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Interview with Cara Chacon

Cara Chacon
Cara Chacon
Director of Social and Environmental Responsibility

You can't manage what you don't measure
Sustainability is a serious issue at Patagonia, a leading manufacturer and retailer for outdoor clothing and gear. Cara Chacon, Director of Social and Environmental Responsibility at Patagonia discusses the sustainability measures carried out in the company, along with remedial measures to enhance sustainability in the global apparel and fashion industry in an interview with Fibre2Fashion.com

What is the sustainability matrix followed at Patagonia?

Our sustainability programme covers our supply chain - corporate and product, social and environmental footprint and traceability and animal welfare. We primarily focus our efforts on finished goods (tier 1) and raw materials' supplier levels (tier 2). But we are also doing as much work as we can at the farm level (tier 3) in social responsibility, traceability and animal welfare. Our vision is to develop a completely sustainable supply chain in all responsibility areas over time. The social and environmental responsibility team works closely with our supply chain operations team via our 'four-fold approach' to managing our supply chain. We enjoy a lot of support and collaboration from the business teams and sustainability values, goals and targets are embedded in all of our product teams' daily work.

What are the new innovations in terms of sustainable practices?

We have been using recycled material for many years, and continue to add recycled content to our clothing including recycled hemp, recycled polyester, recycled cotton as well as reclaimed wool and reclaimed cotton. Recycling keeps products out of the landfill, uses fewer resources to make materials and puts fewer toxins and chemicals back into the environment. We started using a new dyeing process for our denim this year which uses 84 per cent less water, 30 per cent less energy and produces 25 per cent fewer CO2 emissions than conventional denim dyeing practices.

Which are the certifications that a retail house can go for if they wish to get the official stamp of approval for sustainability?

We believe that no certification is bullet-proof and reliability varies from programme to programme. Certifications are good tools, but are only one part of a holistic approach to achieve sustainable compliance. We recommend using combination of a three-way system where the supplier, brand and third party expert verifiers or certifiers are all involved in varying degrees for audits and remediation efforts to fully achieve the desired result. It's also very important for suppliers to embrace and own the process. For complex sustainability issues, it's effective to add in other stakeholders and experts as needed including CSOs, other brands, government and workers or community getting affected. If a certification is needed, we pre-screen the programme for usual scope, global reach and price. Most importantly, we want to have a good understanding of the auditor or consultant competencies, including training, demeanour and the amount of direct field experience. Anti-bribery training and investigation systems are a must as well. Your certification activity (or any outside engagement) will not be effective unless the third party has systems to ensure their experts are genuine and keep up with the dynamics of sustainability industry. Third-party firms hiring auditors and consultants just on the basis of a resume is not enough.

Which technologies do you plan to adopt in order to enhance sustainability?

We are constantly looking beyond the horizon for new ways to innovate and move sustainability forward in a meaningful way. Here are a few examples of what we are working on: For environmental responsibility, we just launched our new Chemical Environmental Impact Programme (CEIP). We created what we think is the best practice for chemical and environmental management in the supply chain. The programme is grounded on the Bluesign Standard, and allows suppliers to achieve environmental excellence via several pre-approved industry programmes. It also fosters suppliers to go beyond regular compliance and achieve our gold standard level. For social responsibility, we are working with the Fair Labour Association (FLA) and Fair Trade USA to develop several different ways our factories can achieve living wages in our tier 1 supply chain. We are tinkering around with several different models and building on the Fair Trade programme, which helps to empower and raise wages directly and indirectly in our certified factories.

What steps is the retail industry in US taking to ensure that sustainability norms are met?

A large group of apparel and footwear brands are collaborating on the development of Sustainable Apparel Coalition's Higg Index. The Higg Index is a suite of tools that aims to measure in one common language a brand's environmental and social impact on the supply chain, corporate and product levels. You can't manage what you don't measure. In this case, the industry lacked a universal method to measure and compare our footprint-a big hurdle to achieving sustainability goals. The hope is in the not-too-distant future. The Higg Index scores will be on a hang-tag or some other public facing medium. The public facing score will influence brands to develop more and more sustainable products by creating competition in sustainability. Also, consumers will be able to see the level of impact created by the product on the people and planet they are buying, which in theory will stimulate responsible consumption.
Published on: 09/11/2015

DISCLAIMER: All views and opinions expressed in this column are solely of the interviewee, and they do not reflect in any way the opinion of Fibre2Fashion.com.

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