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Sourcing Scoop: Kering Sustainability Leader on Really Navigating Sustainable Sourcing

Sustainable sourcing has quickly evolved from value-add to vital, particularly as the threat of climate change and overuse of resources loom ever larger.

There’s an urgency to act, according to Kering head of sustainable sourcing innovation Helen Crowley, whether supply chain executives acknowledge it or not.

“It is the sourcing of raw materials that is the direct interface between business and nature,” Crowley told Sourcing Journal. “Through sustainable sourcing and reconfiguring supply chains, we can help drive change in agriculture, mining and forestry, as examples, and promote regenerative, wildlife friendly approaches to production.”

Those concepts are increasingly surfacing as key for carrying the industry forward, and for companies like Kering, sustainable sourcing has been a clear and present priority.

Surmounting setbacks in sustainable sourcing

But setting greener guideposts has not come without its challenges for the global luxury company, and the industry at large, namely where transparency is concerned.

“Transparency is a critical issue in the global fashion supply chain, and after years of doing our Environmental Profit and Loss accounting, which measures and reveals our impacts and risks all the way back to where we source, we are in a good place on this,” Crowley said. “However, companies that do not have a handle on transparency really are at a loss in controlling—or even knowing—how ethical and responsible their sourcing and, consequently, their products are.”

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Kering’s Environmental Profit and Loss accounting, or EP&L, is what drives its sustainability strategy where the environment is concerned.

“When the EP&L analysis originally revealed that the majority of our impacts lay in the supply chain (over 90 percent) with the bulk of this from the production and processing of raw materials, we switched gears to focus on the supply chain and create effective programs and standards,” Crowley explained.

The EP&L allows Kering to prioritize areas of highest impact, rather than mulling which foot would be best to put forward first. It has also served as a tool for “internal change management” as Crowley put it, meaning it helped others in the company understand the sustainability priorities and their role in contributing to it.

“We can chart our progress through our annual EP&L analysis so we can also then adapt accordingly during our 2025 sustainability targets timeline,” Crowley said. “The key for us is to use it in comparing the relative orders of magnitude of potential impacts instead of being over-focused on individual numbers, as well as the implications of different choices.”

Before all else, companies should be homing in on their raw materials sourcing to tackle sustainability at its origin.

“One of the challenges that we have at Kering is to identify the best practices in raw material production that we want to support and how to ensure our sourcing not only does less bad, but does good and, actually, does enough good,” Crowley explained. “Part of this challenge is also around showing real outcomes and progress.”

It’s been tough going for brands when it comes to reporting sustainability efforts: some haven’t publically (or privately) set any goals, which has become a no-no when it comes to catering to consciously-minded millennials and the ensuing Gen Z cohort; some set goals and are then faulted for missing them; and some stay mum on their sustainability strides altogether because they’re taking almost too much care not to say the wrong thing and face criticism down the line.

At Kering, action has been the answer.

“We have been moving from making commitments to showing action and results,” Crowley explained. To get there successfully, Kering has tapped science-based tools and collaborations with experts to help it grasp the best indicators to measure and to keep track of its efforts. “Of course, the challenge is that we are just one player within fashion’s long, complex supply chains, so having real influence can be difficult. We are working out ways to collaborate with our suppliers, and also leverage and catalyze solutions across our entire sector.”

What uptake will really take

Collaboration will be the only successful way forward for sustainable sourcing, so companies will have to learn not to hold their cards so close to the chest at the expense of the greater industry.

“Beyond that, the industry will need a better handle on how to use science to show what the key issues are for the industry when it comes to climate, biodiversity and livelihoods,” Crowley said.

“We should be addressing all three principles of the Circular Economy—not just choosing one or two,” she said. Those principles, as defined by circular economy purveyor the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, are: design out waste and pollution, keep products and materials in use, and regenerate natural systems.

And the apparel sector can’t get that done by staying in its own silo.

“This means stepping outside of our industry and working with scientists, academics and also entrepreneurs,” Crowley said. “We need to also collaborate closer with our competitors who have similar supply chains in order to have more collective influence and to scale up solutions.”

What’s next for sustainable sourcing

While sustainable sourcing has gained considerable traction in recent years, really moving the needle in the space will mean more than setting carbon emission reduction targets.

“In my point of view, sourcing from regenerative production systems that provide ‘multi-benefit solutions’ will make a real difference,” Crowley said. “This means production systems that contribute to climate change mitigation, protect biodiversity and steward landscapes and provide sustainable and thriving livelihoods for millions of people. If the industry could make this shift over the next years, I truly believe our world and our nature would significantly benefit.”