A coalition of brands that have nothing to hide
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I independently designed the following organization and impact measurement tool. The Business to Planet brand and scale make up Part I of my independent study. I conducted extensive research on the environmental impact of the apparel and footwear industry. I analyzed current measurements and standards across different industries, and designed a solution that harnesses the power of supply chain data.
Research, Strategy, Data Visualization, Brand Identity
Adobe XD, Illustrator,
THE CLOTHING INDUSTRY
HAS A PROBLEM
As the word “sustainability” continues to be overused, the climate crisis continues to escalate. We need a new way of measuring and communicating environmental impact.
These days, just about every brand in the world has a "sustainability" page. The demand for "green" and "environmentally friendly" has skyrocketed, and brands have taken notice. Green advertising and green brand communications have grown exponentially throughout recent years, as environmental concerns continue to rise among consumers.
However, as brands continue to cater to this demand, consumers have become generally more skeptical of sustainability narratives. While the world's biggest brands tell us all about the "sustainable" things they are doing, the unsustainable practices remain hidden behind complex supply chains. We've entered into a time where most consumers don't know which products to buy, and which to leave on the shelf.
Unfortunately, when everyone is saying the same thing in the presence of skepticism, no one knows who to believe – voices are getting louder, transparency has plateaued.
"Younger consumers are seriously concerned with social and environmental causes, which many regard as being the defining issues of our time. They increasingly back their beliefs with their shopping habits, favoring brands that are aligned with their values and avoiding those that don’t."
– THE STATE OF FASHION 2019
Many consumers want to understand the impact of their purchases. Few brands wish to genuinely communicate it.
Because apparel brands are the ones who design and sell clothes in the first place, they are in a position to lead the change towards more sustainable manufacturing processes and consumption. Brands have the power to influence purchasing behavior and loyalty through unique value propositions. One of these propositions lies in how brands talk about their global supply chains. However, most brands are reluctant to publicize this information because the truth is concerning.
DESIGN OBJECTIVE: Build a solution that educates consumers about supply chain impact and incentivizes brands to be more transparent.
A system that highlights responsible supply chain practices, and encourages industry-wide improvement
To understand the complete environmental impact and lifetime value of clothing
A third-party scoring system administered by a membership-based nonprofit, focused on reducing the footprint of the fashion industry
Business to Planet was created to hold brands accountable for the environmental impact of their products. The organization itself is a third party entity supported by brands that believe in the importance of analyzing and communicating their products’ lifetime value and impact, in service of consumers and the planet.
When a brand joins Business to Planet, the organization evaluates that brand's supply chain to determine a unique score for each of its products. Businesses can then post this score alongside product listings.
Products are scored from 0 (least damaging) to 50 (most damaging). In order to accurately reflect improved sustainability practices in global supply chains. scores are eligible for review and recalculation quarterly,
The B2P Scale formula accounts for differences in product footprints. For example, a pair of socks will have a much smaller carbon footprint compared to a down jacket. However, the scores are balanced by incorporating an estimated product
TEXTILE PRODUCTION GENERATES AN ESTIMATED 1.2 BILLION TONS OF CO2E PER YEAR – MORE THAN INTERNATIONAL FLIGHTS AND MARITIME SHIPPING COMBINED.
– ELLEN MACARTHUR FOUNDATION
Improving environmental responsibility in the fashion industry by transforming the way clothing is designed, produced, and consumed
In a world where Business to Planet is fully realized, consumers will expect quality. Shoppers will use the scores to evaluate the lifetime environmental impact and long-term value of apparel. Fast fashion will have slowly vanished, as consumers continue to become increasingly aware of the fashion industry's contribution to the climate crisis.
Although the climate crisis is an immediate concern, Business to Planet cannot be brought to life overnight. It is going to take time for the organization to establish credibility and continue to scale. Ultimately, it will be up to brands to determine the value of the B2P scale. That said, I envision Business to Planet coming to life through the following phases:
ABOUT PHASE 1:
Patagonia is perfectly positioned to be the founding partner of Business to Planet. Historically known as an activist company, Patagonia has run ads telling consumers NOT to buy its jackets, as well as lobbied against trade deals that would ultimately improve the company's bottom line – all in service of the planet.
In the past, Patagonia has led and supported similar movements and standards that have been adopted across industries (ex: 1% for the Planet, Certified B Corps, Fair Trade Certified, bluesign, Traceable Down).
Because Patagonia has already publicized its supply chain, the brand would likely be open to the more in-depth supply chain audit that generates B2P scores. Additionally, Patagonia could use its previous experiences to help shape the scoring metrics and expectations of future Business to Planet members.
PHASE 1 IN ACTION:
To see how the B2P scale could show up in the Patagonia shopping experience, please visit Part II of my independent study, Quality Stories.
ABOUT PHASE 2:
Phase 2 growth consists of companies that would likely be interested in joining Business to Planet after it is launched. All of these companies have proven not just with words, but with actions, that they care about and understand the environmental impact of their businesses.
This is arguably the most important phase for scaling Business to Planet – if these companies are willing to open themselves up to supply chain inspection and receive B2P scores, then there will be a new pressure for other companies to join the movement.
PHASE 2 IN ACTION:
ABOUT PHASE 3:
Phase 3 growth consists of brands that might be initially reluctant to join Business to Planet because of the potential for concerning supply chain practices and subsequently poor B2P scores.
While companies like Nike and Under Armour do address sustainability, they ultimately mass produce clothing loaded with harmful synthetic fibers such as polyester. The same could be said for brands like Zara and H&M, two companies that have fueled the rapid growth of the fast
However, once these brands realize that consumers are beginning to favor Business to Planet brands, perhaps they will become members and work harder to reduce their impact. Minor improvements in water consumption, textile decisions, renewable energy installation, and LCA standards could go a long way towards improving the off-putting scores these brands might currently receive.
PHASE 3 IN ACTION:
"FASHION IS ALWAYS ABOUT WHAT IS NEXT. FOR THE FASHION INDUSTRY ITSELF TO HAVE A FUTURE, SUSTAINABILITY NEEDS TO BE NEXT"
– WOLFGANG BLAU
COO, CONDÉ NAST
LESSSONS FROM LEED
What could Business to Planet learn from the growth of other membership-based nonprofits?
I wrote about the origin and widespread adoption of the U.S. Green Building Council and it's well-known LEED certification system.
REFLECTIONS & TAKEAWAYS
Throughout my time at the VCU Brandcenter, I've thought a lot about the relationships between brands and consumers, and specifically how these two groups exert influence over one another in addressing the climate crisis.
Truthfully, the ideal scenario for addressing climate change will involve both groups working together harmoniously. That said, I believe it will ultimately be consumer demand that gets the ball rolling on impactful change. Consumers dictate demand, they always have. The traditional, microeconomic definition of demand is more often applied to tangible products and services. However, consumers are also beginning to demand brand transparency and sustainable business operations, especially as global climate concerns escalate. In order for this type of demand to increase (which I believe would be a good thing for the world), consumers are going to have to educate themselves.
With unreliable narratives swirling around in mainstream media, consumers generally do not know who or what to believe. Therefore, there exists a unique opportunity for brands that are already being honest to tell consumers about their impact in an unfiltered, unbiased, and fully transparent voice.
I believe the Business to Planet scale outlined above could give brands that honest voice, and allow them to influence future purchasing behaviors. If consumers begin to favor companies that are disclosing scores, then other brands will feel pressure to follow. This could result in a multi-actor behavior shift: consumers become more conscious about purchasing decisions, and brands begin to prioritize quality in design and manufacturing in order to receive better scores.
In its simplest form, Business to Planet is essentially a third-party supply chain audit. The way I see it, the only brands that would currently welcome such an audit are the brands that are willing to embrace the dark realities of complex supply chains and communicate the true impact of their products. In my opinion, it is time for that willingness to become an expectation.
I was recently selected by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation to become a Circular Economy Pioneer. Once certified, we are expected to use a combination of leadership and creativity to implement circular principles into our networks and industries.