It would be wonderful if every company in the world decided to become sustainable because it was the right thing to do. If their CEOs woke up one morning, read the news and thought, “It’s up to me to make a change.” Unfortunately, although not unheard of, that is rarely the case. What companies do care about, however, is money.
According to Forbes, 88% of consumers want brands to help them make a positive difference in the world. People are starting to spend with their conscience more and more and the organisations that don’t make an effort to adapt risk losing relevance and appeal to a new, greener generation of customers.
A perfect example of this is the Fashion Pact announced during the G7 Summit. It is the brainchild of French President Emmanuel Macron and already has 150 brands on board, including Gucci, Chanel, Nike, Alexander McQueen, Prada, Hermès, Burberry, Gap and Zara.
The pact pledges to focus on “global warming (the objective being to achieve zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 in order to keep global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius until 2100), restoring biodiversity (with a focus on restoring natural ecosystems and protecting species), and preserving the oceans (namely by reducing the use of single-use plastics).”
This kind of action would have been unheard of 10 years ago, especially from these kinds of brands, and reflects the power of the collective. It projects the simple philosophy that caring is now, for want of a better word, cool. Convenience, price and awareness will always be factors in the shopping process, but environmental and ethical concerns are creeping up there, too.
The power of the consumer isn’t just influencing the behaviour of established companies; it’s changing the type of businesses that are starting up. These have sustainability and green sensibilities woven into their DNA from the start, from supply chain to marketing efforts. So, what do the founders of this new generation of company say about why they chose sustainability as both an industry and a means of production?
Oli Lancaster, Shole’s founder and CEO was aware of climate change, deforestation, plastic pollution but only in a vaguely concerned way. It wasn’t until David Attenborough’s Blue Planet II aired that he really took positive action. “It really brought home the severity of the situation, and, after further exploring the issues, I felt I had a responsibility to use what I’d learned in my career to make a difference.”
He goes on to explain exactly why a sustainable supply chain, and not just a sustainable product is so important. “It’s not just a case of bringing supposedly ‘green’ products to market and flogging them. I was inspired by Yves Chouinard, founder of Patagonia (and latterly, our partners 1% For The Planet), and his book in particular. It’s vital that businesses source, supply and deliver their products in a sustainable way. Packaging, logistics, and internal operations are just as important as the product.
As far as collective action goes, does Oli think that individuals can really make a difference? Emphatically so. “I see two main routes here. Political, following the lead of absolute heroes like Greta Thunberg, but also by hitting corporations where it hurts. Ultimately, their loyalty is to their shareholders, who value profit above all else. We can use the rules of capitalism to our advantage by forcing businesses to make more environmentally-conscious choices."
“Taking supermarkets as an example, if we buy more loose fruit and veg, they will stock more loose fruit and veg. If we reward zero-waste shops with our custom, more will pop up, forcing the large companies to follow suit.” Finally, what does the future hold? “The proposed extension of the producer responsibility system would appear to be a sign of things to come (one hopes). By encouraging businesses to design out waste from their products and supply chains, I’m hopeful that we’ll start to see a cultural shift."
“I’d like to see this extended to a kind of mandatory carbon offsetting system where companies are financially incentivised to reduce their emissions.” His optimism is tempered with caution however, as he adds, “Recent decisions such as the one to increase VAT on renewable energy equipment and installation from 5% to 20% does strike me as an enormous backward step.”
Essentially, as consumers we all have power. It’s up to us how and where we exert that power. Saving the planet seems like an excellent place to start.
Discover our brand new sustainable bottles and food flasks here! Looking for more green-living tips and facts about the environment? Follow us on Instagram at @sholeuk for updates and exciting news about our sustainable mission.