025. With a goal of reducing its intake of virgin polyester by 50 percent, VF Corp said it currently sources 24 percent of its polyester from recycled inputs.

When it comes to environmental impact from its factories, the group is keen to reduce its Scope 1 and 2 greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by sourcing renewable energy and enacting energy efficiency initiatives. Since a 2017 baseline, the company has cut its carbon output by 17 percent. It aims to see a reduction of 55 percent by 2030.

Scope 3 emissions, which come from processes and activities not controlled by the company directly—from suppliers’ operations to transportation—saw a reduction of more than 50 million metric tons of GHG through factory sustainability programs. While the company saw large-scale business growth between 2017 and 2020, its Scope 3 emissions did not increase, and VF Corp ultimately pledges to cut those outputs by 30 percent by 2030 from a 2017 baseline.

Part of those efforts will stem from a greater investment in renewable energy, which currently powers 20 percent of the company’s electricity at owned and operated facilities. By 2025, the goal is to source 100 percent renewable energy across those locations. Waste reduction will also play a large role in achieving these goals, and the firm said it is well on its way to achieving 100-percent verified zero-waste status at its distribution centers across the globe. The company also announced a new goal to scrap all non-essential, single-use plastics from its direct operations and sponsored events by 2023.

The brand strives to be more than just an apparel and footwear company, vice president of global sustainability, responsibility and trade, Sean Cady, said. “Collectively, we work to be a leading global citizen, setting a high bar for corporate sustainability and responsibility,” he said. “From our owned offices to our partner factories around the world, we use our scale and resources to take actions that advance meaningful and measurable progress.”

Social progress has also become a clear area of focus in recent seasons, amid myriad supply chain challenges from Covid outbreaks to canceled orders that impacted sourcing locales across the globe. While the company incurred its own fiscal challenges during the early days of the pandemic, it said it has focused on worker development in its sourcing communities, providing aid to 290,000 people during fiscal year 2020, and has made new commitments to promote equal opportunities to people across its supply chain. By 2025, supplier factories will be required to implement gender-based violence prevention and reporting mechanisms, and elevate health and safety programs. Throughout 2020, $6.2 million was donated to 72 community partners and Covid relief efforts.

Amid the social unrest that characterized much of the year, VF Corp has also announced the new goals of achieving 25-percent representation for Black, Indigenous and people of color within its director ranks and above by 2030, as well as slating 50 percent diverse candidates for hiring or promotion opportunities going forward.

The firm’s new goals underscore its commitment to fuel change across the fashion industry. “We believe there is a reciprocal relationship between purpose and profit, and when we get it right, we create a virtuous cycle that positively impacts the world and our bottom line,” Cady said. VF Corp aims to accomplish new milestones both independently and through collaboration with the industry at large, he said. “We’re confident we can drive continued progress while simultaneously delivering products that consumers desire.”