Can We Just Carry On in Lockdown?

The coronavirus pandemic’s fallout is hitting the Outdoor industry hard. Suston reaches out to 5 industry leaders to hear how these disruptions are affecting their commitments to sustainability, and how the industry should respond.

Time to stick together

Amy Horton, Senior Director, Sustainable Business Innovation, OIA

Just one month ago, we were moving full-steam-ahead on plans to launch our industry’s most ambitious and collaborative climate impact effort, the Climate Action Corps, at the end of March. Companies who commit to the Climate Action Corps are asked to work in earnest to measure their entire carbon footprints, set ambitious reduction targets, execute aggressive reduction efforts, and report their progress publicly. We had incredible momentum and buy-in. More than 60 companies had joined the Corps and were eager to get to work. Then, the pandemic happened.

Here at OIA, we’ve pivoted much of our work to become rapid responders to the unfolding crisis and its impacts on our industry. This means checking in with our members to see how we can best support them through this challenging time. I think that for those working in sustainability, as with everybody else, this is the time to support one another. It’s not the time for any big asks, but rather it’s a time to figure out how we can support our fellow employees, our partners in the supply chain, and our communities.

That said, we also recognize that there will still be a climate crisis after Covid-19 – this is a 50+ year effort, the next 10 years of which are critical! And if this pandemic has taught us anything, we don’t want to wait until the last second to prepare because by then, it’s too late. In terms of climate, we’re not going to waitWe are still moving ahead with the Climate Action Corps, but we will move forward in a way that is flexible, keeps our Corps community and the outdoor community together, includes time to learn, plan, prep and stay inspired. The response we’ve seen is encouraging, and we’re still getting new members all the time.

With respect to our sustainability agenda in general, event cancellations would certainly be a challenge. But we’re finding ways to move forward, like enhancing our already popular virtual webinars, and we aim to host a virtual training once a week. In these times of home-office and the isolation it entails, we’re finding people are being drawn to one another virtually, and our online community has the potential to become more and more vibrant.

 

Digitalization is key

Christian Dreszig, Head Marketing & Communication, Bluesign Technologies

The apparel and textile industry finds itself on pause. What we can hope is that when the world is back to normal mode, that we would have used this “quiet time” to reflect on the direction we as an industry want to take.

At the last shows, almost every exhibitor and participant touched upon, if not focused completely on, the topic of the industry’s environmental impact. The current situation will slow down the momentum that was gained at ISPO Munich with the large focus surrounding the sustainability HUB. We hope that when events begin taking place again, that we can pick up the momentum where it left off.

However, we here at Bluesign will continue to support the events fairs we have previously committed to at their newly scheduled dates. We, like many others, are trying to see this as a way to use the extended time to really create something great for when the events start to take place again.

As a service company, the largest challenge we face is not being able to have the closeness to our partners as we are not able to travel and support our partners on-site. Under normal circumstances, we review their sites regularly. As such we trust that our partners are continuing to uphold the highest industry standards, even during these times. We are adapting to plan on-site work in a virtual capacity to help keep the individual roadmaps moving forward.

Otherwise, through our cloud computing solution we are still able to carry on with our daily business with minimal impact. This platform allows us to connect  with our partners and share relevant information streams, as well as share and transfer important data, and inventory lists. Digitalization now more than ever provides us with the platform to best serve our partners.

One of the largest disruptions is the disruption to the greater mission of supporting a sustainable and environmentally safe supply chain. As retail apparel in many areas find themselves under lock-down,  manufactures and many production lines have also had to stop their work. This means in the future, we may see companies that had previously been able to commit to supporting a sustainable and safe supply chain having to make difficult choices for the survival of their company.

We are using this time to improve our services and tools to better serve our partners, and we recognize that digitalization is key in accomplishing this now and in the future.

 

Double-down on Due Diligence and Support

Katy Stevens, Head of CSR and Sustainability, EOG

It feels a bit callous focusing solely on how Covid-19 will affect the sustainability agenda, when this situation has such huge humanitarian and economic ramifications. Right now, we need to put compassion and understanding at the forefront of our minds, work together to find a way through this and when the dust has settled, only then can we look back and see what we can learn from this situation to help progress our sustainability efforts. Reduced business travel, virtual meetings and ways of facilitating virtual knowledge transfer are all encouraging, and I am hopeful we may find a phoenix rising from the ashes.

Yet in the here and now, the Outdoor industry needs to especially look to its suppliers, and I would advise those working with the supply chain to:

  1. If you feel it necessary to switch suppliers, please ensure that you carry out the necessary due diligence to be certain that any new suppliers are not in violation of any human rights and labour abuses and harm to the environment. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has specific guidance that can help you with this which can be found here.
  2. Please also be aware, there may be a rapid increase in the cases of forced overtime, or other long or unrealistic working hours as suppliers attempt to catch up with orders. It may be prudent to review with your suppliers any codes of conduct that you have in place around social and labour conditions as well as country specific employment rights and stress that you would like these to be adhered to.
  3. While hidden subcontracting is often an issue in supply chains, we urge you to be extra vigilant in this time. Where pressure is being put on suppliers to meet pre-existing orders following closure of facilities, they may see subcontracting as an option to meet demand. As always, hidden subcontracting opens you up to a number of human rights/environmental risks and potential breaches of law.

 

In all instances, we urge you to work directly with your suppliers, support them wherever possible, and avoid any unnecessary pressure to meet order demands and timelines. Please also remember that most factories in Asia operate on small margins and if they were to lose a significant part of their business due to the virus-inflicted delays in production and brands pulling out, there is a real threat of them going out of business. Therefore it may be a good idea to reflect on how they can potentially be supported financially, so that current partnerships and business relations can continue once the epidemic is under control.

 

Maintain consumer trust

Giulio Piccin, Sustainability Manager, AKU

What is happening today is putting a lot of uncertainty in everybody and this will be reflected also in the buying attitude, and they will be looking more and more for companies they can trust. For us, building trust is the main business argument for continuing to invest in sustainability – this is the reason why most of our sustainability commitments do not depend on budget, and why our responsible approach won’t be affected by this crisis. This means that we’ll continue to responsibly select raw materials and suppliers, to support internal and external communities, to be fair with our customers and end users.

There are tough, time-consuming side projects, however, that might slow down. We believe that once we start up again, most of our energy will be focused on core activities and making sure that all the value chain restarts safely through cooperation.

Only with a strong sense of solidarity between raw material suppliers, producers and retailers we can safeguard our industry. This will have a cost in the short term and might distract resources from other initiatives, but will bring a bigger benefit than any other sustainability project.

 

We must learn to share the load

Dr. Rüdiger Fox, CEO, Sympatex Technologies

Thanks to the tireless commitment of our people as much as our Asian suppliers, we were able to successfully navigate the stormy waters in February and March due to the Supply Chain disruptions in Asia. We are currently trying to do the same with regards to the partial shut-down in some of our European supplier factories. The biggest emerging concern is with some of our clients who – instead of honouring our and our supplier’s efforts and our own challenges – now send us requests for unilateral delayed payment conditions in order to optimize their own position. This resonates a lot with old school “food-chain” attitudes rather than real partnerships and will not lead to a successful management of this crisis by our industry. So it seems we are at a decisive point where our collective survival depends on our ability to carry this challenge on all our shoulders – not really a competence we have trained in the recent years.

While we put our focus on managing the daily surprises as good as possible (and as physically distanced as possible), it is clear to us that this can only be part of our responsibility. We have therefor prioritized our external communication strategy to help inspiring a discussion about our industry as a whole, especially in the two areas we believe Corona is teaching us a lesson: Firstly our dependence of the health of the global systems which obliges us to massively accelerate our ambition for a truly sustainable textile industry. And secondly a collective culture between all of us that is based on fair collaboration rather than the survival of the fittest. As an initiation of this process, I have shared my perspective publicly in order to encourage all of us not to stop in our reflections at the current threats, but look beyond for the lessons and opportunities this crisis offers us.

Jonathan Fraenkel-Eidse
jonathan.eidse@norragency.com