How to get started with integrative sustainability in fashion

Sustainability is a complex concept, and one which necessarily requires a multidisciplinary approach to its study, understanding and implementation.

How to get started with integrative sustainability in fashion

Behind every product lies an entire ecosystem of developmental and production processes, each with their own environmental, social, economic, and ethical implications. Each of these must, in turn, be considered in an equally rigorous manner. Today we explain how the challenge posed by the transformation of the textile sector’s production and consumption model can be met if we allow ourselves to be guided by an integrative philosophy.

The problem: a highly delocalised industry

Before we continue, let’s put the problem into context. We use the word ‘challenge’ because, for the textile industry, any discussion of transformation and sustainability instantly comes up against problems of misinformation and a lack of traceability in the production chain. The fashion industry has one of the longest and most delocalised supply chains in the world. By way of example, a simple cotton t-shirt can easily undergo more than 30 different processes, moving from one factory to another accordingly. Logic would seem to dictate that a product can be classed as 100% sustainable if each of these 30 processes is environmentally and socially responsible. Crazy! It’s impossible to tackle the problem in its entirety. This is where strategy and a 360° vision are key.

All professionals working in the textile sector want to see transparent, responsible and accountable value chains but achieving them isn’t easy. According to Accenture, only 2% of sustainability programs are successful. In my opinion, the reason for failure is, firstly, the lack of traceability of all the processes involved in manufacturing a product, and secondly, a lack of prioritisation in terms of how to act.  So, sustainability criteria must be met over the entire value chain. 

To add a further layer of complexity, sustainability criteria must be met not only over the entire life cycle of the product, but also extend to other associated areas, such as the social, environmental, and ethical impacts. Thus, it is clear to see that there can be no one-size-fits-all solution to all the problems we must tackle. The only way forward is to understand sustainability as an integrated ecosystem of solutions and challenges.

Sustainability as an integrated ecosystem of solutions

The goal is to minimise the environmental impact of every process associated with the manufacturing of a product and bring about social improvement for those involved in its life-cycle, whilst being economically profitable. How do we go about this? First, we need to systematically examine the entire production value chain, considering the impact of all processes; from conditions in the cotton plantations to the origins of the wood used to make shelves in-store. When we say all of it, we mean all of it! Secondly, action must be taken according to a three-dimensional approach life-cycle stage, area of impact and line of action.

  • Environmental: Promoting practices for environmental efficiency in the management and responsible use of resources including actions taken to promote actions towards a model and consumption with re-entry into the production circuit. At this point it is important to assess each of the environmental effects generated throughout the product’s life-cycle, such as the consumption of water available in the ecosystem or the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions derived from the production processes.
  • Social: Promoting practices designed to ensure safe and ethical working, social and animal welfare conditions. Assessing the social context in which the product in question has been produced and its potential social impacts, positive or negative, is essential in order to identify and evaluate opportunities for improvement. In this respect, matters such as safety, health and quality of life in the workplace or the protection of dignity and fundamental freedoms are priorities on the list of actions to be implemented.
  • Economic: Promoting practices for the economic and environmental optimisation of a product. Implementing an economic sustainability strategy is not only an insight into the associated costs of a product but also an opportunity to have a more profitable and efficient production chain.

Designing an integrative sustainability strategy taking into account the three impact areas described above is the starting point for producing and marketing more sustainable and profitable products. This is why BCOME is committed to approaching the issue of sustainability with a 360º vision, in recognition of the concept’s complexity and environmental, economic and social dimensions. We have assisted more than 50 brands in their transformation process with our integrative vision. Brave brands such as Thinking Mu, Pompeii and Hoff have already taken on the sustainability challenge.

Will you be next to take up the challenge of systemic transformation? Let us help you!

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