Welcome to our September issue of Cradle.
One thing is clear: Fashion and waste are inextricably linked.
The Deeper Dive…EPR.
EPR in a UK context
TAKE BACK TRICKERY
If brands have take back schemes, what sort of questions should we be asking?
George tell us about your new role.
Well I’m director of policy and advocacy which is a third division we’re setting up at Eco-Age, on top of the strategical comms and sustainability strategy work that we do. As my job title suggests, there’s two bits to the role! One is to run any pro bono campaigns that we are interested in and we think will help shift the needle. The first one of those is the FOSSIL FUEL FASHION campaign. We will run that kind of work from a campaigning perspective and the idea is to raise the tide of pressure within and on the industry. Plus it will give us the opportunity to engage with NGO partners and other organisations in a holistic way, where we’re all calling for change in an aligned way.
The second part of my role involves delivering on advocacy strategy and advising Eco-Age Partners, including existing clients and bringing in that advisory part of the equation. That’s really important because we’re entering an unprecedented stage in the fashion industry that’s come around almost suddenly in the last two to three years. We’re beginning to experience a tidal wave of legislation. Therefore regulatory compliance issues take on increasing significance and of course many people are fluttering around trying to work out what this might mean for their business.There can be a tendency just to think ‘well how do we comply with this’ and nothing more. That’s not going to work. Clearly the backdrop – the climate and nature crisis – means that we need to really ladder up change and create system change. This is an opportunity to do what we’ve been talking about in fashion for a long time. But to take that opportunity you need to go beyond compliance, way beyond. Hopefully that is where our new division comes in. Any sustainability brand that’s really wedded to the mission, ought to see an opportunity to influence how the rules are changed to make sure we get a shift to true sustainability.
You’ve worked for Forum for the Future, and join us from Changing Markets, what attracted you to a very different sort of business, Eco-Age?
I really like the way EcoAge uses its convening power. Eco-Age is incredibly well connected and it has a reputation of its own as an agency, which I think is comparatively rare. In effect you have an agency that is known for saying interesting things itself, rather than just what its clients are saying. To me that’s pretty interesting. Added on to that, you can see the way Eco-Age is able to bring many perspectives together (for instance Sharing the Table literally convenes young climate leaders, creatives, investors etc) and it has the ability to get so many eyes on content and issues. I think there’s some great ingredients that my work can capitalise on to be really effective.
So how do you persuade businesses and brands to go beyond compliance and take advantage of a more robust regulatory environment rather than being cowed by it?
For me it’s beyond question that if you are already further ahead than content of the proposals, you should be trying to influence how ambitious that policy can be. Because then a lot of your competitors are going to have to scramble around spending time complying with that new level of ambition whilst you’re already there; you’re on your way and you can spend the money and time on other things – such as getting ahead of the next policy or getting your product to another stage. It gives you time and that’s what a lot of businesses lack; time to breathe, time to innovate.
Then there’s that critical link between policy and innovation and financing and investment. Everyone wants to know what the investor angle is. Well the investor angle as far as I’m concerned is that you’re going to be far more interested in investments which have favourable regulatory winds. Therefore, businesses offering these solutions, or genuinely interested in shifting the system away from an unsustainable path, should see policy advocacy as a core part of their busy strategy (knowing that policy endorsement = more investment opportunities).
In New York you will launch the first part campaign from the Eco-Age policy division with an event on Fossil Fuel Fashion. Strikingly this takes place as part of New York Climate Week rather than Fashion Week. Why is that?
To have a Climate Week panel on fossil fashion feels very direct and that is what we need right now. It’s a chance to face some of these issues head on, and discuss them more widely than talking to each other within the fashion industry all the time. For example, we will have panellists from the Global South and have direct evidence of impact and loss and damage.
As we know fashion touches on so many different industries and issues – whether that’s agriculture, worker rights, end of life, the clothing you literally have on your skin, self actualisation – all manner of things. Whereas climate change can be quite intangible, fashion couldn’t be more tangible, so it is also able to lend insights to the climate debate.
The result of putting fashion in the climate zone is to make it a much more vital conversation.
That’s important obviously because as we try and tackle the issues around fashion and get it on to a more sustainable footing, we can’t do that without the fundamental shifts you need from a climate change perspective. The manufacturing side, for example, is clearly dependent on the shift to renewables; without a decent renewable grid in Cambodia, for example, many fashion brands won’t be able to shift away from pernicious fossil fuels like coal in their supply chains. And you can’t do that unless you are having a holistic, international conversation involving production countries as well as fashion brands headquartered in the Global North.
So expect to see us and our policy and advocacy work contributing to all of the major conversations on fashion and decarbonisation. Aside from Climate week, we’re planning events at COP, the EU Parliament, and Davos, among others.
And a lot of your time will obviously be in Brussels?
Yes, the EU is a key focus given the ambition of their proposals on fashion. In the EU it’s about trying to puzzle out that question of: what is the missing piece here? From a policy perspective, I try to think beyond what’s on the agenda, and instead to what it is we are not talking about. What will cause a real systemic shift in the fashion industry? I think that combines well with Eco-Age’s track record in finding the gaps that need to be highlighted, and plugged with well-worked-out, evidence-based solutions.
How hopeful are you about the EU’s developing regulatory strategy for fashion?
I’ve been really encouraged by the fact that, earlier this year, there was a degrowth conference in the EU. The fact that policymakers are talking about degrowth, and the fact that it is on the agenda for discussion is super promising; we cannot really tackle any of this without combating overproduction. That sits at the heart of the ultra fast fashion business model. If you think about it, really every single one of fashion’s issues and impacts tracks back to overproduction and overconsumption.
Thank you George, we wish you the best of luck as you get this division up and running and we look forward to checking in future issues of Cradle!