Growing recognition of the consequences of climate change can also be observed in the global textile and apparel industry. An increasing number of textile and apparel companies are today focusing on sustainable fabric manufacturing and are rapidly adopting more sustainable processes for textile production. VF Corp. is aware of its responsibility toward people and planet and has therefore set 12 new goals in addition to previously established goals. The company has just published its latest “Made for Change” Sustainability & Responsibility Report, highlighting VF’s advancement toward achieving its commitments to better both people and the planet, including progress toward its ambitious science-based targets, and establishment of 12 new goals.
What prompted VF Corp. to publish a Sustainability & Responsibility Report and what are your 12 new goals? Can you tell us the group's most important tasks and goals in relation to corporate sustainability and responsibility?
As one of the world’s largest apparel, footwear and accessories companies, we believe we’re uniquely positioned to be a catalyst for change around issues that align with our business. Which is why we put Purpose on pair with profit. We always filter our business decisions through the lens of our Purpose while also ensuring we are delivering value to shareholders and stakeholders alike.
VF’s purpose is clear: We power movements of sustainable and active lifestyles for the betterment of people and our planet. This purpose is anchored in our desire to create and maintain a strongest and meaningful relationship with our consumers by engaging in the societal issues that are relevant and important to them.
For this reason, we created our Made for Change Sustainability Report with the objective of highlighing VF’s advancement toward achieving its commitments to better both people and the planet, including progress toward its ambitious science-based targets. This resulted in twelve new ambitious goals for us, which relate to people and the planet, as well as to our products. Here are some examples across the three categories.
From 2025, used clothing and other textiles will be collected separately throughout Europe to facilitate reuse and recycling. Can you share any ideas yet on how this plan will be approached and implemented at VF Corp.?
Sustainability begins at the ideation stage and so we aspire to have all of our designers, globally trained in circular design principles. In a circular business, materials and products are kept in use as long as possible. This represents an opportunity for VF to unlock new revenue streams for our brands, while continually and meaningfully minimizing our environmental impact. We believe there’s more to circular business than simply recycling. For this reason, we want all our designers be trained on circular design principles.
With circularity in mind, our brands seek to design products with materials that can be repurposed, repaired and recycled. The goal is to extend and re-imagine the life cycle of our products by designing for maximum value and minimized environmental impact.
Our approach results in increased use of sustainable materials, more innovative products and better consumer experiences. By 2030, our goal is to have 100% of our top nine materials originate from regenerative, responsibly sourced renewable, or recycled sources. Our ambition is to use our scale to lead the apparel and footwear industry in the transition from linear to circular. Through this work, we make high-quality second-life apparel available to consumers.
What could a sustainable textile and apparel industry look like in the future?
At VF, we are committed to being more than just a clothing and footwear company. We strive to be a force for good in the world. This is what people expect from us and what we expect from ourselves – and from the entire textile and apparel industry.
As we look to the future of our operations, we are focusing in three key areas of impacts: People, Planet, Product.
People: In FY2020, we employed nearly 50,000 people. But many more – upward of 1 million from nearly 60 countries- earn their income making our products. We have a responsibility to protect and uplift those who work across our operation.
Planet: A thriving planet is central to our Purpose and fundamental to the well-being of all Earth’s inhabitants, industries and businesses. The well-being of people and the planet are inextricably connected. The effects of climate change and other negative environmental impacts affect people’s health, with the most vulnerable populations often bearing the brunt of those impacts.
Products: VF brands and their products touch millions of lives every year – from the people who design and make apparel and footwear to the consumers who purchase and use them. Our dedicated team implements Product Stewardship efforts throughout all stages of our complex supply chain to assure all materials and products meet our rigorous standards.
How do you see the role of the industry here, and what is the role of the consumer?
We believe there is a reciprocal relationship between purpose and profit, and when we get it right, we can create a virtuous cycle that positively impacts both the world and the bottom line.
The call for action and meaningful progress has never been more urgent than today. Rising to the challenge will require doing things differently – as a company, as an industry and as a society.
No company in the industry can do this alone, which means we all need to actively make connections for – and with – employees, customers, consumers, investors, suppliers, human rights defenders, NGOs, industry groups, communities, policymakers and governments. This way, we’re confident that it is possible to drive continued progress while simultaneously delivering products that consumers desire.
That said, we believe our industry has the opportunity to make a positive impact on every step of our value chain, and this includes consumers who buy the products. We as an industry therefore can encourage our consumers to make choices that will have a positive impact, including how they care for their purchases and what they do with them at the end of the product’s useful life.
To give you an example, at VF, reselling used products helps us to attract new consumers always more conscious of the environment and sustainable choices. Our intention is to increase the length of the products’ life and make it easier for consumers to recycle. Our takeback and warranty programs help reduce the amount of waste that goes to the landfill. We’re continuously learning by doing, piloting, innovating and iterating, and we work with partners across our industry to test, build and reinforce better business models.
What will be the biggest challenges for the global textile and apparel industry after the Corona pandemic?
Climate Change is absolutely the biggest challenge facing the planet, today and tomorrow, and the choices we make today are critical to our success in the future. Many of the world’s most vulnerable populations are those who were the most impacted by COVID and will be the most impacted by climate change. We need to support and protect those people and help the get back on their feet and assure that some of the challenges and hardships they faced don’t happen again. The intersection of environmental and social issues has never been greater.
To be successful in a post-pandemic world will be important to focus the efforts on building and activating capabilities to create greater consumer understanding, focusing on their needs and requests. We see an opportunity to increase direct access and connect more meaningfully with consumers than in the past while also linking retail stores more closely with our online offering.