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

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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.

Gesture Politics and Climate Change

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83% of UK citizens are worried about climate change – and it now appears that Mrs May is also one of them!

69% of Americans are worried about climate change, and equally it appears that President Trump is now one of them!

In the month that Mrs May prepares to leave office, and in which Donald Trump ramps up his re-election campaign. It has come as a surprise to many of us that both have stated action on climate change and environmental action after several years of active political silence, climate change denial or the dismantling of environmental protection laws. 

Could it be that they are now worried about their political legacies or is it a sudden burst of conviction after finally sitting down and reading the evidence of their own scientists?  

On Monday, whilst extreme flooding in Washington, D.C. flooded the White House basement (no joke intended), the ‘coal is good’ US President spent 45 minutes delivered some “remarks on America’s environmental leadership” and touting his efforts to preserve the US environment.  Even taking personal credit for the emissions reductions that President Obama’s Clean Power Plan delivered, whilst berating Obama’s climate legacy, calling it “a relentless war on American energy.”

However, he still seems unable to utter the words “climate change” which were omitted from the entire environmental address.  Instead he set out his strategy for how he might talk about the environment in the lead-up to 2020 – focusing only on how he might talk about conservation, clean air and water, marine litter, and the impacts of the red algal tide on Florida’s businesses that have originated from a relaxation of US agricultural laws,  leaky septic systems and fertilizer runoff over the last few years!

Just days from leaving office, Mrs May also took time out to leave her climate change legacy – legally committing to ending the UK’s contribution to global warming by 2050.  A bold stroke if she also leaves no wriggle room for a get-out clause by her successors.  The announcement was also accompanied by the complete lack of a detailed action plan, suggesting that the whole initiative may have been last minute attempt to create a legacy achievement for a PM forced out of office by her Brexit failure.

Like many people who have worked for most of their career in the responsible leadership and environmental management professions, the brazenness of these cynical gesture politics when politicians know their time is up or are seeking re-election is sickening – and demonstrates their lack of leadership!