Skip main navigation

Business imperatives

The article discusses the critical need for businesses to evidence their integrity, and respond to the environmental and social impacts of fashion.
Design: Alexandru Tunsu. Image: Emmi Hyyppa
© University of the Arts London

We’d like to start this week by getting you to think about the critical need for businesses to evidence their integrity, and respond to the environmental and social impacts of fashion. By this we mean asking businesses to urgently take responsibility for their contribution to damaging the lives of people and the environment.

The Anthropocene is the name given to the newest current geological era, a period in which human activity has been identified as the dominant influence on climate and the environment. Fashion is a significant contributor to pollution, carbon dioxide emissions, climate change, biodiversity loss and rising sea levels, that you will notice are all identified within the eight issues introduced to you in Week 2. To take one example, fashion uses hazardous chemicals for fabric dyeing and garment production that are being released into local water supplies. For communities living near these manufacturing and productions sites, this may be contaminating their only source of water. This is severely damaging to both human and aquatic life. The critical and urgent goal here is for fashion brands to work with their suppliers and help eliminate the use of all toxic chemicals in their products.

Now that you have a good understanding of the eight Issues we have been discussing over the last couple of weeks, let’s dig deeper and explore some examples of the imperatives that businesses need to respond to and answer.

Media imperative: ‘Detox My Fashion’ – The Detox Campaign, Greenpeace (since 2011)

Greenpeace is a non-governmental environmental organization (NGO) working to protect the natural world by creating campaigns for change that have strong influence on business, public opinion, and the law. Their Detox Campaign targets big powerful fashion brands, and puts pressure on them to take bold steps that eliminate all releases of hazardous chemicals. This campaign has worked to push brands into taking action towards creating a toxic-free fashion industry. Greenpeace have created campaign videos that investigate, expose and challenge some of the world’s most popular fashion brands who should be held accountable for their actions.

Intergovernmental imperative: IPCC

The IPCC Report on Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability assesses the impacts of climate change, looking at ecosystems, biodiversity, and human communities at global and regional levels. It also reviews vulnerabilities and the capacities and limits of the natural world and human societies to adapt to climate change.

Intergovernmental imperative: United Nations, Sustainable Development Goals

The United Nations (UN) is an intergovernmental organisation that brings together its membership of world leaders to confront common global challenges, and has set universal goals and targets that are used to inform political policies and agendas. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which we introduced you to last week, are a collection of seventeen shared values and global goals set out by the United Nations. The goals are a call for action by all countries, and have been adopted by world leaders to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure prosperity for all as part of a new sustainable development agenda. Each goal has set targets to be accomplished by the year 2030, and this in turn requires new strategies to be put in place that address a range of social needs and help to build economic growth.

In January 2018, the first global discussion on climate action within the fashion sector took place at the UN Climate Change secretariat. The two day workshop brought together 38 representatives from the fashion industry (including Professor Dilys Williams and Kering, as well as brands such as Hugo Boss, H&M and FIlippa K) to explore fashion’s role in helping drive change towards a carbon-neutral world economy by 2050. This collaborative global scale initiative aims to set a future climate action program that enables systemic change through shared goals and actions.

Economic imperative: The World Economic Forum – Global Risks Report

The World Economic Forum is an independent international organisation dedicated to shaping global industry agendas to improve the state of the world. The 2022 edition of the Global Risks Report looks at significant long-term risks worldwide, drawing on diverse perspectives from various countries, decision-makers in business, academia, government and leaders of society.

Businesses see their biggest opportunities and impact in areas that will help drive their own business growth. However with key global trends that are affecting how business could operate in the future, we are seeing businesses worldwide begin to contribute towards a sustainable future by adopting sustainable and socially responsible policies. Responsible businesses are starting to lead the way towards better narratives and measurements for sustainable growth for a fairer and more prosperous world.

Millennials and Generation Z imperative

We are beginning to see the rise in Millennials and Generation Z demanding environmental justice. François-Henri Pinault, CEO of Kering, has noted that, “Millennials, be it as consumers or as prospective employees, set the bar high and demand more transparency and responsibility from corporations.” They are conscious consumers wanting to know where and how the products they are buying are being made. They value high quality materials and craftsmanship.

MA CU manifesto Image: London College of Fashion MA student manifesto (millennial)

Sector imperative: Consultant report by Global Fashion Agenda

Since 2009, Global Fashion Agenda has organised the annual Copenhagen Fashion summit which focuses on accelerating fashion’s transition to become more sustainable. The Pulse of the Fashion report published by Global Fashion Agenda tracks and measures the state and development of sustainability in the fashion industry.

” The Fashion industry has a major opportunity to secure a prosperous future. The industry is facing a rapidly growing demand worldwide, and at the same time many companies are stepping up their work toward more environmentally and socially responsible practices. But this is not enough. To put fashion on a path to long-term prosperity financially, socially and environmentally much more work must be done. “

© University of the Arts London
This article is from the free online

Fashion and Sustainability: Understanding Luxury Fashion in a Changing World

Created by
FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Reach your personal and professional goals

Unlock access to hundreds of expert online courses and degrees from top universities and educators to gain accredited qualifications and professional CV-building certificates.

Join over 18 million learners to launch, switch or build upon your career, all at your own pace, across a wide range of topic areas.

Start Learning now