VF Corporation’s head of sustainability, Anna Maria Rugarli, explains how the multi-billion dollar business is approaching sustainability from the ground up.
The latest Fashion Transparency Index, published last week, showed the progress VF Corporation is making in ethical sourcing in our supply chains.
Our sustainability journey started when we realised the impact we had on the environment. Our industry is one of the most polluting, but in the last few years there has been a huge growth of interest in sustainability best practice.
Sustainability is becoming a business strategy. It is an urgent and pressing priority, not only for VF Corporation and our brands, but for the whole industry. It is integrated at a business level for us, which will help us move into the future – we need to stay relevant to consumers and competitive in an increasingly eco-conscious market.
We collaborate widely on sustainability issues. We set up the Responsible Down Standard for the treatment of ducks and geese with non-profit organisation Textile Exchange, and work in accordance with the Paris Agreement on climate change, which aims to keep a global temperature rise to less than 2ºC. We create a foundation at the corporate level, and our brands determine how they can build on that to stay meaningful to their consumer and address issues that are relevant to their businesses.
Our sustainability strategy, Made for Change, consists of three main pillars: transitioning to a circular economy and business model [whereby resources are reused in a cycle rather than disposing of them – for example, recycling fabric from old products to create new garments], using our scale to drive wider industry change, and empowering our consumers to live more sustainable lifestyles.
Our first pillar, Circular Economy and Circular Business, looks at how we can integrate more circular best practices into our work. Our main goal is to lead large-scale re-commerce and rental schemes, as well as introducing circular economy into our design and our product.
The second pillar is called Scale for Good. The size of VF Corporation, which includes more than 30 global brands, means that we can really impact the industry in a positive way.
Pillar three is Movement Makers – because we are a large-scale business, we try and leverage our brands as well as activating our consumers and employees. One way to do this is to empower our consumers to live more-sustainable lifestyles.
During the Copenhagen Fashion Summit in 2017, VF Corporation signed the 2020 Circular Fashion Commitment Letter to signal our transition to a circular business model.
We have committed to training all our designers in circular-economy principles by 2020, and to a 10% increase in quantity of product that we collect through our payback programme in The North Face and Timberland stores in the same time period. This scheme encourages shoppers to recycle their old clothing or shoes at in-store drop-off points. So far 4,700 kg of clothes have been recycled via The North Face stores.
We also have pilot programmes for resale and rentals with these brands, and are looking at how we can extend the life of our products. By creating new, sustainable business models, we can also create new revenue streams.
The circular economy is still a very new concept. It has a huge amount of potential, but it needs a lot of development. For me, a circular economy is the next evolution in environmental sustainability. In the long term, we are aiming to halve our environmental impact. We are developing science-based sustainability targets by the end of 2019. Creating such targets contributes to our commitment to the Paris Agreement.
The first stage of our work on carbon emissions took place between 2009 and 2015, when we aimed to decrease them by 5%. We managed to decrease them by 12%, even though the business grew 40% in the same time period. Our next goal is to use 100% renewable energy at all of our owned and operated facilities by 2025. We have 200 facilities in 75 countries and, in Europe, currently use 42% renewable energy.
In our materials, we wanted to develop a policy of animal welfare that would ensure we aligned all our brands under the same principles – we are fur free and use only responsibly sourced down.
We abolished the use of exotic skins across all brands and we only use down that is certified by the Responsible Down Standard, which was originally pioneered by the North Face and is now used by more than 70 brands. We have also signed up to Fur Free Retailer, which certifies the fact that none of our brands use real fur.
There are some huge challenges ahead of us – not just at VF Corporation but for the industry as a whole. Transparency, community engagement and the circular economy are all focuses for us. We have made some fantastic progress but, across the industry, there is still a lot of work to be done.