Blog 19.07.21

What’s trending in fashion sustainability reporting?

Dharma Austin, Context intern, investigates fashion sustainability reporting

Dharma Austin, Context Intern, investigates sustainability reporting in the fashion industry.

The fashion industry is the world’s second most polluting industry. By 2050, it’s expected to consume 25% of the worlds yearly carbon budget.

As part of my work experience with Context, I learned how one of the world’s biggest fashion companies, H&M Group (a Context client), is reporting on sustainability. I wanted to find out more about how some of its competitors are dealing with sustainability and reporting on their progress. This is a report on my findings.

Companies assessed:

What I did:

I benchmarked the companies across four categories using their own website content and reports:

  • Does the company’s description of their business strategy include sustainability?
  • Where is the sustainability performance information housed?
  • What are the main messages and topics highlighted by the company’s 2020 performance reporting?
  • Are the company’s key 2020 sustainability achievements easy to understand?

What I found:

Companies’ business strategies vary in detail, but most have integrated sustainability into the business strategy to some extent. Of the companies assessed, Inditex has the most emphasis on sustainability within their business model.

Gap Inc. and Bestseller share sustainability performance information in a dedicated sustainability report, whereas ASOS and Inditex integrate it into their annual report. Gap Inc. was unique among the assessed companies for having a separate ‘Equality and Belonging Report’ dedicated to the social side of their sustainability work. The report emphasises their core focuses of representation within their workforce and empowering women.

The companies’ sustainability strategies cover similar topics, but each prioritise different aspects of those topics. For example, human rights is a common denominator in all the reports: Gap Inc. focuses on gender equality, Inditex concentrates on traceability and treatment of employees, ASOS supports communities through job opportunities, and Bestseller wants to improve working conditions. ASOS also has a significant focus on the wellbeing of their workforce and their community. They recently held 20 live educational events during Mental Health Awareness Week for colleagues and customers, and in response to the Black Lives Matter movement created a BAME (Black, Asian, and minority ethnic) colleague forum to give a voice to minority groups within their community.

The level of performance information shared varies significantly between companies, as does ease of understanding. We found Gap Inc. the best company at communicating their sustainability performance. Their reports and website have clear sections and include detailed performance data, as well as how they measure it, and give updates and progress on their initial goals.

My conclusions:

I found that companies organise their sustainability information very differently, using different types of reports and levels of integration, choosing to emphasise issues that they feel are important to their business. But they structure sustainability topics similarly, splitting sustainability into three main strands – the social, the cultural, and the environmental.

Overall, this benchmark has helped me understand the many programs, campaigns, and policies that leading fashion companies use to promote their sustainability work and meet their future needs.  

Image: Karina Tes via Unsplash

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