'Eco- sustainable clothing consumption needs govt support'
A new research in England says that while the UK’s leading clothing retailer Marks and Spencer has encouraged more sustainable consumption of clothes, such successes are unlikely to be replicated on a larger scale without more government stimulation for innovation in the way we make, buy, use and dispose of our clothes.
Marks and Spencer’s Plan A was launched by M&S in 2007, originally as a five-year plan with 100 social and environmental commitments, before being updated in 2010 with 80 more pledges. As well as aiming to increase the environmental sustainability of its business, M&S credited it with increasing the environmentally sustainable behaviour of its customers, through schemes such as its Shwopping clothing recycling campaign, run in conjunction with Oxfam.
The research by Elizabeth Morgan from Leeds’ School of Earth and Environment points out that M&S’s sustainability innovations in the clothing sector have rarely been scrutinised by academics. “The clothing sector has been identified as having huge environmental impacts, but the big players are under-explored in terms of innovation for sustainability,” said Morgan, a former director of multinational firms Boots and Carlsberg.
Morgan said the scale of the problems posed by clothing consumption was huge. In the UK, 41 billion pounds was spent on clothing in 2011making it the second largest consumer goods category after food and drink.
Analysing seven years of Marks & Spencer reports relating to Plan A, she assessed whether the firm’s innovations had increased environmental sustainability among its clothing customers. M&S made a business case for Plan A in terms of cost savings, corporate reputation management and, to some extent, strengthening internal capabilities and risk reduction.
Morgan set out a ‘Use Chain’ to examine the life cycle of clothing, from clothing’s design, manufacture and distribution through laundering to disposal. She argued that M&S was well-placed to influence the environmental sustainability of the whole of this use chain because, for example, its long-established textile design and sourcing expertise.
Examining initiatives such as Shwopping, sustainable textiles, fairtrade cotton and lower temperature washing, Morgan found evidence for positive outcomes from “learning by doing”, rather than planning outcomes from the start.
She questioned how much an individual business, no matter how large and committed to sustainability, could be expected to drive innovation when it came to sustainability.
She concluded: “M&S’s competitive advantages make it less valuable for competitors to imitate the initiatives, serving as barriers to those competitors participating in system change. For wider system change, it would be beneficial if these barriers could be overcome.
“Perhaps the role of government is to recognise when businesses have created a new business model for more sustainable consumption and to support continuing development for such innovation by finding ways to make it attractive for other businesses to adopt”. (SH)
Fibre2fashion News Desk - India