Creating Tomorrow: a sustainable future

A quick glance at the headlines will tell you that retail is in crisis. Shops closing. Household brands collapsing. Profit warnings every other day.

Amid the chaos, you’d forgive the CEOs and execs running these businesses to be focusing on short-term goals, but there are business leaders out there who are finding time between spreadsheets to think about the future, and not just the future of their business, but the future of the planet, too.

Earlier this year, I presented at a conference on the reasons why the industries we serve are so concerned about sustainability, and they are threefold.

Firstly, the consumer is demanding it. Yes, cheap, throwaway goods are still selling, but switched-on consumers are making noise and where the trendsetters tread, the majority will follow.

Secondly, government regulation will force it. Witness the upheaval for brands when the microbead ban came into force in the UK, or the forthcoming ban on all-glass constructions in NYC – a city whose all-glass skyscrapers make up more than a smattering of its iconic skyline.

But thirdly, and perhaps most heartwarming, is that there are a lot of individuals who just want to be good human beings.

I believe that’s what’s behind many of the pledges we are hearing from leading retailers and the brands they stock. It might be that they want to leave the planet in a better state for their children, or they’ve realised that if it’s just left to governments, there won’t be a planet left for the next generation full-stop.

Commitments, of course, are one thing, action is another. I’m not sure I quite buy into the 52% of fashion execs who told the Global Fashion Agenda’s Pulse report that sustainability targets were a guiding principle for nearly every strategic decision they made in 2018, but from my conversations with many of them, it’s certainly the topic that caused them the most sleepless nights.

So who is doing something about it? Sportswear brands including adidas and Nike have been pioneers in this field, and their Futurecraft.Loop trainer and Plant Color Collection, respectively, are worth looking up this year.

But there are smaller brands out there just as worthy of your attention.

Petit Pli’s size-adaptive kidswear has just won a prize from this year’s H&M Global Change Award thanks to its outerwear that expands as your toddlers grow.

Sometimes it’s the simple ideas that are the best. Beauty brand Youth to the People aims to reduce waste by simply launching larger bottle sizes (that what’s inside the bottle is plant-based, artificial-anything free and responsibly sourced goes without saying).

And what about the future promises demanding action now? At World Retail Congress in Amsterdam last week, we heard from Kroger CEO Rodney McMullen who wants to take the 40% of food that goes to waste in the US and use that to eradicate hunger in the regions in which it has stores by 2025.

King of Shaves, meanwhile, has created a whole new sustainable sub-brand called Code Zero, which will help it meet its self-imposed target to be single-use-plastic free by 2023. What I love about this is that the price points are the same as its regular products. All WGSN’s research points to the fact that while consumers say they’ll pay more for sustainable products, in practice, price still comes into the decision. The onus is on brands to make that decision easy.

Also in the personal care category, Dame has created the very first reusable tampon applicator, providing choice for those that can’t quite get their head around diva cups or washable, reusable tampons.

Some small steps, some giant leaps, but in a world when chaos reigns on the high street, it’s heartening to see retailers and brands finding the time to look forward as well as at this month’s trading figures.


This Week I’ve Been:

Chatting with Twiggy and The White Company founder Chrissie Rucker at World Retail Congress. They both spoke passionately about the need to protect and save our high streets.

Complaining about the view from my hotel room in Amsterdam. Seriously, folks, is that a metal coffin? I spend up to a week a month in hotel rooms and despite mice in my suitcase (New York), a bathroom so small I had to vault over the toilet to get to the shower (also New York), and rooms with no windows whatsoever (Shanghai), I think this might have been the most disappointing yet. To the nameless hotel’s credit, they did move me after one night into a room with a view of the river and rowing club, so I’ll refrain from naming and shaming them here.

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