How Superbrands Are Communicating Sustainability?

Last Autumn (2021) at COP26 (United Nations’ Climate Change Conference), thirteen new commitments were added to the Fashion Charter to make fashion more sustainable, but it will only happen if brands dedicate themselves to the cause. That was the message from the UNFCC, the Fashion Industry Charter for Climate Action.  There’s an important call for the fashion sector to think sustainably and communicate their efforts to their customers, to influence them to make better sustainable choices.  Guidance includes asking the fashion industry to report on sustainable efforts accurately and be transparent in their sourcing, manufacturing and supply chain. To also be trustworthy, and honest, and that means without exaggeration or failure to communicate areas where they’re not as sustainable as they should be.  The UK’s Competition and Markets’ Authority is one country that is investigating “greenwashing” to tackle fashion brands over-exaggerating or omitting information on their sustainability efforts.
 
Without doubt, there’s plenty of opportunity for the Superbrands to become role models to consumers in terms of sustainability as part of their overall Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), but what are they doing on an individual level and is it enough?  Some fashion PRs are calling for brands (luxury and others) to upskill and understand more about the basics of sustainability because without a thorough understanding, becoming more eco-friendly and addressing the sustainable problem will be a near on impossible task.  Businesses need to know the right questions to ask, and when sourcing from suppliers, what to watch out for.  For example, businesses manufacturing goods across the globe should have a thorough understanding of their factories’ operations. They should know who’s working there and their conditions including wages, the factories’ own approach to sustainability and the type of machinery used. Then further down the line, the packaging and shipping processes right through to the customer receiving the end product – and even what happens to it next.  Mulberry is one luxury brand that is dedicated to what happens to their product after it’s been bought, having recently introduced their very own preloved collection where customers sell back their old Mulberry items for resale.
 
What about the other big Superbrands?  What are they doing to communicate their sustainable message and more importantly, what is their sustainability message? In this piece, we’ll look at three of the major Superbrands, Gucci, Louis Vuitton and Hermes and see if they’re doing enough.
 

Gucci

 
Iconic brand Gucci has a very modern approach to fashion nowadays, thanks to creative director Alessandro Michele.  One of the world’s most coveted fashion houses, Gucci’s products scream luxury thanks to their exceptional design, perfect craftmanship and premium materials but how sustainable is the brand?
 

The Culture of Purpose Plan

 
Well, Gucci, under the dynamic leadership of Marco Bizzari is definitely playing a role in encouraging a more sustainable approach to fashion.  In 2018, Gucci eliminated animal fur from its collections, joining the Fur Free Alliance.  In 2017, the brand also outlined its plans for sustainability in a ten-year Culture of Purpose plan covering the environment, people and innovation. As part of that plan, Gucci promised to reduce the environmental impact of its business, with better use of energy, water, waste production, dangerous chemicals and sustainable raw materials.  Additionally, during the process, Gucci would identify and weigh up direct and indirect social and economic environmental impact of its supply chain. 
 
All progress is monitored through strict reporting and analysis through a yearly environmental profit and loss report. Last year, Gucci’s impact on the climate rose to EURO 289 million – that’s a dramatic increase since 2015 but on a positive, the brand’s impact in relation to its overall growth declined by 8% over the past year.
 
Gucci is also committed to:
 
·      Guarantee traceability of 95% of the raw materials they use.
·      A “scrap less” programme, which partners with Gucci’s tanneries and lessens the amount of leather treated during manufacturing.
·      In September 2019, Gucci announced that they will pay every year to offset emissions it cannot remove from its supply chain in order to be carbon neutral.
·      By 2025, Gucci plans to have reduced its emissions by half.
·      All company offices, stores, and warehousing now run on renewable energy, shifting away from fossil fuels.  Last year, that change saw a dramatic reduction in Gucci’s emissions by almost 46,000 tons of carbon dioxide.
·      Gucci is also working with its manufacturers and suppliers to find more sustainable methods of working, to reduce the amount of waste, and producing less unnecessary products.
·      Gucci is constantly re-evaluating its materials and sources as ethically and sustainably as possible.
 
Furthermore, in 2018 Gucci introduced Gucci Equilibrium, a programme to connect people with the planet and with purpose and a dedicated area where anyone who visits the website can clearly see Gucci’s sustainable approach.  Gucci vowed to bring the best quality possible to its customers while always upholding positive environmental and social impact. Another initiative is the “I was a sari” campaign which is a strategy by Gucci to teach women from oppressed communities in Mumbai how to upcycle saris.
 
Gucci is most definitely the front runner of the Superbrands when it comes to sustainability and tackling grave environmental and ecological issues.  It’s messaging is clear and easy to understand and with the website there for everyone to see what their plans are (as well as how they’re unfolding with regular blogs and articles).  They’re also often quoted in the news as a brand that’s proving it is eco-conscious.  It is arguably the world-leading Superbrand in terms of a more sustainable approach.
 

Louis Vuitton

 
Part of the LVMH group, the company has a designated area on its website assuring its commitment to social responsibility.  The brand promises to protect the environment, preserve natural resources and become a major competitor in sourcing in the most eco-friendly way possible. That includes its production processes, shipping processes and products’ journeys from start to finish.  Anyone can visit the website to stay in touch with what Louis Vuitton is doing relating to being more eco-friendly, as there’s plenty of information through regular, updated articles along with the company’s most recent sustainability report.
 
Let’s look at what the brand’s doing in a little more detail.
 
Environmentally, Louis Vuitton has set a target to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions, and the brand tells us that it managed to reduce its CO2 emissions by 25% by 2020. The company is using eco-friendly raw materials in its products, but only 52% are sustainable.  However, 32% of Louis Vuitton stores use LED lighting – but that begs the question what about the other 68%?  Surely the brand can afford to move over entirely to LEDs?
 
On a positive it is reported that Louis Vuitton has a Restricted Substances list and has removed some toxic chemicals from its supply chain but there are still plenty of hazardous substances involved in the manufacturing process.
 

Concerns Surrounding Burning Unsold Stock

 
There’s little evidence of Louis Vuitton minimising textile waste.  It is still reported that Louis Vuitton regularly disposes of unsold stock by burning it – which releases harmful gases into the atmosphere, notwithstanding the incredible waste of expensive designer goods that could be sold through a preloved mechanic or upcycled into a different product.
 
In terms of labour conditions, Louis Vuitton still receives condemnation of its treatment of workers.  In this year’s Fashion Transparency Index, Vuitton, on worker treatment, the brand scored on average 25%, a very low score and much of its production takes place in medium-risk countries, known for some labour abuse. The brand’s policies to safeguard its factory workers and suppliers are believed inadequate, and it’s suggested that the brand fails to ensure living wage is paid.

 

The Brand Could Do So Much More

 
It’s unfortunate that such a coveted brand that’s known across the globe for its stylish designer goods isn’t doing more to be sustainable and environmentally friendly.  The brand needs more transparency and better commitment to sustainability and to find a way to communicate what they’re doing to consumers.  The brand says they will be 100% sustainable by 2025, with only two and a half years to go, it feels like they have quite a daunting task to complete.
 

Hermes

 
Moving onto luxury Superbrand, Hermes.  The family-owned business states it is committed to humanist and artisanal values, with a responsible approach to its production and development processes, without compromising its quality.  There’s plenty of information on its commitment to sustainability and the environment on the brand’s website here.
 

Hermes and the Circular Economy

 
As far as the circular economy goes, Hermes has repair workshops designed to preserve their products so that they are in circulation for as long as possible and the brand encourages their coveted handbags and accessories being passed from one owner to another.  The brand has also scaled back its production so it’s leaner, with the end result being less waste. 
 
Their innovations team is heavily engaged in researching and developing more sustainable, alternative materials.  In terms of sustainable employment, Hermes is supporting its business growth by introducing new jobs every year, dedicated to training its artisans in the art of creating Hermes products.  Hermes sees its jobs as quality jobs and says it is committed to providing a comfortable working environment that supports the well-being of its workers. 
 
The company strives to limit its impact on the planet with transparency across supply chain, controlled water and energy usage and states it’s committed to reducing its carbon footprint through more sustainable manufacturing.  The business is also embarking on several giving back projects, including the Manuterra Scheme educating children in France on the importance of protecting the environment through teaching them how gardens grow.
 
Is the brand meeting its goals?  It’s difficult to assess at the moment, the right ingredients are there but there’s little online about how Hermes is tackling their impact on the environment and whether they’re achieving their goals.  The main problem is the lack of communication through press articles and newsworthy channels.
 

Final Words

 
It’s clear to see that there’s much Superbrands can do to communicate their sustainable goals.  Gucci, under Marco Bizarri appear to be doing the most and there’s plenty of information online about their impressive efforts.   They are leading the way where others are falling well behind and there’s still an enormous mountain to climb for all the big, luxury names, not only in getting the sustainability message across but genuinely implementing the initiatives the brands talk about doing.
 
We believe that there is remarkable opportunity for Superbrands to communicate a more sustainable approach to life, because of their huge following that crosses all regions of the world, age and gender.  Consumers today expect their products not to come with a guilty conscience. They want to look good and wear designer items but not at the expense of the planet or exploiting workers.  Those Superbrands that communicate their messages and convince consumers that they’re playing their part in preserving the planet will ultimately become the preferred brands.
 
Words by Emma Crossick

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