As the New Year dawns, about 63% of people are waking up to - not only a hangover, but a commitment to a series of resolutions they have set out to improve their quality of life in 2018.
But aside from joining the gym, cutting out junk food and losing weight, all of which make up some of the most common New Year resolutions, I challenge you (and myself) to this year make a conscious commitment to sustainable shopping.
Save the planet through shopping
Conscious and sustainable shopping is being aware of how the produce you buy affects the environment. For example buying from local farms, consuming less meat, choosing biodegradable packaging, being more aware of the energy efficiency of electrical items or choosing to buy ethically sourced items like clothing.
For me (and many others), conscious shopping is all about considering the whole lifecycle of the products you buy, from ethical sourcing and production, to a sustainable supply chain and recycling when the product is no longer adding value to your life or has been consumed.
Over the past few years, when it comes to food shopping, buying and eating locally has been quite a big deal due to many benefits such as community building, strengthening the local economy and improving health – as I’ve spoken about previously here in my Urban Gardening article.
But what I’ve also noticed, as an avid shopper both online and on the high street, is alongside the major food supermarkets, clothing retailers are also pushing the sustainability message by being consciously transparent in their product lifecycles.
But which brands do I think are doing this well?
In 2017 major fashion retailer Mango launched a range called Mango Committed as part of a sustainability component in its business model. The range included men’s and women’s pieces made up of ethically sourced materials (like organic and recycled cotton) from a carefully selected range of suppliers and manufacturers in Portuguese, Turkish and Moroccan factories. In the words of the brand itself, the range is a “thoughtfully crafted collection for woman and men featuring fashion pieces committed to environmental sustainability”.
Extra points go to the brand’s Corporate Social Responsibility department which had a major input into the collection by ensuring the level of quality and sustainability was maintained in the whole lifecycle. However, due to the extra effort in creating the items, the Mango Committed collection has driven up its prices and potentially caused an issue with the brand’s usual disposable-fashion consumers and there has been negative feedback on the lack of in store information, which the brand is likely to improve on next time.
So while it’s good to see a brand like Mango attempting to improve the sustainability of their process and products, as with most early attempts, there are always things to learn from and I look forward to seeing how they progress with these collections in the future.
In 2013 H&M was one of the first high street brand’s to launch a sustainable fashion collection. The Conscious Collection was the brand’s attempt at fighting back controversy regarding its production methods and arguably “unsustainable” business model; a label many fast fashion brands are tarnished with.
Unfortunately for H&M however their collection caused more controversy and they were accused of using it as a marketing ploy to make their company look greener by the Clean Clothes Campaign which is an international alliance dedicated to improving working conditions and empowering works in the global garment and sportswear industries.
In 2013 H&M also launched a garment collecting initiative allowing customers to drop of unwanted clothes in return for a discount code. Since launching this successful recycling programme they have gathered more than 55,000 tonnes of garments and given them new life. They have also rolled out the programme to other sister clothing brands such as &OtherStories.
Primark has been one of the most controversial clothing brands to enter the high-street in the past 20 years. Hit with bad publicity over poorly paid factory workers and poorly produced garments, the brand has been forced to place a greater emphasis of the sustainability of its operations.
According to the ethics section of their website, their products are made with respect for people and the planet including fair wages, safe working conditions and meeting international standards. Their product lifecycle has minimal impact to the environment and care is taken to reduce their carbon footprint such as implementing energy saving initiatives in their stores like improved control of HVAC systems – something that an advanced control interface like MELCORETAIL is more than capable of helping achieve.
In 2017 Primark also launched a line of sustainable cotton products; this was the first step in an ambitious target to have all cotton used in their garments as sustainability sourced.
The struggles for high street brands
As the world has changed over the past 200 years, the materials we use, the processes we use and the way we use has changed too. As consumerism grew, supply and demand meant more overseas factories with lower paid workers which allowed manufactures to achieve the best profit margins and with that, fast fashion as we know it today was born.
In the fashion industry especially, micro trends, new season collections and disposable clothing led to an unsustainable industry; exploiting workers, consumers and our planet. For example, according to this article on Huffington Post, it takes between 11,000 and 12,000 litres of water to produce just one pair of jeans.
So the struggle for many brands today is keeping up with demand while changing their product’s lifecycle – in real life and in the consumers mind. Collections and initiatives like those I’ve spoken about are small steps that I believe are good starting points, consumers just need to be educated on why conscious shopping is better and why paying a little bit more will reduce the overall cost our consumerism has on the planet.
So why is conscious shopping on the high street better?
While consumer habits will struggle to change, these are the main questions I think are worth considering when you are consciously shopping on the high street:
What fair trade brands are on my high street? Are there any local manufacturers I can buy from?
Can I afford this? Do I need the item? Will I feel guilty about the purchase later on?
Can I purchase this item in store as opposed to online? Can I purchase this item second-hand? Does this shop have a recycling programme?
How can your high street clothing brand improve?
The more you look around, the more you see how celebrity influence is helping to change our thinking. In 2013 the Green Carpet Capsule Collection event was held at London Fashion Week and a wide variety of celebrity and fashion influencers like Vogue Editor Anna Wintour attended and co-hosted. Described as a “breakthrough moment in global fashion” major UK brands embraced the sustainable vision and have done so ever since.
The event was held by Eco-Age a consulting agency that help businesses grow by creating, implementing and communicating sustainability solutions relating to supply chains, brand awareness and product initiatives.
If you are looking at embracing sustainability into your brand, I would suggest speaking to a consulting agency or find some top tips – like these on Vogue online which include tips like focusing on the materials that you are sourcing.
Of course improving the way your brand operations affect the planet should also apply to any physical stores you own. Reducing energy efficiency, as Primark has done is very important and should be part of your strategy.
To read more about how Primark has proceeded with this commitment in more detail, this case study on Fashion United is very detailed.
Interesting points include implementing a central building management system to optimise energy consumption, LED lighting, energy auditing and ensuring all equipment in properly maintained. All these steps have lead to them being awarded them Carbon Trust Standards in recognition and over the course of a year they reduced their energy intensity by 11%.
So all in all, it’s not just down to us to be conscious of our shopping habits, the brands we are buying from also have to be conscious of the sustainability messages that they are pushing out. Sustainable fashion collections, promoting the low environmental impact of their operations, supply chains and stores, and putting a higher emphasis on their Corporate Social Responsibly help to make customers’ decisions easier. They also help turn the fashion industry around, from one of the “dirtiest industries in the world” to one that supports itself and its customers in cleaning up the act.
So please join me in conscious shopping this year, after all it helps your bank balance, helps you avoid any guilty purchases and helps the world sustain the limited resources it has left.
Ellina Webb is a Senior Marketing Executive at Mitsubishi Electric.