Posts Tagged ‘OIA Eco Working Group’

Sustainabilty Demands Leadership, Not Posturing

Too bad that the communications department at PPR, the parent company of Puma and Gucci, doesn’t seem to be held to the same standards of original design and creativity that the product design departments are.  Their recent announcement about a new sustainability agenda focused on the social and environmental impacts of PPR’s business reads a lot like an off-the-rack knock-off of existing thinking, re-packaged as important business leadership. Tant pis; the world needs better.

That PPR aspires to be an active builder of Moral Capitalism is heartening. Way too few CEOs in this industry are even remotely serious about real sustainability.  In a world where government leadership on climate change is hot air rhetoric, period, private sector leaders have a unique opportunity to link solid, for-profit thinking/doing with sustainable business practices, creating real profit and social impact.

So, to les Pinaults, bienvenue, welcome — glad you are determined to be involved in the conversation.  But if you want to lead—the way a Gucci design leads—we need much more from you.

First, check the rhetoric about “groundbreaking” and “pioneering” and “world’s first” in the press materials.  For more than a decade, a group of competitors have been doing serious work to build sustainability into the fashion industry.  You are more than welcome to join the Outdoor Industry Association’s Eco-Working Group, which has been laboring the past several years to create a standard measurement system for the environmental impact of products.  Or, do connect to the Apparel Coalition, which counts as founding members the likes of Nordstrom and Gap and Adidas and Patagonia, who are trying to build consistent standards into how the apparel industry approaches sustainability.  Sustainability in the fashion industry requires collaboration, period.  If Walmart, with all their scale and power, believes that the best path to industrial reform requires other brands to collaborate rather than “go it alone,” then respectfully — connect to the existing efforts underway.  Given your creativity, your brand building power, your star power — consider building on the existing coalition of the truly committed.

Second, if you are serious about sustainability, consider some understanding of existing best practices.  Given the hurdles of consumer confusion, and government inaction, there is no time for anyone to reinvent wheels that are already rolling in the pursuit of sustainability. So it is disappointing to see you embrace buying carbon offsets as a best practice, rather than dedicating your creative energy to pursuing real, concrete emissions reductions in your operations and value chain.   Four years ago our company publically set a measureable, concrete goal—to become carbon neutral by the end of 2010.  To achieve carbon neutrality, we committed to cutting our emissions associated with our facilities and employee air travel by 50%.  And with hard work we did exactly what you can do—we reduced our emissions—by 38%.  We did not meet our goal of 50%, but we did fundamentally reorient our business practice.  We began to transform ourselves into a sustainable business.  And so when we wrote the check offsetting the balance of the emissions we are accountable for, we wrote the check with the determination that with more innovation, more hard work, more commitment, the “check writing” part of our sustainability agenda can be for a very short time period.  Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t rework your value chain to eliminate emissions—if we can, you surely can.

No one in the fashion space has more vision and daring than you.  No one competes harder than you.  You lead in our industry—and so more is expected of you, once you leap onto the short list of fashion brands that know we can create profit for shareholders in a sustainable fashion.  Lights are down, influential eyes are all set in their chairs, the catwalk is empty, the curtain is opening….and because this is the PPR sustainability show, there are big expectations.  Lights, camera…. let’s see PPR’s leadership in action.

Competitors Collaborating for Industry Change

Several years ago our CEO Jeff Swartz, inspired by nutrition labels on food packaging, suggested we come up with a label for telling our consumers the environmental good and bad associated with our product.  Thus grew the Green Index, which is our rating for the environmental impacts associated with our footwear.  What started as a small manual initiative has expanded to the point where, in the near future, we’ll be able to score all our shoes automatically.  This is a great accomplishment that will help us make better, more environmentally minded decisions about our product.

While we were making these strides internally, REI (the largest outdoor retailer in the US) took notice.  In 2006, their corporate executives met individually with the major brands at the Outdoor Retailer tradeshow to share our Green Index initiative and ask if they would help make it an industry initiative.

“Imagine,” said the head of product integrity at REI, “if we all measured and informed consumers about the environmental impact of our products.  That would spur sustainable innovation and dramatically improve the environmental performance of our supply chain.”

The brands they rallied met with us in the basement of a food co-op in Salt Lake City, Utah.  Talk about grassroots!  What’s evolved since is an international collaboration of the US and European outdoor industries, the Sustainable Fashion Consortium in Hong Kong; the World Federation of Sporting Goods; the snow and water sports industries and others — more than 200 brands in our industry alone, including everyone from the North Face and Patagonia to Petzl.  Our group, called the Eco Working Group, has developed an industry version of the Green Index – an index that can be applied to any type of product be it a tent or a pair of shoes.   It was rated one of the 10 Most Hopeful Green Business Stories of 2010 by GreenBiz.com.

It hasn’t been an easy path to get so many different brands with such diverse products to collaborate, but the process has created a terrific product and drawn attention from surprising organizations.  Walmart is one.  This week they along with Gap; Nike; H&M; Levi Strauss; Adidas; Target and other global leaders in the apparel and footwear industry announced that they are collaborating with our Outdoor Industry effort to adopt our index as a common means to measure and improve the environmental performance of our supply chain.  While we still have a way to go to get to Jeff’s vision of a label that allows consumers to compare the goodness of shoes, like food … we just got one long step closer.

Timberland + Outdoor Industry + world’s largest apparel retailers = promise of sustainable change.