07
Jun
Jevan Watson

World Environment Day; a farce or a timely reminder?

Posted by Jevan WatsonTagged , , , ,

World Environment Day took place this past Saturday, and in the run-up, many companies around the world plastered their social media accounts with posts about their drive towards net-zero or a reduction of single-use plastic. This is a small, but significant win – the fact that companies feel they need to be seen and heard in the green environmental space highlights a shift in mindset, not only by consumers but some of the largest corporations in the world.

We all know that we need to do more as a society – there isn’t an onus on one organisation or a set of individuals. This year, World Environment Day focused on our ecosystems to Reimagine, Recreate and Restore. This call to action comes as we are reminded of our situation, such as every three seconds, the world loses enough forest to cover a football pitch.

Fundamentally, healing our environment and driving towards a net-zero future is a multifaceted task that requires more than just pretty pictures, flowing social media copy and pledges. It requires tangible action, and this is coming from someone that has a career in crafting this external messaging.

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25
May
Georgie Howlett

Can fashion change its ways?

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Clothes are wrapped up in our identity. What we wear says something about us – whether we care about that or not. Over the centuries, clothes have symbolised status. Our outfit can affect our mood. We have special clothes for special occasions. Clothes can be a socio-political statement. And some people can’t afford clothes.

For quite some time, second-hand clothing has been broadly seen as second-rate. There have always been those creative individuals with a flair for unearthing vintage gems in a charity shop, but now society is reaching a tipping point. As someone who is fascinated by human behaviour and how to encourage habits that help the planet, I have been watching this gather momentum over the last few years.

Motivated by ‘voting with their wallet’ and reducing their carbon footprint, individuals have already been pushing change within other sectors e.g. single-use plastics, organic or local food, fairtrade supply chains. But we’ve been a little slower on the clothing front because it’s a hard habit to kick. As I said, clothes are deeply connected to our identity. And the fashion cycle is strong.

But the impact of the clothing industry is becoming harder to ignore: 350,000 tonnes of used but still wearable clothing goes to landfill each year in the UK, and it takes 1,800 gallons of water to grow enough cotton for one pair of jeans. Depressingly, the fashion industry is actually responsible for a huge chunk of global water pollution – it consumes more energy than shipping and aviation combined, and by 2050 is anticipated to be responsible for 25% of the world’s remaining carbon budget.

Better late than never, second-hand is experiencing a much-needed makeover. Driven by early adopters and influencers like Michaela Coel and Maquita Oliver, demand is sky-rocketing, with Gen Z at the helm of social norming pre-loved. Brands are having to adapt to put sustainability at the top of the agenda. (The significance of purpose / ESG / sustainability in the boardroom is something that we’ve seen grow steadily with clients across all sectors.)

I’d like to offer some proof points that show businesses need to go beyond organic fabrics and ethical supply chains and embrace a truly circular approach:

  • While brands like Mud Jeans have pioneered circular thinking for some time, mainstream brands are now joining the movement. Cos, owned by H&M, has launched a resale service on its website, Asos has seen vintage sales rise by 92% and Asda announced recently that it will sell second hand clothing in 50 supermarkets
  • Trend-setting teens have been trading clothes on Depop, Vinted, and Nuw, and renting through apps like Hurr and ByRotation in rising numbers – younger generations are taking their thrift hacks and tutorials to TikTok
  • Websites and apps that sell used clothing, such as Loopster and Kidclo, are growing fast, and eBay has sold over 60 million used items in the last year

We’re not there yet, though. The global apparel market is worth $1.5 trillion and is growing. A recent article on Bloomberg highlights that “while #thrifthaul and #knitting have a not-insignificant 456 million and 478 million views respectively on TikTok, #Sheinhaul — in which users showcase purchases from the ultra-cheap, ultra-fast fashion store SHEIN — has 2.3 billion”. And despite Boohoo being exposed for serious ethical failings, it’s still trading and successfully.

The other behaviour to watch out for is that, with the pre-loved market easing the conscience, people will continue to buy new, under the premise that they will re-sell rather than throw away. Charities and leading voices in this sector need to keep the focus on starting with second-hand, rather than easing the psychological burden with ‘recycling’. In the end, recycling is the last of the three pillars around addressing our problem with waste – the first two are ‘reduce’ and ‘reuse’.

But I’m optimistic. Sustainable habits are taking root, and even though this overhaul of the fashion industry will take more than one generation, it feels like a shift that is here to stay.

28
Apr
Lucy Chapple

A tale of two crises

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Introducing our new series, ‘Sustainnovation in a post-pandemic world’.  

In his now famous speech to London’s insurance market in 2015, Mark Carney, Governor of the Bank of England, described catastrophic climate change as the ‘tragedy of the horizon’. Limiting global temperature increases would necessitate leaving valuable fossil fuel assets in the ground – a scenario with cascading implications for the energy sector, and investors and governments banking on future profits from those assets. Because the burden of climate change will be carried by future generations, the incentive to change felt ‘abstract’. The risks of inaction were real, he argued, but not immediate.

In the five years since Carney delivered this speech, climate change consciousness has steadily grown. 2019 was a watershed year for environmental activism. Warnings by the IPCC on the far-reaching effects of inaction, and new evidence of mass biodiversity loss, prompted the declaration of a ‘climate emergency’. Global protests led by Greta Thunberg and other young people around the world dominated the news agenda. ‘Our house is on fire’ Thunberg warned, urging international leaders to take decisive action.

In 2020, a new crisis emerged that was more urgent and more immediately catastrophic. The Covid-19 pandemic threatened to bring our healthcare system to its knees, to tank our economy, and to take the lives of society’s most vulnerable. As resources were redistributed to support international efforts to combat the deadly virus, some wondered about the impact of this new crisis on what we’d come to recognise as the moral crisis of our time – climate change. How could we sustain momentum to avoid devastating our planet, in the face of a health emergency devastating our people?

In our new series, ‘Sustainnovation in a post-pandemic world’, we hope to uncover a deeper understanding of the impact of the pandemic on the road to net-zero. Exploring the nexus between sustainability and innovation, we’ll speak to business leaders to understand the role of green innovation in economic recovery efforts as we cautiously emerge from lockdown. Deep-dives into key sectors, from transport and mobility to financial services, energy and infrastructure, will reveal shifts in business strategy, attitudes and behaviour over the past year.

We look forward to sharing what we learn with you.

If you are a business leader in our network interested in contributing your thoughts, we are inviting guest submissions for this series and would love to hear from you. For those interested in checking out ‘Sustainnovation in a post-pandemic world’, please subscribe to our newsletter for updates, at the bottom of our home page.

02
Mar
Georgie Howlett

Why ‘sustainability’ is falling short

Posted by Georgie HowlettTagged , , , ,

Before I get carried away, it’s pertinent to point out that this was first mooted nearly a decade ago. I am not saying anything new here. But like with any change, there are the early adopters, the pioneers, the people who have an idea almost too soon. Real change occurs a while later, at the tipping point, as Malcolm Gladwell so aptly put it.

Never has the welfare of our beautiful blue planet been so high on the public agenda. Maybe some businesses are talking about it because they’ve realised their customers are starting to vote with their wallets and they are only interested in the bottom line, and some consumers are choosing sustainable brands to look good among their peers, but ultimately, the tide is turning. And ultimately, do individual motivations matter if it makes an overall positive change (for the time being, anyway)?

One of the silver linings of Covid-19 is it has been a bit of a global reset of attitudes and priorities, prompting many businesses to take a long hard look at themselves and do better.  As I am in the business of language, I want to put the spotlight on the word ‘sustainability’ and ask if it’s enough.  There is a whole industry built around ‘sustainability’ and it is a vital one. The people working in sustainability, and the businesses championing it, are doing truly exciting work. They are shaking up old models, interrogating supply chains, and finding the path to net zero, or better, net positive.

But let’s look at the word. To ‘sustain’ in this context means to maintain, to keep at a particular level.  In fact, its definition is ‘to cause or allow something to continue for a period of time’. It’s passive. Haven’t we learned that this isn’t enough? Last year the Black Lives Matter movement highlighted how not being racist isn’t enough – standing by silently is not enough, and the rallying call to society was to take action for change to happen. It is very clear the action we must take now is to put things back, to rebalance, to regenerate the biodiverse soils and seas that we have ravaged. We’ve taken so much from our planet, that operating ‘sustainably’ is not enough.

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