Investment and policy change will help the global fashion industry improve its sustainability performance, but brands should also not wait for the perfect solution and act now, according to speakers at a recent webinar hosted by Global Fashion Agenda (GFA).
Speaking prior to the release of GFA’s Fashion CEO Agenda this week, Jonas Eder Hansen, public affairs director of GFA, said the industry has received the attention of policy makers recently, in particular pointing to the European Commission’s Circularity Action Plan, which launched in March.
The plan could see the bloc’s clothing and textile manufacturers and importers face strict environmental rules aimed at cleaning up production.
“I really believe policy makers can help improve industry sustainability performance,” Hansen told attendees. “Clearly there is political momentum right now. We have forthcoming legislative proposals that I have been in consultations, or currently going through public consultations about, and the legislation will come forward within this year.”
In relation to the CEO Agenda, Hansen said there is much that needs to be considered, particularly in relation to reporting systems, smart material choices, and circular systems, amongst others.
“We know there is increased risk about the occurrence of human rights violations in several countries in the textile value chain and the current legislative proposal that is on the table has a lot of attention on due diligence and the efforts of a company in taking proportionate measures.
“In order to activate this we believe the harmonisation of reporting systems regarding due diligence needs to take place,” he emphasised.
On smart material choices, Hansen said they play a huge part in the environmental sustainability of products and the industry’s sustainability performance as a whole.
“In order for companies to manage this and manage their material choices in identifying opportunities for improvement, we need solid information about individual materials in terms of impact and also standardise approaches. This is where we believe a common approach for the environmental impact assessment is needed. This is something that is going on at an EU-level. Additionally, we believe governments can help by providing direct funding to materials science research and other incentives for stimulating the use of more sustainable materials. We can see there is a lot of activity. We see a lot of opportunities to activate this particular fashion CEO Agenda priority.”
A common framework
Working directly with policymakers, however, is something that one organisation cannot do alone, it requires industry collaboration, Hansen said
“We are working with one voice with the industry and we have teamed up with a number of collaborators within the industry like Textile Exchange and the Sustainable Apparel Coalition to create a Policy Hub where we can speak with a united voice on what the industry wants to achieve and where the industry wants to go. It’s about making sure we have that unified voice.”
Morten Lehmann, chief sustainability officer of GFA, added: “The big challenges we are facing, on the one hand, we have to act now and can’t wait for the perfect solution. But of course, with policy, it is so important that whatever regulation comes out really drives action that has the biggest impact.
“We want to inform policymakers to ensure it’s the right policy that comes out and how can we do that when it’s a global issue? It’s one of the big challenges. But if we can get it right, it is so challenging for the industry then we have that saying that if we can change fashion, we can change everything. So if we get this model right, not only does it affect people all around the world because we all wear clothes, but also it can be expanded to other industries, so that’s why it’s so important that we get it right.”
Meanwhile, Nicolaj Reffstrup, sustainability engagement manager for H&M Group, emphasised the importance of having one converged framework to work off.
“It’s extremely hard to navigate so we need transparency and industry to work towards. I’m still waiting for policies to truly deliver that change. It would be nice if we see a little more tangible nudging towards a greener future from a political standpoint but until that happens we have to create that progress ourselves, that’s why we need a common framework. We also need the media to hold us accountable and true to those promises.”