Responsible Business: Jeans & the Circular Economy – Automobiles & the Old Economy

I was interested to read that several of the world’s leading jean brands have been working with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation to lay down a set of Jean Redesign Guidelines based on circular economy principles.  The new redesigned jeans will enter the shops next year.  The new principles, in addition to focussing on the health, safety, and rights of workers in the fashion industry present minimum requirements for:

  • Recyclability: Jeans made with greater than 98% cellulose fibres, designing out or minimising metal rivets, and all additional materials should be easy to disassemble.
  • Material Health: Jeans fibres sourced from regenerative, organic or transitional farming methods; free of toxic chemicals and conventional electroplating; the banning of techniques such as stone finishing, potassium permanganate, and sandblasting.
  • Durability: Jeans able to withstand a minimum of 30 machine home washes while still meeting minimum quality requirements and have labels with clear information on product care.
  • Traceability: Confirmation of how elements of the guidelines will be made available, compliant companies will be able to use the ‘Jeans Redesign’ logo, and an annual review of the logo annually based on compliance with the reporting requirements.

Participating ‘denim’ organisations in the scheme currently comprise

Brands:  Bestseller, Boyish Jeans, C&A, Gap, H&M Group, HNST, Lee, Mud Jeans, Outerknown, Tommy Hilfiger, and Reformation

Manufacturers:   Arvind Limited, Hirdaramani, Kipas, and Sai-Tex.

The initiative represents an interesting case study of organisations adopting a responsible leadership approach to address unsustainable supply chain practices, build trust and co-operating in advance of any need for governmental regulation.  It also demonstrates how even a long existing product such as your pair of blue jeans can be redesigned to add new value & continued economic growth within an existing industry, and ultimately recycled back into new jeans at their end of use.

In contrast this week, it looks as if the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, a political lobbying trade group (motto – Driving Innovation!) representing 12 of the world’s largest car manufacturers (BMW, Fiat Chrysler, Ford, GM, Jaguar Land Rover, Mazda, Mercedes-Benz USA, Mitsubishi, Porsche, Toyota, Volkswagen Group of America and Volvo USA) have been lobbying the Trump administration to rewrite existing laws to lower fuel efficiency and fines for missing emissions targets.

Three interesting issues struck me in this case:

  1. Jaguar Land Rover whose range is almost 80% diesel powered have been lobbying the UK government hard for aid to help switch their range over to electric vehicles and to maintain jobs in the UK, but who seem to aspire to other ethics abroad.
  2. The absence of Honda from the group – who are well on with their fleet conversions towards mileage efficiency, lower air emissions or electric power, and finally
  3. The lobbying groups concern for the harm that non-compliance fines for fuel inefficiency would have on auto manufacturers, workers, and ultimately consumers – as opposed to the harm poor urban air quality already has on innocent members of society – which when last checked also included auto manufacturers, workers, and ultimately consumers!

In the wake of the VW-emission rigging scandal and under President Obama, The US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) was on track to effectively treble the cost of fines levied against vehicles that did not achieve their claimed mileage efficiency.   In February, the Trump administration broke off talks with California’s clean air regulators, and last Friday, the administration said that NHTSA would be issuing final rules suspending these regulations.  Eighteen US states, including California, have responded by vowing to sue the Trump administration if the vehicle emissions requirement freeze becomes finalized.  Now the Trump administration seems to be trying a different tack by rewriting the rules to lower fines for missing emissions targets.

The two scenarios represent two very different approaches to the challenges that signal whether these companies have a strong enough organisational culture to demonstrate to the marketplace that they are modern responsible businesses and responsible players within their respective marketplaces. 

It has been clear for many years concerning the global impact that cheap non-recyclable clothing and fossil-fuel based power-train automobiles have been having on our world.  The evidence has been there for years, and companies have had time to prepare their responses to the social and environmental challenges faced.  Whilst it looks as if the clothing industry is now actively waking up to the challenge of new economic models and consumer values, the automotive industries within the western world, still reliant on their technologies of the past and unable to effectively manufacture many of the future components of tomorrow’s vehicles , still exhibit a worrying tendency to remain in the past.  

Two trends I can see myself being affected by in the future:

  • Within 10 years effectively ‘hiring’ my clothes from a trusted retailer who will take them back for recycling at their end of life
  • Within 3 years obtaining an electric/hybrid vehicle whose parts and technology primarily originates from the Far East.

At Leading Green, our approach to sustainability in business consulting and training encourages our clients to look closely at their own internal leadership strengths and goals.  Helping them adopt an inquisitive state of mind and supporting them in how sustainability can support their long-term business strategy.

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