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Future Retail View: Driving sustainable change

By Miya Knights, Publisher | Thursday March 9 2023 | UPDATED 12.04.23

Retail Technology reveals the latest ethical trends and tech, as discussed by former and current Bamboo Clothing, Land’s End, Marks & Spencer, Orlebar Brown and PANGAIA executives

Gathering and analysing varied primary and secondary data sources emerged as retail’s main sustainability challenge at an exclusive event held in London late last month.

The panel discussion, hosted by technology consultancy greyhairworks!, confirmed greener processes and practices are good for business. But there are also some concerns.

Looming regulation was one area of concern raised by the panel’s chair and former Marks & Spencer executive involved in its pioneering ethical Plan A initiative, Susan Aubrey-Cound.

She highlighted the Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD), which will require all large companies to report on sustainability policy and performance.

Understanding sustainability requirements

“The mandatory reporting requirements of the CSRD are coming in 2025, but will look back to 2024 figures,” explained Aubrey-Cound. “So, companies need to start preparing now.”

Merryn Chilcott, Sustainability & Technical Manager at sustainable fashion brand, BAM Bamboo Clothing, urged retailers to look across the whole lifecycle of products when measuring their environmental impact.

“For example, you can make a fully recyclable jacket from recycled materials. But it’s difficult to include end-of-life stages into product Life Cycle Assessments (LCAs),” Chilcott said.

Beckie Ellis, Materials Impact Manager at materials science company PANGAIA, said volume drivers were the best area to focus on when assessing environmental impacts.

Ellis told attendees: “We went for volume drivers because that’s where the majority of our impact was. The LCAs were a massive unlock for understanding our Scope 3 emissions, helping us identify the hotspots.”

From manufacturing to end-of-life

Constanze Freienstein, who recently left her most recent role as European Managing Director of global brand, Lands’ End, pointed to non-material ways the fashion industry can foster more sustainable practices.

“Land’s End offers a lifelong guarantee, where our brand ethos is to take a ‘one wardrobe’ approach to increase the number of times a garment is worn,” said Freienstein. “It’s important to also consider the washing temperature as well.”

Daniel Novello, Sustainability Specialist and Senior Production Coordinator for men’s resort wear brand, Orlebar Brown, added that it was important to improve clothing manufacturing methods so consumers could make more sustainable choices.

“We always say that every Orlebar Brown product is developed and designed to help our customer holiday better,” he added. “Our LCA work has allowed us to make more informed choices about our collections.

Capturing relevant data points

When asked what examples of new data points retailers should look to capture and track their environmental impact, Ellis described how PANGAIA is deriving meaningful insights from both owned and third-party supplier data.

“Engaging with suppliers is essential to ask for specific processing information, for example,” said Ellis. “You have to work with third parties to understand the outputs and gain the insights. It’s not a supply chain, but a supply web.”

Akhil Sivanandan, President and Chief Commercial Officer of fashion sustainability platform, Green Story, added that primary sources typically make up 20% of the data companies need to start using the globally recognised LCA methodology.

“The rest is assumed,” continued Sivanandan. “Then you slowly fill in the gaps with suppliers from there. But you need structured communication that captures process-level data and proofs over any manufacturer’s environmentally sustainable claims.”

Taking the next steps

Green Story works with all three of the brands represented by the panellists, where they all rely on the ability to provide robust environmental supply chain analysis.

“Look both upstream and downstream,” Sivanandan advised. “And, make sure you’re translating the CO2 impact into something that’s understandable for the consumer, such as the equivalent of planting a number of trees or taking x amount of cars off the road.”

Alongside the panel discussion, three other technology providers offered their take on how retailers can run their businesses more sustainably.

Artificial intelligence (AI) analytics provider, Peak, focused on improved inventory forecasting to better match supply with demand; and, ecommerce brand advocacy platform, Duel, discussed the importance of activating more sustainable choices by engaging customers.

What consumers want
Real-time digital market research platform, Bolt Insight, also shared the findings of its latest sustainability-focused research among 300 UK fashion consumers.

It found that 60% of UK consumers feel sustainability in fashion is an important issue for them, rising to 85% for Gen-Z. Also, 40% Gen-Z & Millennials said they were prepared to pay between £5-£15 more for sustainable items, while 40% of Gen-X shoppers said they wouldn’t spend any extra.

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