More than half of sustainability leaders at apparel and textile brands have seen an uptick in consumer demand for environmentally sustainable practices and products since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, with many believing they may lose customers if they fail to meet commitments.
Respondents to a survey by the US Cotton Trust Protocol said requests for environmental action and greener goods has significantly or somewhat increased since the outbreak of coronavirus, with 42% noting customers are also more vocal in those demands.
Almost half of respondents seemed to believe that their customers are more likely to hold them accountable for those actions, with 48% saying they believed customers would switch brands if their company did not meet its sustainability goals or commitments.
Overall, 138 executives worldwide took part in the survey, of which 67% were either C-suite or senior vice president equivalent level. It aimed to assess how Covid-19 has impacted the sustainability agenda of major fashion brands and retailers and textile-based businesses across the globe.
The data also showed that 43% of respondents believe the crisis has had a positive impact on investments in sustainability efforts during the period, but 40% believe it has had a negative impact.
While some (9%) report pausing most or all sustainability initiatives due to Covid-19, the majority of companies continue to focus their sustainability efforts on manufacturing (25%), sourcing of raw materials (25%) or traceability (11%).
Other actions taken to buoy sustainability programmes include improving transparency in environmental reporting (59%); boosting sustainability in sourcing (63%); and aligning with external sustainability standards or protocols for existing programmes (59%). There is also a focus on outside partnerships (62%) until firms can afford to reinvest in big new innovations.
“It’s clear that Covid-19 has caused economic challenges up and down the supply chain, but this survey shows that companies and their customers remain focused on sustainability,” said Dr Gary Adams, president of the US Cotton Trust Protocol.
“As we enter recovery in many countries, systems like the Trust Protocol will be more important than ever so brands can have the data they need to show they are meeting their science-based targets.”
The US Cotton Trust Protocol is designed to help brands and retailers source US cotton with more confidence by providing annual data for six areas of sustainability in line with the UN Sustainability Goals.
Its survey also found Covid-19’s impact on companies’ investments in sustainability initiatives differs drastically by market.
North American respondents are least likely to invest, where only 26% of respondents believe the crisis has had a positive impact on sustainability investments at their company. While in Europe, six out of ten (63%) respondents said the pandemic has had a positive impact on their company’s sustainability efforts.
In Asia, 46% said they believe there have been increases in proactive investments in sustainability initiatives. With Asian European sustainability initiatives benefiting from the pandemic, market-specific conditions may play a larger role in the future of sustainability than global factors, the Trust Protocol said.
However, the study also found that 59% of respondents believe customers will still continue to prioritise price when making purchases as the battle between pocketbooks and environmental concerns continues.
When asked to rank how they believe customers will prioritise their purchases in the next year, respondents rated the top two priorities as getting the best possible deal and brand or retailer alignment with their personal values.
The Trust Protocol earlier this week (15 July) opened up its membership to brands and retailers so that cotton from its growers can begin to enter the supply chain.