For companies, implementing human rights and environmental due diligence in their own operations as well as in their supply chains is an increasingly urgent task that needs to be addressed with all their strength. This is already a huge challenge, but if companies operate internationally, they are confronted with an almost unmanageable amount of national and international legislation and the diverse aspects of different interest groups worldwide. In addition, ESG will also increasingly play a role in financing issues. For many banks, the topic of sustainability is increasingly becoming a criterion and basis for assessment when evaluating companies, and it can have an impact on issues such as lending.
But it’s not only companies that are responsible; consumers also have to change their mindset. This was recently stated by Marcus Engman, Chief Creative Officer of the Ingka Group, IKEA Retail, at the London Design Festival, and initially met with little approval. The problem cannot simply be passed on to consumers, he objected. What he wanted to make clear, however, was: “It’s not enough to educate consumers to adopt circular behaviour patterns. They also need the facilities and infrastructure to actually behave with a circular mindset. So instead of discarding old furniture and mattresses in landfill, customers can return them to us for creating new materials out of low value waste. We’re moving into a future where waste is the raw material,” he explained.
And he is right about that, as shown by a representative study by the Wuppertal Institute of the views of more than 1,000 citizens on sustainability issues. Most households in Germany (88 per cent) have unused products. 59 per cent of these are clothes, shoes and accessories. They are most likely to be given away (54 per cent), but are almost as often disposed of (51 per cent). The main reason for the latter is that most respondents find it too much of a hassle to sell these items. But they also say that they do not know the best way to part with them. To improve the reuse of second-hand goods, the respondents would like to see repair networks so that products can be used for longer, the collection of second-hand goods from their homes, better information about collection points or the facilitation of the drop-off or donation of second-hand goods. Only one-fifth of the respondents donated usable products in the past 12 months. The most important condition for the donors is that the products should be sold at fair prices or given to the needy. To help the environment, about half of the respondents say they would buy second-hand more often.
Many companies are starting to seriously implement strategies to achieve circular economy results or are offering support to do so. I would like to highlight just a few examples that illustrate how many different options there are.
OEKO-TEX® has introduced a new OEKO-TEX® RESPONSIBLE BUSINESS certification to help brands, brand groups, retailers and traders in the textile and leather industries to meet the many challenges they face. Participating companies can choose between an assessment of the due diligence status of their company through a self-assessment tool or certification to validate the information obtained through the self-assessment. For this purpose, OEKO-TEX® draws on a large number of international guidelines, first and foremost the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises with an additional focus on climate protection.
In order to support textile and fashion companies in fulfilling their social, ecological and ethical responsibilities along their supply chains, retail and industry are for the first time issuing a joint Code of Conduct for responsible corporate behaviour in the sectors of the German textile and fashion industry. The Code of Conduct of the German textile and fashion industry is based on internationally established benchmarks and covers the principles and standards of conduct relevant to these sectors. Conceived of as a voluntary commitment, it can be used by all companies in the sector, regardless of whether they are manufacturers, retailers or service providers.
The Spanish fashion group Mango recently announced that it is investing in the Spanish textile recycling project Recovo, an online platform that resells textile scraps. As part of this cooperation, Mango will support the start-up in scaling its business model and act as a mentor and advisor.
But a lot is happening on Mango’s own doorstep, too. For example, the premium fashion label Muntagnard from the Grisons Alps produces sustainable textile innovations for the circular economy, and does so in a fundamentally different way. A big focus is on transparency and knowledge transfer. Consumers are meant to be provided with a basis for decision-making and additional information on which areas are considered relevant for producing sustainable textiles.
Companies that do not take their responsibility seriously or engage in greenwashing are rightly punished. The trade magazine Textilwirtschaft recently reported that chain stores H&M and Decathlon were reprimanded for misleading sustainability communication in their Dutch online shops. “An investigation by the local competition and consumer protection authority had classified individual claims as unclear and not sufficiently substantiated. Both companies agreed to improve their information and pay ‘as compensation for their insufficient information’ €500,000 and €400,000 respectively to sustainable projects.”
In times of high inflation, looming recessions and record energy prices, everyone is major big challenges. Survival is currently the top priority for many retailers. In the medium term, however, only those who adapt to the general conditions will make it. The textile industry is one of the biggest CO₂ polluters – a rethink is needed. Four billion tonnes of CO₂ per year – that’s how high the emissions of the global textile industry are. That is more than that of international air and sea traffic combined. The pandemic years have shown us that crises can turn into opportunities that unleash a great deal of creativity and innovation. I am firmly convinced that retail, together with consumers, can create a new mindset that will lead us to a healthy and liveable future.