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Sustainability (3)
What brands are doing to make the world a better place

Feb/ Mar 2009
Sustainability is no longer a fashionable trend—worldwide it is being recognised as a tool to ensure survival. NELLE DU TOIT explores what the major brands are doing to make the world a cleaner, kinder, more sustainable place

Consumers these days want to shop with a conscience and have to know that the products they are buying wouldn’t lead to social and environmental erosion elsewhere in the world. Especially consumers of the older and more financially secure generation, which covers a huge segment in the market, insist on buying products that aren’t harming the environment through production and supply.

Studies show that the more people are educated on the effects of environmentally damaging products, the more concerned they become with stewardship and the preservation of the planet for future generations.

Being green-conscious has, however, become such a fashionable marketing strategy that the danger exists that brands could be using a “green-image” to give their company and products an “image face-lift” instead of focusing their energies on tackling the deep-rooted socio-economic problems created by the production cycles of their own products.

How do you therefore know if a brand’s green image is true?

Many of the major brands have incorporated sustainability into their manufacturing.

Asics

Asics is governed by a Code of Conduct based on the guidelines of the WFSGI (World Federation of Sporting Goods Industry). Their products are also PVC-free and where possible, made out of recycled material (according to their international website).

Asics expects all of their business partners, including suppliers and sub-contractors, to operate according to the same standards.

These include no forced labour, no child labour, no workplace harassment, no discrimination and respect for the rights of workers to join any organisation and bargain collectively. In addition, wages should be fully remunerated for all time worked, employees should not work more than 60 hours a week (including overtime) and the health and safety regulations in the work environment should be maintained.

Asics’ business partners should comply with all applicable environmental legislation and must work to improve conservation. Consideration should be made to the environment by saving resources and energy, reducing emissions, showing concern for the environment when purchasing and prevent pollution.

Asics also makes a top end soccer boot range that does not use leather from animals (see kangaroo leather under unsustainable products below). The ASICS Gel Lethal V boot is an example of this.

Brooks

Brooks is known as a brand that cares for the environment, which started cutting down on wastage, whether in manufacturing or the office, before it became fashionable. They insist on using environmentally-friendly printing processes and all paper materials used by Brooks (brochures and catalogues, hangtags and shoe-boxes) is certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). This means that it’s made from well-managed forests and/or recycled materials. They only use soy-based inks. Brooks’ mid-sole manufacturing process reduces waste by 50%. Brooks features a High Performance Rubber (HPR) green outsole in several models, as well as in their entire trail running footwear range. The outsole is a compound made from sand, rather than oil, which is durable, long-wearing and results in wet-dry traction for excellent skid-resistance.

Their shoe-box design is made from fully biodegradable, 100% recycled paperboard, printed in non-toxic soy-based inks with no heavy metals. All stuffing and wrapping inside the box is made of biodegradable, 100% recycled materials.

Diesel

Diesel has launched a Global warming ready ad campaign that addresses global warming issues in an ironic way in order to make their young and trendy market more aware of the issue.

Examples of this campaign include St. Mark’s square in Venice filled with tropical parrots instead of pigeons, New York completely submerged in water, the Eiffel tower surrounded by jungle, a flooded Rio de Janeiro, Mount Rushmore next to a beach and Finland turned into a desert.

The print ads are supported online with various consumer materials including Ten things you can do to stop global warming.

Hi-Tec

Hi-Tec launched an environmentally friendly golf shoe made from recycled materials to target consumers with a “green” conscience at the beginning of last year. This shoe has outsoles made from rice husks, latex rubber and the sockliners made from 100% recycled materials.

Hi-Tec says they consider the manufacturing of “green” products as their responsibility and that they thereby cater for demands from environmentally conscious consumers.

Their latest waterproofing technology, ion mask, for example, cuts down on manufacturing waste as it does not make use of membranes or solvent-based coatings The ion mask works on a molecular level, binding invisibly to the surface of products, giving them an extraordinary ability to repel most liquids. This technology was originally developed by the UK military in order to protect soldiers from chemical attacks. Little consumption and waste is needed to apply this technology.

Levi’s

Levi’s introduced the world’s first fully sustainable denims from a major label. The eco jeans range features 100% organic cotton denim, coconut shell wasteband button, non-galvanised metal fly buttons and colours produced from potato starch, mimosa flower and Marseille soap. The organic cotton is grown without the use of pesticides and reduces carbon emissions.

Macbeth

Despite its hardcore rocker-cum-skating image, Macbeth footwear has a soft environmental footprint. Their eco-friendly shoe range is marketed as Vegan-friendly because no animal products are at all involved in the making of the shoe.

New Balance

New Balance is using the best available resources to decrease their environmental footprint. Their 070 range was made to specifically target environmentally conscious outdoor consumers. The upper is made from recycled fibers and reduced impact synthetics, water-based adhesives are used and the outsole contains rice husks, reducing the amount of petroleum needed to produce these shoes.

New Balance’s performance clothing range is manufactured from Cocona, a natural fibre substance (see the definition of Cocona in the box below)

Nike

Nike’s sustainability team realised a few years ago that sustainability would need to become part of their core business philosophy, and they therefore convinced executives to integrate environmentally-conscious processes into the production cycle.

Some of the most memorable changes that they implemented were the shift from solvent-based to water-based adhesives (which they encouraged their competitors to implement as well) and the elimination of PVC in their products (see the explanation of why PVC is an unsustainable material).

Nike also had to convince their suppliers to adopt more responsible business values in order for the strategy to make a difference.

The result was that Nike set a trend for transparency by becoming the first major brand to publish a list of the factories that manufacture their products so that conditions in the factories could be scrutinised by labour watchdog groups.

Transparency is the key to brands ensuring that they are relaying the correct information to the public.

Puma

All PUMA’s trading practices are in line with the principles of sustainable development. PUMA’s goal is to meet the requirements of the modern day without compromising the possibilities open to future generations. The PUMA S.A.F.E. concept (S.A.F.E. stands for Social Accountability and Fundamental Environmental Standards) creates a mutual partnership between the environment, employees, customers, business partners as well as the remaining stakeholders.

The S.A.F.E. concept ensures that Puma demonstrates transparency in its production process, enters into dialogue with its stakeholders, monitors standards in its production factories, takes on social responsibility for its employees and guarantees sustainable business practices in its own operations and supply chain.

In 1993, PUMA introduced a Code of Conduct, which is binding for all manufacturers of PUMA products. The Code is based on the core labour conventions of the ILO and specifies the minimum working age, payment of at least the minimum wage, the maximum amount of working hours and overtime payments.

The PUMA S.A.F.E. team ensures that the manufacturers adhere strictly to the code of conduct by regularly auditing the PUMA production plants. As an accredited member of the Fair Labour Association, their internal code monitoring activities are subject to external verification.

Puma furthermore engages in Capacity Building projects in order to alert management to weak points in their operations by offering training programmes and enabling them to make improvements independently. Besides issuing regular sustainability reports on the corporate level, PUMA is taking part in a pilot project in SA which aims to create transparency in the supply chain by helping small and medium-sized suppliers to produce their own sustainability reports.

PUMA also supports the global Peace One Day campaign, which promotes an annual day of global ceasefire and non-violence.

To enhance eco-friendliness in its product line, Puma was the first sports goods company to ban PVC from its product range.

In order to improve living conditions of African cotton farmers and their families, Puma has been supporting the Aid by Trade Foundation’s Cotton Made in Africa initiative since the spring of 2008.

Saucony

Saucony has a lifestyle range that is made from mainly organic cotton and bamboo — the latter, an increasingly popular natural fibre that is not only sustainable, but also manages moisture and odours, while repelling UV rays (see the box explaining sustainability terms).

Vaude

In recognition of the exemplary and ground-breaking work Vaude has done for environmental protection and sustainable management, the international technical outdoor brand has been awarded the prestigious Environment Award by the state of Baden-Württemberg.

Vaude has been one of the leading brands in the move towards more sustainable manufacturing.

They cover all aspects of sustainability — from making use of clean recycled products, to repairing every item they have ever sold, even if they are older than 20 years (to reduce waste). They also ensure that all their personnel work in a family friendly, ethical, environment.

Some of their products conform to the Bluesign Safety and EMAS standards.

Sustainable terms

» Bamboo is a light, strong, natural textile woven from yarns made of the pulp of the bamboo grass. It has excellent wicking properties, is antibacterial (thus does not retain odours) and has good insulating properties. It is soft on the skin, non-allergenic and sustainable because bamboo grows fast without a need for pesticides.
» Cocona is a natural fabric technology that is becoming increasingly popular amongst major brands concerned with the environment. The activated carbon, derived from coconut husks, produces performance fibers that can be combined with traditional fibres like cotton, nylon etc. to help them resist moisture, control odour and to provide a UV shield.
» Bluesign Safety is an independent, international quality standard. It guarantees ecologically compatible textiles, environmentally friendly production processes and resource conservation.
» Business for Social Responsibility (BSR) is a non-profit business association that provides socially responsible business solutions to many corporations ensuring a more just and sustainable global economy.
» EMAS (Eco-Management and Audit Scheme) is a scheme introduced by the European Union that ensures that a company implements a thoroughly structured environmental management plan.
» Tencel is a fiber that is up to 100% biodegradable. It is made from wood that comes from sustainable forests.

 

Unsustainable materials

» The Kangaroo leather industry is struggling to keep up with demands from manufacturers of the top end soccer boots for the sought after k-leather. There simply are only a small number of large red male kangaroos left in Australia. The red males are the biggest sized kangaroos and produce the best quality leather, however, they are also the alpha males (it takes 10 years to reach this status) with the best genes. These days only smaller and weaker males are left to breed resulting in offspring who are less likely to survive droughts and other natural disasters. If this is kept up, kangaroos are well on their way to becoming extinct.
» PVC (or polyvinyl chloride) plastic or vinyl is one of the most highly toxic materials to be found, the chlorine releases, especially in the case of production, and creates a poisonous gas called dioxin. Doixin has been known to cause severe damage to one’s health such as cancer, birth defects and endocrine disorders. PVC can’t be disposed or even recycled. In 1998 The Association of Post Consumer Plastic Recyclers declared efforts to recycle PVC a failure and labeled it a contaminant. Unfortunately this has the result of ending up in our landfills.
» Solvents are a factor in the formation of ground level ozone as a result of the volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions that take place during the formulation, application, drying and curing process. Because of the high price in petroleum products, Solvent-based adhesives are more expensive to use in production than water-based adhesives.

Green Sourcing

Green sourcing is not only about the reduction of environmental impact. It is also very much about cost savings and brand value. It is often wrongly perceived as an expensive luxury, but green sourcing can save millions for your company, a workshop during ispo Winter was told. NICOL DU TOIT reports

A company will only support green sourcing when a mindset is created where these initiatives are understood as possibilities of strengthening the brand and saving money, says Sebastian Maling, a specialist on procurement from China and the Far East.

How can green sourcing save money? It can reduce waste, reduce energy use, reduce water usage, reduce usage of other natural resources, or use substitute materials, he says.

To quote an example, Starbucks Coffee Company changed the thickness of their rubbish bags in all stores. This resulted in reduction of 750 000 lbs of waste per year, a saving of US$ 500 000 in the first year, lower recycling costs, and lower purchasing costs.

How can green sourcing build brand value? To be eco-friendly is in today! If you are not eco-friendly you will have a hard time building a lifestyle brand, but it is very important to market the goals of your green sourcing initiative, suggests Maling.
How to get started? Develop a green sourcing process, which is an augmentation of the existing sourcing process. The approach must be specific, actionable and measurable. You have to assess and prioritise the opportunities.

 

1 Step one is to assess the opportunities, says Maling. Traditionally, this focuses primarily on materials and logistical costs. For green sourcing you also need to focus on direct and indirect environmental costs and keep environmental regulations in mind.
2 Step two is to assess the internal supply chain. Traditionally this step has been focused on specifications, a mapping of current processes to identify process opportunities. When the emphasis is placed on green sourcing it is also necessary to consider the industry’s most environmentally sound products and services.
3 During step three the supply market is assessed. The traditional process identifies the potential sources of supply and performs supplier assessments and comparisons. Under the green banner suppliers who specialize in more efficient and sustainable products are also included. Indirect energy cost reductions are also considered. Packaging forms a very important part of this process. See whether this can be reduced also to reduce transportation costs.
4 Step four involves the development of a sourcing strategy. Traditionally, the scope of the project is determined, the desired outcomes are defined and process enhancements are brainstormed. For green sourcing you have to include sustainability considerations, such as the substitution on commodity items with sustainable equivalents.
5 The fifth step is the implementation of the strategy. Traditionally the focus has been on the development and implementation of supplier solicitations, the conduct of negotiations and awarding the contracts. Green sourcing also quantifies the costs and benefits of sustainability attributes, for example the reduction of water consumption, into account.
6 The last step is the institutionalization of the strategy. The new process is used, operational changes are implemented and supplier relations are developed. The process is monitored and reported upon.

 

For green sourcing sustainability issues, for example materials with higher recycled content, are closely tracked and audited.

A successful green sourcing initiative must be cross functional and needs to involve all the different functions within the business — design, engineering and R & D, production management, logistics, finance and marketing. Often quick wins by the purchasing department will convince the other functions to participate.

There are often many challenges when you want to green source from some Far Eastern countries such as China, says Maling. It does not require different sourcing processes, but existing processes must focus on specific challenges.

One of the most important challenges is the distance from the brand’s headquarters. Apart from the obvious potential problem of the higher carbon footprint in travelling for business purposes and the shipping of the goods, enforcement of standards are more difficult, and the time difference also makes communication more difficult.

It is difficult to control suppliers over a long distance. Often you do not only have to control the ultimate suppliers, but also sub- and sub-sub-suppliers as well, says Maling. Often there are no regulations in the low cost countries with which to enforce your demands. It is always recommended to have a local presence, either by opening your own office, or by employing third party agencies to do the job for you.

Often low cost countries engage in process trade, as they cannot source semi-finished products locally. You must bring the carbon footprint of these supply chains in consideration as well, he suggests.

A further problem is that suppliers often use old production technologies, which are less environmentally friendly. It is the customer’s responsibility to support suppliers in developing more efficient production technologies. Financial incentives and fair payment should be considered as part of your strategy to develop suppliers to become more environmentally sustainable. A low cost country initiative must always aim at a long-term trust-building relationship with suppliers that enable them to make the necessary modifications. Then there are the language problems as well.

Which LCC countries are best? Your choice will largely depend on products sourced, consumer demand and technological requirements, but, as a general rule:

» India might be a good choice for cotton based textiles;
» Taiwan might be a great choice for high-quality high technology products;
» China might be the right choice for functional textiles;
» Thailand is a good choice for cosmetics.

In conclusion, sourcing in low cost countries requires additional responsibilities from the customer. It will also cause higher transaction costs as more input and supervision has to come from the customer, but green sourcing from them is very possible and often the savings justify the higher transaction costs. Looking for the last bargain is often the wrong approach.

Registration and restriction of chemicals

What are the consequences for brands, manufacturers and retailers? John Mason, Senior Vice-President, Intertek, discussed the implications at ispo Winter

REACH is a European Community Regulation on the safe use of chemicals that has been effective since June 2007. It is an acronym for Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemical substances.

The aim of REACH is to protect people and the environment through the better and earlier identification of the intrinsic properties of chemical substances.

Manufacturers and importers are required to gather information on the properties of the chemicals used in their products, and to register the information on a central database run by the European Chemicals Agency. The Agency acts as the central point in the REACH system. It manages the public databases and coordinates the evaluation of suspicious chemicals. The regulations also requires that dangerous chemicals must be substituted when suitable alternatives are available.

Companies wishing to export to the EU will have to comply with the requirements of REACH — which means that they must have detailed knowledge of the chemicals used in the manufacturing of their products, and be aware of the risks that those substances may pose to humans and to the environment.

Prior to the REACH legislation, regulatory bodies were responsible for evaluating the risks posed by chemicals and providing safety information, but under the new EU law, that responsibility now lies with the people operating in the industry. The REACH regulations also aim to eliminate tests involving animals. Once alternative testing methods have been validated, the regulations will be adapted to phase out animal testing as soon as possible.

Local brands reduce their eco footprints

Electricity generated from coal-fired plants is a major contributor to harmful gaseous emissions — and this is where Capestorm realized they could make a huge difference by reducing their carbon footprint during production. They applied to the Cape Town City Council to purchase wind energy from the Darling independent Wind Farm project and aims to be completely “clean” concerning carbon emissions during February this year.

CAPESTORM has a recycling project for paper, plastics, glass and tins at their head office, as well as in their retail stores. The recycled items are collected by the Oasis Association who then sorts and re-sells waste to various industries. They also have a fabric off-cut recycling program in partnership with the Clover Mama Afrika project. Capestorm has been closely involved in a sponsorship partnership with the Cape Leopard Trust and they provide apparel at cost to the Greater Cederberg Biodiversity Corridor, a landscape initiative in the Cape Floristic Region.

FIRST ASCENT is involved with the Amazing Green Race at the University of Witwatersrand, organised by the student organisation Roots and Shoots, in conjunction with the Biological Society (Biosoc). This 3-week long drive is an attempt to make students more aware of sustainability issues and ways of reducing carbon footprints. Participants receive daily emails and SMS’s with tips on how to live in a more sustainable manner and there is a prize for the student that reduced their carbon footprint the most.


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