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Responsible Business: Jeans & the Circular Economy – Cars & the Old Economy

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Responsible Business Case Study

This article examines a step up in responsible business leadership that is occuring in the fashion industry, comparing it with the more traditional automobile sector. Examining how one group of companies are responding to the challenge of the Circular Economy, whilst another continues to lobby against environmental improvements in thier sector

Jeans join the Circular Economy

Several leading jean brands have been working with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation to draw up the new Jean Redesign Guidelines. The guidelines are based on circular economy principles.  The new redesigned jeans will enter the shops next year (2020).  The new proposals focussing on the health, safety, and rights of workers in the fashion industry. In structure they present minimum requirements for:

  • Recyclability: The jeans to be made only from regenerative, organic or transitional farming method fibres Designing out or minimising the use of metal rivets. Finally, all additional materials should be easy to disassemble.
  • Material Health: Jeans fibres sourced from regenerative, organic or transitional farming methods. Free of toxic chemicals and conventional electroplating. The banning of techniques such as stone finishing, potassium permanganate, and sandblasting.
  • Durability: Must withstand a minimum of 30 home washes while still meeting minimum quality requirements. All labels must possess clear information on product care.
  • Traceability: Companies who wish to use the ‘Jeans Redesign’ logo, must make available annual compliance evidence.

Participating ‘denim’ organisations in the scheme currently comprise

BrandsBestseller, Boyish Jeans, C&A, Gap, H&M Group, HNST, Lee, Mud Jeans, Outerknown, Tommy Hilfiger, and Reformation.

Manufacturers:   Arvind Limited, Hirdaramani, Kipas, and Sai-Tex.

The Fashion industry is becoming a more responsible business for all

The Guidelines represents an interesting case study of how organisations can move towards a Sustainable Business by adopting responsible business and environmental leadership practices. They also lay down clear standards to address unsustainable supply chain practices. Additionally when implemented they will no doubt help build trust and co-operation in advance of any need for governmental regulation.  The initiative demonstrates how even an established product, such as jeans, can play a role in a future circular economy. The payback for the businesses being realised through added value & economic growth within an existing industry.

The Automotive Industry – Still in reverse gear

In contrast this week, it looks as if automobile industry has scored another home goal in the US. The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers has been lobbying the Trump administration to rewrite existing laws. The target, two sets of laws that relate to lower fuel efficiency and fines for missing emissions targets. The Alliance is a political lobbying trade group that represents 12 of the world’s largest car manufacturers (BMW, Fiat Chrysler, Ford, GM, Jaguar Land Rover, Mazda, Mercedes-Benz USA, Mitsubishi, Porsche, Toyota, Volkswagen Group of America and Volvo USA) . I was surprised to find that thier motto is – Driving Innovation!

Three interesting issues struck me:

  1. Diesel engines power over 80% of the Jaguar Land Rover vehicxle range. Jaguar has been hard lobbying the UK government for aid in switching towards electric vehicles and to maintaining UK jobs. They seem to aspire to other ethics abroad?
  2. Honda‘s abscence rom the group. Honda are well on with their fleet conversions towards mileage efficiency, lower air emissions or electric power, and finally.
  3. The Alliance’s concern for automobile workers and consumers arising from poor air emission fines. This seems in stark contrast to the harm poor urban air quality already has on Society. When I last checked ‘society’ also included auto manufacturers, workers, and ultimately consumers!

Rebuilding Consumer Trust

The scale and extent of the VW emission riggiung scandal was a shock to US regulators. In its wake, the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) sought action against low effeciency vehicles. Supported by the Obama administration, NHTSA sought to treble the fine levied against vehicles not achieving thier claimed mileage effeiciency.   The Trump administration recently stated that NHTSA would be issuing final rules that suspended the regulations.  Eighteen US states responded by vowing to sue the current administration if the vehicle emissions requirement freeze becomes finalized.  The administration seems to be trying a different tack by rewriting the rules to lower fines for missing emissions targets.

Contrasting Sustainability Strategies in Business

The two scenarios represent two very different approaches to responsible management and sustainable business. Both sectors had to take action to restore consumer trust. The US automobile sector after falsifying the mileage effeciency claims of diesel vehicles. The fashion industry in rersponse to the public’s awareness of the waste generated and unsustainability of ‘fast fashion’. Reacting to distinct sustainability challenges, the automobile and fashion sectors have taken two divergent enterprise routes.

The ‘jean redesign’ initiative hopefully indicates the movement towards greater sustainability within the fashion sector. Greater product stewrdship and responsible care in the design, manufacture, recycling and reuse of textiles is welcome.

The scale of impact that cheap non-recyclable clothing and fossil-fuel based power-train automobiles has been evidenced for years.  Organisataional leaders have had sufficient time to mitigate thier CSR policies to safeguard vulnerable societies and environments, yet many denied accountability or responsibility.  

Now it looks as if the clothing industry is actively pursueing a new sustainable economic model. I hope the initiative is a success for all the partaking organisations, and inspires others to ‘redesign’ other clothes. The reaction of the US automotive busines leaders remains disappointing. The automotive industries within the western world remain too reliant on past technology. Many completely lack the capability to manufacture many of the components required in tomorrow’s electric vehicles. Across too many sectors, boardrooms need to wake up and adopt responsiblle business practices. They need to re-examine thier products, services and brands under the sustainability microscope.

Forecasting Ahead

I will stick my head out and make two distinct forecasts for the future in respect of these two industries:

  • Within 10 years, I will be ‘hiring’ my clothes from a trusted retailer. I will expect the retailer to take them back for recycling at their end of life
  • Within 3 years I will have obtained an electric/hybrid vehicle whose parts and technology primarily all originate from the Asia.

At Leading Green, our approach to sustainability in business consulting and training encourages our clients to look closely at their own internal leadership strengths and goals.  We seek to help them adopt an inquisitive state of mind in how sustainability can support their long-term business strategy and responsible management practices.


air quality, automobiles, circular economy, jeans, transparency, Trump, vehicle emissions

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