For brands looking to become more sustainable, going beyond recycled plastic is key.
Sourcing, manufacturing, treatment of workers and shipping are all key factors to consider. To help address these areas, a number of brands are turning to external environmentally conscious partners.
“Sustainability wasn’t something that we thought about in hindsight; it was something that we set out to do from the beginning,” said Jessica Taylor Mead, co-founder and co-CEO at sustainable vegan footwear brand Taylor + Thomas. “We had the unique ability to build it into every aspect of the business and support the suppliers that are making these new materials available to the public.”
At Taylor + Thomas, this has meant sourcing its eco-friendly insoles from Ortholite, which owns and operates closed-loop factories in Asia designed to minimize environmental impact. In addition, the wood used in the shoes’ heels comes from FSC-certified forests, while the packaging is made locally by L.A.-based small businesses and is either recycled, upcycled or recyclable. But as an e-commerce business, it faces one particular challenge: shipping.
“Trains, automobiles, ships — they all use a lot of fossil fuels, but we do still have to ship our product,” said Elizabeth Thomas James, co-founder and co-CEO. “So we do work to offset our carbon footprint through a company called Native Energy.”
As e-commerce grows, carbon footprint is an increasingly important concern. Native Energy aims to get businesses involved in reducing greenhouse gas emissions through enacting change in its own supply and activity chains, as well as supporting the development of Native Energy projects.
Increasingly, companies select projects close to home. For example, Everlane is supporting sustainable grazing initiatives that help reduce the carbon emissions of leather production.
“We have a number of clients in footwear and apparel that follow a trajectory of supporting our projects but then pushing for more,” said Kevin Hackett, client strategy director at Native Energy. “They’re asking, ‘How can you be closer to the factories where our shoes are made? What can you do to improve the livelihoods of the workers in the communities where we have a footprint? What can you do to influence the raw materials that we are sourcing?’”
By working with external partners, brands can contribute to bigger projects than they might be able to initiate independently. These partnerships also provide support to the companies trying to tackle what is still an industrywide problem; currently, sustainable options are often still more expensive and harder to source than their traditional counterparts. But companies like Taylor + Thomas are not alone.
“If you take the state of luxury consumption and the state of ethical consumption, there’s a bit of a Venn diagram where they’re starting to overlap now,” said Dan Legor, global marketing director at Ortholite. “It’s critical, from the supply side, to be looking for those companies and brands that can provide a more sustainable solution as part of that total product that you’re building.”
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