• Faye Lessler

Brands Have A Role To Play In Shifting Culture and Creating a Circular Economy

sustainable brand, we care about the future

No matter who sits in the White House, reversing the climate crisis and building a sustainable economy will be a huge undertaking. Everyone—from governments and world leaders to brands and individual consumers—has a role to play.

Sustainable businesses and mission-driven brands are already stepping up to the challenge. Over the last decade we’ve seen countless companies turn towards eco-friendly materials, fair-trade supply chains, and transparency campaigns in an effort to minimize their negative impacts. Brands have taken strong stances on environmental and political issues, using social media to connect with customers based on a shared set of values.

These efforts have undoubtedly shifted the consumer products industry, and now with at least 47% of shoppers demanding sustainability, it’s clear that there’s no going back to the way things were before.

The movement for a sustainable and equitable future isn’t going anywhere, and in order to get there, we need brands to keep pushing for change. Moving away from fast fashion to build a circular economy will take years of work, but if industries work together, it can be done. We hope that all business-owners will recognize the power and responsibility they hold to shape culture, policy, and global economic systems.

Why should brands stand up for circularity?

In their landmark report on circularity, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation included this infographic that shows what a circular economy could look like.

an infographic showing exactly what a circular economy could look like

It illustrates different tools that are necessary for circularity, including consumer decisions (like sharing, mending, and reuse), government systems (like clean energy, transportation, and recycling and composting facilities), and business practices (like manufacturing, distribution, and resale).

It’s clear that we’ll need all three sectors in order to finally shift our economy away from the current take-make-waste linear model towards one that is circular, sustainable, and efficient. Yes, governments must take bold action to reduce emissions and provide renewable infrastructure, but that alone won’t be enough.

Shoppers have already shown that they’re willing to support brands who champion sustainability, with fast fashion on a steady decline, and secondhand purchasing on the rise. A 2017 Futerra report found that 88% of shoppers want brands to help them live a more sustainable lifestyle, and Business of Fashion’s 2021 State of the Industry report claims that 54% of consumers think brands “have an important role to play in social conversations.”

Where sustainability may have been a risk for brands in the past, it’s clearly become a prerequisite for the modern shopper. This means that businesses shouldn’t just embrace circularity for the sake of the planet, but for the sake of capturing and keeping the attention of their Millenial and Gen Z customers as well. With Gen Z coming into more than $44 billion worth of purchasing power, incorporating circularity is just good business.

a person holding a sign that says "do not wait for leaders, become them" at a protest

How brands can push the culture of circularity

A recent Edelman report shows that people are not only expecting more of brands, but that citizens are actually putting more trust in brands than in their governments when it comes to making meaningful change. With world leaders failing to take decisive action on climate change, it makes sense for businesses and industry leaders to stand up for our values and do something about it ourselves.

The fashion industry alone is responsible for 10% of humanity’s carbon emissions, and if left unchecked, could come to account for as much as 26% by 2050. This just goes to show that the fashion and consumer products industries have the potential to make a huge impact on climate. Together, we can make that impact a positive one.

Some brands are already leading the way when it comes to embracing circularity and building sustainable systems -- and are winning big because of it. Patagonia has long been the darling of the sustainable fashion world, giving 1% of all their sales away to environmental causes and suing the government to protect public lands. In addition to their larger-scale political actions, Patagonia has also made meaningful change within their supply chains, making constant improvements on materials and manufacturing circumstances, and offering their customers both repair and resale programs.

Resale is a huge opportunity for brands to champion circularity and start to shift our culture of consumption. Recurate partners Soul Studio, Tara Lynn’s Boutique, The Extra Smile, Brass, and et Tigre have all taken a huge step to reduce landfill waste by introducing branded resale. Not only has this helped them incorporate more sustainability into their businesses, but it’s also allowed them to attract new customers with lower price points and retain existing customers through resale engagement.

But resale isn’t the only way that brands can be leaders in sustainability. We’re proud to support the 2020 Circular Fashion Pledge, which offers accountability and support for brands that are pushing for change in a number of different ways. More than 125 brands have already signed on, pledging to either enable a take-back or resale program for their customers, increase their use of recycled materials, or design mindfully for long-term durability. Most brands are striving for all three.

If brands work together, their collective power will make up the majority of market share, making it possible to pressure manufacturers and bring the industry up to a new standard for sustainability. Big businesses already influence global markets through lobbying efforts and how they build their supply chains.

Doug Stephens of the Retail Prophet wrote, “Brands are affecting change and social discourse where governments and religious institutions have failed,” and it’s clear that this is true.

Brands aren’t responsible for solving climate change on their own, but they do make up an important piece of the overall picture. Brands must start prioritizing people and planet in all of their business decisions, because those decisions have ripple effects throughout the globe. When businesses band together to reimagine the current industry into a circular and sustainable system, then there is no doubt that we can create meaningful change.

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