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The principles of sustainability

Updated Monday, 28th October 2013

Just what does sustainable clothing mean to your brand?

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Rolls of colourful fabric in a shop in India Copyrighted  image Icon Copyright: © Olegd |

The principles of sustainability are well understood – at worst do no harm, ideally leave the world a better place. And whether you think there are three or four pillars of sustainability, we all agree social, environmental and natural resources must be treated as carefully as economic to ensure a better future for our children. But what does that mean for you as a clothing manufacturer or retailer?

The sustainability community has developed metrics to demonstrate value and impact to justify sustainability programmes in business terms. Thought-leaders like Sustainable Brands emphasise their importance in driving organisational response (see their latest White Paper 'Redefining Value: The New Metrics of Sustainable Business'). But as they themselves say, 80% of a business’ value is not a tangible asset on the balance sheet, it’s ‘good will’ or brand equity. And the danger remains that what can be measured determines what is managed.

A sustainable business understands and manages its risks effectively. So for me, each business should look at its own risk profile from raw material producer to final customer, identify the greatest sources of risk and put in place programmes that anticipate and address them.

  • Do you have/supply a high-profile consumer brand?  Then reputational risks are high and you need to ensure your systems minimise the chances of bad news stories. Cynical? Just watch the big brands move when customers express revulsion at a factory collapse or fire.
  • Is supply chain security important?  Then don’t rely on switching sourcing just as everyone else is also looking to replace supplies from a flood-affected area or a failed cotton harvest. Work with your suppliers to improve resilience.
  • Does your brand rely on innovation to be a market leader? Then partner suppliers to draw on their expertise and insight, developing mutually rewarding relationships.
  • Is price point all important? Then collaborate across your supply chain and own operation to eliminate waste and needless cost, and generate new value.

Whatever your business model, you need to understand how it touches the world and how the world touches it. Only then can you truly become sustainable.

This blog is part of the Institute of Social Marketing online sustainable clothing event.





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