Last month, we held our biggest event of the year: our Annual Meeting, which gathers our entire coalition of global sustainability leaders in the apparel, footwear, and consumer goods industry together to connect on various workstreams, create alignment, and develop stronger bonds through collaboration on SAC efforts and initiatives. Below, we share some of the key takeaways that came from the event. We hope this offers inspiration for the new year ahead!
Partnership is the new leadership & we must partner with intent
As our Executive Director Amina Razvi opened up our Annual Meeting with her welcoming remarks, her key message centered on setting aside self-interests, serving with humility, and prioritizing a higher collective purpose that benefits everyone. As an industry association, our organization was founded on the principles of partnering from a pre-competitive space, and we believe it is more important than ever to push for radical collaboration. Partnerships will be critical in achieving industry-wide sustainability goals, such as reaching the 45% goal in emissions reduction by 2030, and accelerating our industry towards net-zero. It will take not one company, but the entire industry, to work together on the interventions necessary to deliver science-based targets in the apparel sector with consistency and clarity. For this reason, our message is clear: we must partner with intent.
‘Greenhushing’ is just as bad as greenwashing
One of our keynote speakers, behavioral scientist Dr. Sweta Chakraborty, defines greenhushing as the insistence to NOT talk about sustainability. According to her, choosing to not talk about it is just as bad as greenwashing. She asserts that every single person and organization needs to be talking about and prioritizing sustainability in their daily lives and operations, in order to create the domino effect of behavioral change, from the micro to the macro. Even if the sustainability journey is not perfect (hint: it hardly ever is!), organizations, leaders, and individuals must demonstrate a commitment to contribute to it meaningfully. When we normalize conversations about climate change, it will eventually become a daily part of our lives, ushering in a cultural shift that leads to the behavioral change needed for a more sustainable future.
The demand for transparency is only getting bigger
As consumers grow ever more curious and conscious about the things they buy, they are also demanding more information about how sustainable or socially responsible their products are. On another hand, in order to prevent greenwashing, regions like the EU are beginning to implement policies and regulations in order to ensure that the information the companies provide to consumers are reliable and trustworthy. Companies must be able to provide credible data to support sustainability claims. To support companies on this journey, the SAC launched our transparency program earlier this year. To learn more about the program, see here.
Renegotiating the power dynamics that exist in the supply chain is what will truly transform our industry
According to our second keynote speaker, Jason Judd, Executive Director of the New Conversations Project at Cornell University, renegotiating the power dynamics that exist in our global supply chains is what is needed most in order for the industry to truly meet its social and environmental goals. “Partnership with fashion’s ‘outsiders’—smaller supplier groups, workers and their organizations, regulators, customers, campaigners [is what is needed]. Doing so negotiates and writes new terms into the contracts and formulas by which the industry operates. This is when cost and risk can be redistributed,” asserts Judd. He also calls out that factories with unionized and organized workers often have 90% labor compliance rates versus 80% compliance in factories without unions and bargaining agreements. By intentionally partnering with factories that have organized workers, rather than buying in countries with suppressed freedoms, buyers can support a healthier environment for workers.
This conversation was also continued in the panel on “Accelerating Responsible Purchasing Practices”, where panelists spoke about setting this practice as an industry standard. In this panel, SAC Director of Stakeholder Engagement Esther Germans joined her panelists in a conversation about the responsibilities that brands, retailers, suppliers and policy makers must carry to make responsible purchasing practices the norm in the industry. New and unique forms of collaboration with employers of many producing countries can lead to equal partnerships between brands, retailers and suppliers. This includes renegotiating contracts so that issues like last minute changes to orders, unpredictable order volumes, and late payment for orders become exceptional and replaced with fair agreements that include reasonable payment terms and allow for long term planning. This will be essential to repair some of the most persistent and systemic labor violations across the industry; thus, improving workers’ lives and livelihoods.
It is everyone’s job to be a sustainability and social justice leader
Regardless of what role you play in your organization, the most important role each of us should lean into is that of a climate justice and social justice leader. Protecting our people and our planet is a leadership responsibility that all of us share, despite age, experience, or position. As our Executive Director Amina Razvi says, “The kind of transformation [our industry needs] does not happen by default, it happens by design. To meet this moment requires a new kind of leadership, at every level – from individuals whether you’re in sourcing or design, whether you’re leading a department or an entire company, to our alliances and partnerships. I believe it’s time for everyone to lead in his/her/their own right so collectively we can realize the exponential impact we know is possible.”
If you attended our SAC Annual Meeting, you can watch the replays of all the recordings on-demand on the Aventri platform until the end of February. Just use your email and the reference number assigned to you on the day of the event. If you did not attend the meeting but would like to receive access, please email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.