Europe’s biggest e-commerce fashion retailer Zalando has just committed to ensuring that all the brands that it carries will meet sustainability targets. It will do so by making the competition of a Sustainable Apparel Coalition’s (SAC) new Higg Index survey mandatory for all its brands – including big fashion names such as Calvin Klein and Alexander McQueen. The multi-brand retailer has set the deadline of all relevant data collection by 2023.
Zalando has just become the first online fashion retailer to make the completion of the new SAC Higg Index questionnaire mandatory for every brand that it carries on its platform. This will mean that high street names such as Gap, luxury labels Armani and Maxmara, as well as sportswear giants such as Nike and Adidas will all have to submit their sustainability calculations.
Higg Index requires details such as brands’ commitment to carbon reduction, approach to human rights and fair wages to be assessed by the SAC.
“Having our science-based targets approved is an important milestone for our sustainability strategy,” said Kate Heiny, sustainability director at Zalando. “We believe there is a clear link between sustainability and continued commercial success in selling fashion online.”
Other multi-brand fashion retailers have partnered with the SAC, including Selfridges, ASOS, Nordstrom and JCPenney, but they have yet to demand brand partners to ensure that supply chain sustainability and ethical operations are being tracked using a third-party industry standard like the Higg Index.
Among some of the first 400 partners to declare their Higg Index results to SAC and Zalando by September are Nike, VF Corporation, the owner of Vans and The North Face, PVH, which owns Tommy Hilfiger and Calvin Klein.
This is a major move by an industry heavyweight, which some onlookers hope will have an agenda-setting effect on the rest of the fashion space. Founded in 2008, the Berlin-based online fashion company has thousands of brands under its belt, with 28 million customers across 17 markets.
Aside from ensuring science-based targets across its portfolio of brands, Zalando will be building on its existing commitments with new goals to reduce operational carbon emissions by 80%, and reduce emissions from private-label production by 40%. As of October last year, the company has reached net zero-emissions status through carbon offsetting.
Zalando says that their decision to push through its slew of sustainability initiatives was prompted by the example of global rapid change that is possible in the case of the coronavirus pandemic.
“The global coronavirus situation has shown us how flexible and fast the economy can be when change is needed, and this should be used as a blueprint when it comes to sustainability. Now is the time for a clear sustainability strategy and ambitious goals,” said Heiny.
“As a platform we want to do more and thus did not limit our science-based targets to our own business, but will join forces with our partners.”
In May, over 155 companies representing a combined US$2.4 trillion signed a joint statement urging governments to align their recovery efforts with climate science. As a part of their own efforts, the multinationals – among them H&M, Unilever and Nestlé – will join the science-based targets initiative (SBTi) that drives companies to set their own climate targets.
Trend-spotters and industry experts are predicting that the pandemic will set off a wave of eco-consciousness, particularly in fashion. Li Edelkoort, for instance, argued that the coronavirus-induced “quarantine of consumption” will make people shift towards more sustainable purchases and travelling less.
Speaking to Green Queen, Christina Dean, the founder and chair of eco-fashion charity Redress, said: “Coronavirus has shown us that to survive, the industry is being asked to change, effectively overnight.”
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All images courtesy of Zalando.