the sac blog

Forging a Path Toward a Better Tomorrow

July 14, 2023

 

Following the recent publication of our Annual Report for 2022, I’ve been reflecting on the strides we’ve made to move our industry forward and what the next steps are to reach our industry’s shared goals.

I am continually impressed by the unwavering commitment and support of our members, partners, and stakeholders. Looking back on our journey over the last year, we’ve encountered hurdles and experienced growth and progress. Amidst complex challenges, our collective dedication to collaboration and shared vision has propelled us forward, driving necessary change across global supply chains toward a more responsible, equitable, and just industry.

As I write, it’s barely six weeks since climate scientists warned it’s more likely than not that our planet’s temperature will soon pass the critical threshold of 1.5°C and last week saw the hottest days ever recorded on Earth in over 100,000 years. The very real impacts of this continued warming amplifies the significance of our work in transforming business for exponential impact and driving sustainable improvements across global supply chains.

 

Time is running out. We can and must achieve change, faster.

Our Coalition is a force for powerful change. The progress we achieve together, but also our learnings from the challenges we face, contribute to industry advancement and have the potential to impact the well-being of millions of workers, communities, consumers, and the planet we are part of.

The SAC was formed with an ambitious vision: to align the industry through common sustainability measurement. We’re proud of our collaboration, continuous evolution, and widespread adoption of the Higg Index suite of tools. Serving as the leading environmental and social assessment in the apparel and footwear industry, it measures the entirety of the value chain at scale and is used by over 21,000 organizations worldwide.

Today, we’re driven by an even more ambitious vision of a global consumer goods industry that gives more than it takes – to the planet and its people.

 

Powerful collaborations for change need to happen now.

The time for decarbonization pilots and small projects is over. Companies are not going to achieve their science-based targets without collaborating with their supply chain partners on co-creating the solutions and incentives toward those targets together.

Through our Collective Action Programs, we’re witnessing the power of collaboration, working together across value chains to create innovative solutions to address pressing industry challenges. For example, in 2022, our Decarbonization Program began supporting members in their efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in line with the 1.5°C goal.

Through guided steps and strategic partnerships, the program is fostering cooperation and alignment. I am excited about its potential to help companies transition to renewable energy, implement energy efficiency, and eliminate coal usage across the supply chain.

Finance will also play a critical role in supporting this transition. Connecting the dots between where funding is needed and where that capital is coming from is increasingly important. I do think we’ve seen progress this year in driving more financing toward the necessary changes and interventions. Innovative models like Apparel Impact Institute (Aii)’s Fashion Climate Fund are paving the way for such advancements, and I’m delighted that the SAC recently announced a new strategic partnership with Aii to help unlock finance to support our collective goals.

 

The impact of our work can be even greater with the help of public policy.

The systemic changes needed will only happen when every part of the system is engaged, and policy is an incredible lever for this. But while we recognize the role of regulations as catalysts for progress, we’re also calling for the clear and consistent guidance our industry needs to speed up change, not slow it down.

For years now, the SAC has been actively involved in advocating for harmonized regulation and consistent approaches, such as the PEF legislation. Now more than ever, we are focused on strengthening collaborative relationships and working together to create scalable programs and policies that drive meaningful change and reduce the impacts of the sector as a whole.

Regulations will be a missed opportunity if they’re not harmonized. We’re already seeing a patchwork approach appearing in the EU, creating confusion and stalled progress for the industry.

Successful policy should create clarity and consistency on what companies need to do. If it doesn’t, it risks paralyzing the industry with inaction and focusing attention and resources on complying across different territories instead of genuine progress on the ground.

 

Transparency is another vital part of the picture – it’s fundamental to building trust and driving responsible practices.

At the SAC, increasing transparency in sustainability performance across the industry has always been a key focus. Given the rising concerns of greenwashing, the insights gained from our Transparency Program’s consumer-facing labeling pilot in 2022 are important not only for us but for the entire industry. It sparked a crucial, industry-wide conversation on how we can overcome the information challenge of synthesizing the industry’s complexity in a truly comprehensive and representative way.

We are witnessing a notable shift toward greater accountability, traceability, and disclosure throughout the value chain that will collectively shape a more sustainable and equitable industry.

Today, our team is fully committed to building disclosure pathways that align with the latest regulatory requirements and that use accountability mechanisms, such as impact dashboards of the industry’s sustainability performance as measured by the Higg Index, to accelerate the pace against our impact goals. 

By aligning on what and how the apparel and footwear sector communicates social and environmental information, we can empower consumers and contribute to a future where supply chain transparency becomes the norm rather than the exception. This work will involve robust systems for tracking, documenting, and measuring production, and collaboration across the industry will be essential towards achieving shared objectives.

 

We also know transformative change goes beyond environmental action.

True sustainability encompasses both environmental and social progress. The SAC firmly believes this and actively supports our members and their supply chains in implementing employment practices that uphold labor rights, fair wages, and safe working environments.

For example, in 2022 we made significant updates to the Higg Brand and Retail Module (BRM), including deepening the responsible purchasing practices section to align with industry best-practice. This will support our brand and retail members to engage more responsibly and transparently with their supply chains.

In collaboration with members and partners, we will continue striving for social equity and a just transition to a future that leaves no one behind and nurtures shared prosperity.

 

The time is now to align on the best path forward.

As a global convener of the industry, the SAC’s role is to establish common ground with all parties. It was great to be able to bring together our global community for the first time in three years at our Annual Meeting in Singapore. It was a chance to engage on issues with the entire value chain – including with suppliers who often bear the brunt of decarbonization and the impacts of climate change – and on how to overcome challenges by working together. Co-creating solutions with all voices, especially the Global South, is essential for the future we want.

We will continue convening our members and the broader industry, and we’ve revised our Strategic Plan to inform the journey ahead. This update will reflect the global changes since the launch of the plan in 2020 and improve how we support members and partners toward an equitable and restorative future. 

 

Deep collaboration is crucial; it is the very heartbeat of our journey.

It’s imperative we all work together, driven by a shared intent for mutual benefit and a commitment to our collective goals. 

This is a critical moment in time. With less than seven years until 2030, the actions we advocate for and the decisions we make hold the power to shape our industry and reverberate throughout the world. There are no simple answers, but we stand united, equipped with the collective reach, creativity, innovation, knowledge, and collaborative spirit to serve as leaders, setting an example for other sectors to follow. 

Looking ahead to the future, I am excited by the opportunities for transformative collaboration within our community. Together, we will shape an industry that not only seeks equity but restores harmony with our planet. The world needs an industry that gives back—to the planet and its people.

 

Let us celebrate our achievements and draw insights from our experiences. Together, we will forge a path toward a better tomorrow for all.