Sustainability Spotlight: Selecting The Right Environmentally-Minded Solution Providers as Partners

This is the latest installment of FN’s new “Sustainability Spotlight” column. As one of the biggest global contributors to waste and pollution, the fashion industry has been exploring how it can become more sustainable; this column will dig into those opportunity areas. From choosing the right textile to minimizing the impact of operations, “Sustainability Spotlight” will discuss the latest developments in reducing environmental impact.

There are many components of footwear production that a brand can overhaul, in order to improve its sustainability performance. But one of the complicating factors of fashion is that there are often many secondary partners involved in the source to sale journey. Selecting the right business partners from the beginning is a key way for a brand to maintain its standards throughout the supply chain.

This is clearer in some cases than in others; factories, for instance, can provide specific certification to demonstrate compliance with various environmental goals. However, this becomes less clear with technology solution providers, who are often less transparent about the carbon footprint of their product.

One way to get around this is to look for companies who are certified as a B Corp: businesses that are legally required to consider the impact of their decisions on their workers, customers, suppliers, community, and the environment. Sezzle, the installment payments company, has done exactly this in order to demonstrate this commitment to sustainability to its current and prospective customers.

Partnering with a B Corp can open up new opportunities to engage in environmental initiatives.

“Becoming a certified B Corp aligns us with other purpose-driven businesses that want to partner with like-minded enterprises sharing a similar ethos,” said Veronica Katz, CRO at Sezzle. “Next generation shoppers often put their money where their heart is. They  care not just about a company’s products, but about its values and positive mission – who they are and how they contribute to society.”

Making this commitment to environmental performance is one way that service providers can distinguish themselves from the competition. But this kind of commitment can’t be taken lightly and must involve multiple layers in order to fully address all aspects of the business. For Sezzle, the actual product is less of the focus; instead, it’s about trying to find additional ways to offset impact.

One way to do this is to review their own partners for compliance, so that they can ensure brands that the full supply chain is up to code. This comprehensive approach is required of all B Corps and Sezzle describes this certification not as a reward, but rather as an incentive to continually evaluate and improve operations.

“Even though Sezzle is a FinTech company and not a manufacturer, it nevertheless understands that it can commit to improve impacts for various stakeholders: its employees, community, customers, the global community, and the environment,” said Katz. “We can do this by committing to financial empowerment with credit options and financial education; with educational scholarship; with carbon offsetting, and with tree planting that is not only good for sustainability, but for enriching poor farming communities.”

Brands that are looking to make value-driven partnership decisions should be careful to review the different initiatives that are also available to them, as a customer. Footwear brand Keen chose to partner with Sezzle, in part because of the opportunity to take part in the Trees for the Future campaign: for every transaction made, a tree will be planted.

Keen Astoria West women’s sandal
Keen’s Dana Schwartz describes the brand as having been “values-led since inception.”
CREDIT: Courtesy of Keen

“Partnerships are extensions of your own business and community and together with likeminded brands, we can do far more,” said Dana Schwartz, SVP of global DTC and digital at Keen. “Sezzle’s values were a key differentiator in our decision making. The partnership discussions also sprouted the idea of planting a tree for each Sezzle transaction and this fit so well with our efforts toward supporting a healthier planet.”

The footwear business creates waste and pollution throughout its lifecycle, so it is understandable why retail technology providers may not be an obvious action area for improved environmental performance. Similarly, brands should definitely not use these secondary partnerships as a distraction away from their own production’s impact.

But it is partly because of this smaller scale that makes it an appealing and accessible way to take some action. And once a business becomes accustomed to having those conversations and establishing the table stakes for its partnerships, it makes it that much more natural to bring that same approach to the rest of operations.

“Be clear on who you are as a brand or business, and share your goals with your partners,” said Schwartz. “Look for synergies and ways to share your respective strengths. When you come to an intersection, always ask the question: is there a way to get equal or better results, while making a more environmentally conscious decision?”

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