About a decade ago, I undertook a Diploma in Sustainability at Swinburne University.  I did it, because I have a strong belief that we should be living in harmony with our planet, and with respect and regard for our people and, I was inspired by what I had seen Marks and Spencer achieve with its Plan A.  They began in 2007 with 100 commitments across their entire business.  Having completed the diploma and undertaken some additional research about what leading retailers were doing in this space, I developed a course and set about offering it to Australian retailers to better inform their buyers as to the issues and potential solutions.  As I sat with one GM of merchandise, he said, “why do my buyers need to know about sustainability?”  A good question, and here’s why…

73% of Gen Z and 68% of Millennials are willing to pay more for sustainable products…

Both buyers, planners and executives need to understand how issues around sustainability affect their departments, their products, and their sourcing, because it is an issue that is increasingly important to the customer.  According to a survey undertaken by First Insight in December 2019, 62% of Gen Z and Millennial survey participants, prefer to buy from sustainable brands.  And 73% of Gen Z and 68% of Millennials are willing to pay more for sustainable products.  In fact, Millennials and Gen Z are increasingly dubbed ‘Generation Green’ (Capgemini) and their interests lie not just in environmental issues but managing the impact of business on people, including health, education, alleviating poverty, and gender equality.

The issues of fashion and particularly fast fashion are well documented.  The fashion industry is one of the most water consuming and polluting, generating 10% of global carbon emissions and consuming more energy than the aviation and shipping industries combined.  The rapid fashion cycle promoting cheap disposable clothing has seen our volume of clothing increase 60% in the past 15 years, most of which ends up in landfill.  In Australia, we send a staggering six tonnes of clothing waste to landfill every 10 minutes!

Those working in the production of fashion (usually in developing countries) have not fared well either.  From toxic pesticides used in cotton growing, to harmful dyes and chemicals in leather and fabric production, to the harsh living conditions of migrant factory workers; the fashion industry has much work to do in ensuring that the standards of health and safety in our supply chains are the same as we would tolerate in our own countries.

But it is not just because Millennials and Gen Z are a lucrative consumer group that retailers need to act, they also make up an increasing share of the workforce, and businesses will need to have strong sustainability credentials to attract and retain their talent.  This is particularly true of fashion retailers, whose workforce is often skewed to a younger age group.

It is for all these reasons, that we have embedded sustainability into our 6-month ULTIMATE program and why we continue to work with retailers’ buying teams on their departmental sustainability strategies.

For more information about how your merchandise team can develop a sustainability strategy, or to find out more about the 6-month fashion buying and merchandise planning program, follow the links below.