BUILDING THE BRIDGE BETWEEN FASHION AND THE UN’S SUSTAINABILITY GOALS

Article written for the Loanhood.

In the decade of action, the fashion industry has all the tools to implement the SDGs and drive positive change.

The SDGs refer to The Sustainable Development Goals, 17 goals adopted by the United Nations in 2015 as a call to action to end poverty, protect the planet and improve the lives and prospects of everyone, everywhere by 2030. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development set out a 15-year plan to achieve the Goals, that was signed by 193 countries.

Kerry Bannigan, the founder of  Conscious Fashion Campaign and Steve Kenzie, the executive director of UN Compact discussed during Pure London AW20/21 about role of the fashion industry in implementing and achieving these sustainable goals.

Kirsty McGregor (editor-Drapes), Steve Kenzie (UN Compact executive) and Kerry Bannigan (Conscious Fashion Campaign founder)

The fashion industry plays a major role when it comes to implementing the SDGs. As Steve Kenzie points out this industry is enormous, “3 trillion pounds globally and the impact of that is really profound on the environment, workers’ rights and also it is one of the most influential industry in terms of changing the way people think.”

In order to help bridge the gap between fashion and the SDGs, The Conscious Fashion Campaign was born. Kerry Bannigan explains that The Conscious Fashion Campaign seeks to engage with leading fashion global industry events in order to educate and activate the attendees. These people, who are already part of the industry or want to enter the fashion world, can start and drive the change by implementing the goals into their business DNA and their consumption habits. For them to be able to do this they have to hear and be introduced this framework as often as possible and they need to consider these two elements:

Collaboration and interconnectedness

While there is a growth when it comes to fashion taking into account sustainability, this road is full of challenges. We live in the era of fast consuming, and this makes it more difficult to implement the goal number 12, responsible consumption and production. This goal refers to the way brands can think creatively and collectively on how they can reconfigure the usual business model to one and prioritize sustainability. Kerry emphases that while working in fashion is very competitive, brands could actually benefit from working together, sharing ideas, research and practices. The whole idea of the SDGs is all based on moving this together, so it can scale.

Besides collaboration, a key feature of the SDGs is interconnectedness which means that making progress achieving one of the goals, will also positively affects the others.

Positive actions so far

In the last 18 months there were some significant positive transformations in the fashion industry that applied the goal number 12. One notable action is the signing of the Fashion Industry Charter for Climate Action, which includes a target of 30% GHG emission reductions by 2030 and a commitment to analyse and set a decarbonization pathway. Also, the emergence of the Fashion Pact that brings together fashion companies from ready-to-wear to luxury brands, including their suppliers and distributors, in order to work on three environmental goals: stopping global warming, restoring biodiversity and protecting the oceans.

Seeing all these actions is encouraging, but while sustainability is more and more popular, is also a great marketing tool, which is refer to as greenwashing.

Could greenwashing lead to real action?

The greenwashing effect is the appearance of a brand taking environmental action, when really is just a method of attracting customers and the advertised action is insignificant. However, Steve points out that sometimes even if the only motivation for a brand to become more sustainable is making profit that might lead to more serious action. He witnessed how a brand which cared only about their reputation went to see the factory conditions of their workers in Malesia. They were simply socked when they’ve witnessed the inhumane environment of the workers. Fortunately, that led them to make real changes on how they choose suppliers, reducing the hours, offering fair payment and what they’ve seen in exchange was a rise in the quality of the production. Often, brands have no idea what is behind their supply chain, which is no excuse, while we as consumers have to make sure we inform and push the brands to take action, the brands have to be more transparent and know how their products are produced.

In order to see transformative change, everyone need to start with incremental change. From consumers calling out greenwashing, to brands implementing the SDGs and collaborating together so that by 2030 all applying all these frameworks is just common sense. Sounds ambitious, but we also need to dream a bit in order to keep going.

Useful resources:

SDGs compass– guide on implementing the SDGs

Fashion Industry Charter for Climate Action

Fashion Pact

Conscious Fashion Campaign

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development

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