So sustainability. Can it really be black or white?

Many of us face a daily internal battle as we consider our own personal consumption habits, purchasing decisions and individual waste.

With online searches for phrases such as “sustainable fashion” tripling between 2016 and 2019 according to McKinsey’s Apparel CPO Survey 2019. As the importance we place on the sustainability of our purchases increases we are repeatedly being let down by many businesses we trust with confusing communication around the actual impact of their offering and commitments. We’re bombarded with marketing from every angle and hard-sold the ‘sustainable’ alternative to often previously polluting and short-term lifecycle products. 

But, as Quartzy identifies “because there’s no certifying body to decide what’s ‘sustainable,’ or even a clear definition of what the term means, brands can market their products as sustainable without having to back it up.” This problem was further discussed at the Sourcing Journal Summit in New York last week, as 400 attendees debated the definition. Marissa Pagnani McGowan, senior vice president of corporate responsibility at Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger parent PVH Corp agreed “we don’t have common language for that yet,” adding, “we endlessly struggle with how to communicate with consumers.” 

In my previous blog post, I briefly touched upon the pressure we feel to make new purchases in order to have the latest sustainable solution, rather than working with that which we already have. This desire is being increasingly tapped into by the marketeers around the world, and this tactic is something we should all be increasingly aware of and consider when making our next purchase.

Am I being sold this product because it is what is best for the planet? Or is it better for the business’ profit margins to remodel their brand identity around sustainability? And ultimately, does it matter if their impact is being reduced as a result? Unfortunately, a black and white distinction has developed in many consumers’ mind’s to define whether something is sustainable, or not. It is impossible for this distinction to be clean cut, and we need to ask these questions and encourage clarity of message from brands.

As we, the consumer, become increasingly educated on the issues impacting the world, we must demand a crystal clear level of transparency from the companies we support. How we spend our money is one of our most powerful anchors for change. If we’re supporting companies who are transparent and open with their customers, we will make it impossible for the other players in the industry to not react to the changing demands of the consumer before they lose out. We must implore businesses to be open about how much plastic they are using and reduction goals, their approach to the circular economy and how they’re supporting legislation that demands sustainable growth and action from industries as a whole. 

We should not discount businesses because they aren’t able to radicalise their business model within 12 months, but support and encourage a sustainable transformation that implements provisions for future development and builds a two-way conversation with customers to identify true decision making factors and long-term solutions. 

The more we pose questions to the businesses we support, and those we may not at the moment, the more we encourage them to search for answers and drive industry forward in the right direction. It is the business leaders that take on this challenge with enthusiasm and determination that will thrive, as the world faces new challenges that we must combat as a collective. Ultimately, the world is multi-coloured and we must embrace it as we move forward, one tree at a time.