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How can brands achieve a Sustainability-Centric Retail Model?

April 19, 2018
Posted by Whitney Armstrong

As consumer attention on environmental issues increases ‘sustainability’ is the word on every retailers lips. With 42% of fashion brands now publishing information on suppliers, retailers need to embed good practice into every aspect of the business to achieve their aim of being a truly sustainable brand. While there are a number of retailers leading the way there is no best practice consensus as yet, and a handful of retailers alone cannot make the wholesale change consumers and regulators are beginning to demand.

From reducing water usage to minimising waste and improving recycling; here are five steps brands can take today that will deliver measurable improvements.

Step 1 – Understanding the end to end supply chain

 The onus is now on brands to have a deep understanding of how the manufacturing process operates, where materials are sourced, goods created and workers treated. Adopting a robust on-boarding process could ensure finance, ethical, technical and import teams are totally confident in the supplier before any deal is signed.

A good model to follow is the 17 goals for sustainability laid down by the UN in 2015, including nine set by the Ethical Trading Institute (ETI). While this may seem daunting at first, there are significant opportunities for retailers to collaborate – from sharing performance information to jointly funding ethical audits.

Step 2 – Improving product traceability

 It is essential for retailers to leverage insight into the end to end supply chain to track the source of every piece of wood used within the product line, from the type of tree to location and certification. This way brands can ensure all wood used is sustainably sourced. Similar models could be adopted for products made from leather, cotton or feather and down, leading to best practice models for sustainable supply chains across an array of products and raw materials.

Step 3 – Collaborate

 Rather than embarking upon new relationships that will take time to bring up to the required sustainable standards, it is those retailers who create a pool of trusted suppliers who will be able to encourage and develop innovation within the existing supply chain. Working together, with common goals, retailers will be far better placed to build alternatives to materials and processes that have an impact on sustainability.

Step 4 – Making Sustainability Strategic

With consumers, especially younger consumers, increasingly adopting ‘mindful shopping’ sustainability is a board level issue. Therefore ensuring sustainability relevant reporting is delivered at board level is becoming key – if exceptions are identified in, for example, the sustainability of wood products, this needs to be addressed at the most senior level, fast. But, there are also opportunities to consider sustainable models that appeal to certain demographics – from long life fashion to recycling bins in store, even fashion by subscription. Sustainability requires new thinking in many areas.

Step 5 – Be Patient

 Change takes time. While improved collaboration between retailers should help to accelerate progress, especially given the direction provided by the UN’s 2015 objectives, there are massive issues to resolve. The key is to get started now.



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Whitney is a key member of the commercial team within Adjuno, based in the UK, she is responsible for assisting with the sales and marketing of its supply chain solutions. Whitney has a range of experience from working within compliance at a global healthcare company, to customer service for various companies in the retail industry.