Detox Campaign

After the Binge the Hangover

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International Fashion Consumption Survey

A new survey, commissioned by Greenpeace, of the shopping habits of people in Europe and Asia finds that regularly buying too many clothes, shoes, bags and accessories has become an international phenomenon. This is especially striking in China and Hong Kong, but is also widespread in Europe, with up to half of consumers buying more clothes than they need and use.

Overconsumption of fashion is now deeply entrenched in our everyday culture, both in old European economies and in emerging ones such as China. In many ways, China is currently leading this trend, with more than half of Chinese consumers owning more clothes and bags than they need. Almost half of Chinese consumers buy more than they can afford – and more than makes them happy, and around 40 percent qualify as excessive shoppers, shopping compulsively more than once a week. Young, high-income women are the most vulnerable. The spread of online shopping and social media makes people even more susceptible to overconsumption.

These people are not shopping because they need something new – their motivation is the longing for excitement, satisfaction and confidence in front of others. Shoppers also seek to release stress, kill time and relieve boredom.

However, shopping does not make them happy; people already own too much and they know it. Around 50 percent report that their shopping excitement wears off within a day. A third of the East Asians feel even more empty and unfulfilled afterwards. They also seem to know they are on the wrong path; around half of consumers are hiding their purchases from others, fearing accusations of wasting money or other negative reactions.

Shopping behaviour is widely influenced by people’s social environment and media consumption. Social media platforms like Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook or WeChat in China are driving shopping mania, especially among young digitally connected East Asians. Browsing fashion blogs or following friends and celebrities triggers even more buying. After excessive shopping people experience regular tiredness and boredom – the binge is followed by a hangover.

About this survey

For this survey commissioned by Greenpeace, independent survey institutes Nuggets, TNS and SWG asked European and East Asian consumers about their shopping habits (China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Italy, Germany) – how often, where and for how long they shop for clothing. We also wanted to know why they go shopping, what triggers them to buy new clothes – and whether they get fulfilled by doing so. All surveys are representative and were carried out between December 2016 and March 2017 amongst at least 1000 people aged 20 to 45 in China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Italy and Germany.

Download the Greenpeace Germany report here:

After the Binge, the Hangover – International Fashion Consumption Survey

*This story first appeared on Greenpeace

To Create Meaningful Change, Apparel Brands Need to Pursue Sustainability at the Industry Level

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Investment in industry-level research and development can give consumers a meaningful metric of sustainability, says former corporate sustainability analyst Mary Hable.

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The goal of sustainable clothes manufacturing is one size too big for individual apparel companies to handle; the solution must come from the industry as a whole. Image: putri macan, CC BY 2.0

In 2010, fresh out of college with a degree in economics, I began a new job as a corporate sustainability professional at a major apparel retailer. I was hopeful. The apparel industry was full of environmental problems and opportunities for major progress.

At the time, Greenpeace had launched a Detox campaign directly linking textile manufacturing and water pollution, a claim confirmed by the industry’s most influential brands through their organisation of Zero Discharge of Hazardous ChemicalsThe Natural Resources Defense Council was building its Clean by Design initiative to collaborate with brands that wanted cost-effective ways to clean up factories in their supply chains. The Sustainable Apparel Coalition was gearing up to foster collaboration among companies, non-governmental organisations, government and academia with the mission of improving the social and environmental performance across the industry. And corporate sustainability departments were being built across the industry.

The problems and opportunities were obvious, but one big thing was missing: Consumers were not clearly rewarding brands for sustainability. Without such an economic payback, brands lacked incentives to develop and deploy systemic sustainability initiatives and so limited themselves to less expensive short-term changes.

As a result, after five years in the field, I’m no longer looking for sustainability solutions to be created within companies. Rather, my view is that the more effective role for brands is to invest in external industry-wide sustainability research and technology aimed at developing those systemic solutions.

To drive investment, industry should track contributions from each company and share the information with consumers. Consumers could then use this information to judge — and reward — brands’ commitment to sustainability. After all, money, unlike environmental impact, is something we already know how to measure well, making sustainability investment a simple metric that can be used to activate consumer choices now.

The bottom line is: Individual apparel industry brands won’t deploy systemic solutions on their own because such solutions are not developed enough to provide either a direct economic payback or an indirect payback through consumer reward for more sustainable choices.

Wanted: Systemic Solutions

On the surface, the sustainability teams I was part of made progress. We found ways to achieve grassroots improvements despite minimal top-down support. At one company, we persuaded executives from design and sourcing to come together to educate each other about sustainability issues and to study what competitors were doing. At another large retailer, management was motivated to invest in energy efficiency and renewable energy, saving money that was used to fund other sustainability projects, such as corporate reporting and more internal education.

These successes, unfortunately, were far outweighed by missed opportunities. For years, we cycled through conversations on using recycled, natural and organic fibers without seeing change. We researched and piloted take-back and donation programmes that didn’t gain traction. We developed strict supply chain monitoring programmes, but couldn’t get key decision-makers to sign off on the next step of including sustainability expectations in business agreements. Ultimately, I watched both sustainability teams that I was a part of be downsized.

This wasn’t surprising. An apparel brand’s fundamental purpose is to sell product, not to promote organic agriculture or develop non-toxic fibers and finishes. To be sure, a handful of values-driven apparel companies have experimented with technologies such as greener chemistry, waterless dyeing, and natural and organic fibers. But those companies are the minority, because such changes are either too costly or risk reducing product performance in the eyes of the consumer. Material choices create the products that are the lifeblood of a brand. Any changes need to be made out of confidence, rooted in strong evidence. Currently, brands lack the data needed to make evidence-based changes.

On material recycling, it was also clear that apparel brands acting on their own couldn’t effectively “close the loop” on clothes and shoes at the end of their useful life. A robust take-back and recycling programme turns a store into a hub of reverse logistics, collecting and sending materials back to a facility that sorts, resells or down-cycles material. All of this takes the store’s focus away from the goal of selling product and creates projects that provide little or no economic payback.

 

The bottom line is: Individual apparel industry brands won’t deploy systemic solutions on their own because such solutions are not developed enough to provide either a direct economic payback or an indirect payback through consumer reward for more sustainable choices.

Investment as a Metric

Brands will make voluntary investments in sustainability only if consumers clearly reward them for doing so. The problem is, even caring consumers do not have the information they need to know what to reward.

Providing consumers with that information is one of the fundamental pursuits of the Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC). Since 2009, the SAC has been developing the Higg Index, essentially a sustainability version of a nutrition label. Over the past three months, the SAC has released two important pieces of the Higg Index: The Design and Development Module and the Materials Sustainability Index. The goal of these tools is to provide consumers and brand designers with information they can use to easily compare varying degrees of environmental impact between products.

To measure and ultimately reduce environmental impact, the Higg Index depends on a vast amount of quantitative data grounded in science. For example, it needs to be able to provide a simple recommendation as to whether a 90 per cent recycled polyester blend or a 50 per cent organic cotton blend is the more sustainable choice. Currently, the Higg Index is not complete enough to make such a recommendation.

For a tool like the Higg Index to reduce environmental impact, the industry needs more sustainable technologies and better ways to measure the benefits they provide. What the industry needs now more than anything is a consistent source of funds to develop those data and technologies, such as research and development leading to new fiber and manufacturing technology. Brands can have a more impactful role in advancing sustainability by contributing to an industry fund that supports these initiatives.

Providing simple information on individual brands’ contributions to the fund as a per cent of revenue can drive consumer choices and, consequently, competition between brands on investments.

Reprioritising expectations

The downsizing of corporate sustainability positions that I experienced could be a sign that brands are moving away from investing in internal sustainability initiatives. Given the complexity of the issues, that makes sense. Brands don’t need more people working on sustainability. What is needed is financial investment in systemic solutions related to fiber, chemical, and manufacturing research and technology.

Brands can’t create these systemic solutions on their own, but they can help pay for them on an industry level. Providing information to consumers about brands’ investment in industry-wide sustainability would give consumers a powerful tool for making purchases based on sustainability, which would motivate the apparel industry to take action toward reducing its environmental impact.

Mary Hable is a freelance writer and former corporate sustainability analyst in the apparel and footwear industry. She produced this feature as a participant in the Ensia Mentor Program. Her mentor for the project was Marc Gunther

*This story first appeared on Ensia.

Those Nasty Chemicals in Your Blue Jeans Aren’t Easy to Replace

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What’s in your jeans? A rogue’s gallery of unpronounceable chemicals whose effects on humans are suspect.

Perfluorochemicals , phthalates and azo dyes are among the substances that are widespread in making clothes. Under pressure from consumers demanding safer alternatives to harmful chemicals, American companies including Levi Strauss & Co. are taking a more European approach. The European Union has banned or restricted more than 1,000 chemicals; in the U.S., fewer than 50.

488x-11Consumer demand for safe products has global companies scrambling for greener ingredients, but obstacles are daunting.Suppliers are often reluctant to share their formulations, buyers balk at higher costs, and in some cases cost-effective safer substitutes simply aren’t available.
Levi’s has prohibited certain chemicals since 2000, but this is different. The jeans maker and other companies are asking suppliers to use materials generated from bacteria, fungus, yeast and methane gas to replace the petroleum-based substances that make up more than 95 percent of U.S. products’ inventory of chemicals.

Millennial Interest

There are plenty of incentives to change. A Pike Research report estimates that the global market for green chemistry will increase to almost $100 billion by 2020, from $11 billion last year. Millennials are overwhelmingly interested in sustainable investing, according to Morgan Stanley. And innovating can give companies a competitive advantage, said Monica Becker, co-director of the Green Chemistry and Commerce Council , which works with companies including Wal-Mart Stores Inc.

Companies can make false promises that a product is consistent with green-chemistry practices, Becker said, but guarding against that are assessment methods used by the Environmental Protection Agency’s Safer Choice program.

Rules can also confound the efforts of U.S. companies. To approve chemicals and processes, the European Union uses a so-called hazard-based approach that the Chinese government is also considering. Manufacturers need to prove their products meet safety standards before they bring them to market. The U.S. method is risk-based. It involves weighing metrics, such as quantity and duration of exposure, to assess the danger in an existing product — if data exist.

Tiny Exposure

Proponents of a hazard-based approach argue that exposure to even tiny amounts of some chemicals correlate with learning disabilities, asthma, allergies and cancer.

“Shouldn’t it be that chemicals are guilty until research proves them innocent?”

“Shouldn’t it be that chemicals are guilty until research proves them innocent?” said Amy Ziff, founder and executive director of Made Safe , a new hazard-based certification program. Levi’s said its goal is to use only chemicals that pass hazard-based screens by 2020.

Even as some suppliers push back, “we wouldn’t give up on hazard-based,” said Bart Sights, Levi’s director of global development.

Levi’s already uses some green methods to make its signature blue jeans. To give them a worn look, Levi’s uses an enzyme derived from fungus and tumbles the jeans in ozone gas instead of bleach — a process that Sights estimated has had the added benefit of saving the company a billion gallons of water in the past three years.

Environmental Compliance

“Some companies are spending the same amount on environmental compliance as they are on research and development,” said John Warner, president and chief technology officer of Warner Babcock Institute for Green Chemistry , who created the first green-chemistry Ph.D. program in the U.S., at the University of Massachusetts at Boston.

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The Warner Babcock Institute for Green Chemistry’s lab. Source: Warner Babcock Institute

Companies can be roiled by the use of non-green chemicals. Lumber Liquidators Holdings Inc. was beset by lawsuits last year after a “60 Minutes” investigation said it used unsafe levels of formaldehyde. Shares plunged before a government probe ended without a product recall. The company no longer sells the flooring.

Such problems have investors taking notice, said Mark Rossi, whose company, Clean Production Action , created the Chemical Footprint, modeled on the carbon footprint, that investors can use to measure risk and costs. It also developed and licenses a chemical-screening method used by Levi’s and others.

Rossi has signed on firms including BNP Paribas, Calvert Investments and Trillium Asset Management, while companies like Johnson & Johnson and Clorox Co. participated in the first survey to assess their footprint. Gojo Industries Inc., maker of Purell hand sanitizer, has pledged to cut its chemical footprint in half by 2020.

Greenpeace Campaign

In the five years since it launched a campaign to spur clothing makers and sellers to get rid of toxic substances, Greenpeace International has signed on 78 brands, said Kirsten Brodde, head of the organization’s Detox My Fashion campaign.

At the Berkeley Center for Green Chemistry , across the Bay Bridge from Levi’s San Francisco headquarters, students have worked with the jeans maker and companies such as outfitter Patagonia Inc., office-furniture maker Steelcase Inc. and Mango Materials Inc., which manufactures plastics out of methane gas, to develop safer materials, including a non-toxic resin for Autodesk’s 3D printers.

Initial Step

But an overnight change for the greener just isn’t possible.

“When it comes to materials, we’re at the very initial step, which is figuring out what the heck is actually in our products,” said Marty Mulvihill, a founder of the Berkeley Center and its former executive director. “A lot of companies are just completing that first step.”

A comprehensive replacement for formaldehyde, for example, hasn’t been developed, Mulvihill said.

Mulvihill is now a partner at Safer Made, a new venture-capital firm he co-founded that’s seeking investments in companies that use green chemistry. It’s looked at more than 100 companies, with plans to invest in 10 to 15 firms in the next five years, he said.

Patagonia has also invested in green chemical companies. A Levi’supplier, Beyond Surface Technologies , is one of a dozen the Ventura, California-based clothing maker has seeded out of 1,400 prospects it’s looked at since 2013.

“Ultimately, some of these companies that we fund could be able to help us clean up our own supply chain,” said Phil Graves, Patagonia’s director of corporate development.

Green Alternatives

There are 20 environmentally friendly chemicals available for the company’s textile finishes, compared with 200 to 300 that contain non-green chemicals, said Matthias Foessel, Beyond Surface’s founder and chief executive officer.

Developing safer alternatives can take years, while acceptable green substitutes for some substances used in waterproofing and stain protectants, such as perfluorocarbons, don’t exist, Foessel said.

New chemicals often behave differently than expected. Beyond Surface had been trying to create a water repellent when it developed a fabric that absorbs sweat instead.

Still, Foessel’s eight-year-old firm, based near Basel, Switzerland, now has more than 100 customers, including Adidas AG.

“Ten years ago, people wouldn’t have even talked to us,” Foessel said. “People accepted that you had to use chemicals that pose a risk.”

*This story first appeared on Bloomberg

 

Levi’s develops ‘preferred substances list’ for suppliers

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Company’s Screened Chemistry Programme will establish ‘best-in-class’ chemicals

31 March 2016 / North America, Textiles & apparel, Alternatives assessment & substitution, Global, Restricted substance lists

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Leigh Stringer

Global Business Editor

Clothing company Levi Strauss is developing a list of ‘preferred substances’ – those safer for the environment and human health – for its suppliers.

The list will be a result of the company’s Screened Chemistry Programme, which assesses the environmental and human health impact of chemicals used in the finishing process of its products.

The programme uses chemical screening tool GreenScreen, and the US EPA’s Safer Choices Programme, to determine which substances are better to use.

Both methodologies are based on chemical hazard assessment and look at a variety of human health and environmental endpoints.

“Our goal was to create a framework for screening chemicals against human health and environmental toxicity hazard endpoints, to identify best-in-class chemicals or better alternatives,” said Bart Sights, vice president of technical innovation.

Mr Sights told Chemical Watch that the two methodologies provide “visibility” of the chemical substances used by its suppliers and help to identify both approved and restricted chemicals for use in textiles finishing and raw materials.

“It allows us to make better choices on the chemicals used to make our products and have a dialogue with our chemical supplier on where improvements can be made,” he added.

Once the company’s screening programme is fully operational, it is intended that Levi’s suppliers will switch to using the preferred chemical list.

The company aims to encourage industry-wide uptake of chemical screening, by working with the ZDHC group, an industry initiative made up of apparel and retailer brands to achieve the goal of zero discharge of hazardous chemicals by 2020.

It has also committed to Greenpeace’s Detox campaign to eliminate all release of hazardous chemicals, throughout its supply chain, by 2020. Levi’s phased out perfluorinated compounds (PFCs), announcing its achievement in January.

Greenpeace’s Kirsten Brodde, project lead of the Detox My Fashion campaign, told Chemical Watch that Levi’s is among many brands working on screening programmes and “green chemistry” lists.

Another example is Nike, which in 2010 introduced a Sustainable Chemistry Guidance (SCG) section to its Restricted Substances List (RSL) that highlights “positive” chemistries. And Adidas is using Switzerland-based certification company, Bluesign’s chemical data management system, Bluefinder. With this, it says, suppliers select “best-in-class” chemicals included in the database.

Ms Brodde said: “We clearly acknowledge Levi’s work, as a Detox committed company, on the precaution and substitution of hazardous chemicals such as the entirety of PFCs.” 

*This story first appeared on Chemical Watch