Sustainability With Substance

I feel people are often turned off by the word 'sustainability'. 

It often comes across as some vague term, usually accompanied by another word inserted afterwards. So, we are constantly fed a diet of sustainability 'goals', sustainability 'plans' and, for good measure, let’s add some sustainability 'targets'. Terms that companies and governments use when they want us to believe they are actually doing something important and meaningful to combat the damage our societies are inflicting on the natural support systems of the planet. Support systems that we all fundamentally rely on - even billionaires.

These sustainability slogans just reflect vague aspirations without any agreement on their real meaning - just creative marketing and imaginative wordplay, often resulting in blatant greenwashing.

Sustainable 'fashion'?

Recently, the online fashion retailer, Boohoo, announced that 40% of its ranges would be sustainable by next year, but what does that statement actually mean once you examined the detail? How much of this information are they willing to make available to their customers? I think this often makes people feel suspicious and powerless to make informed decisions, leaving them wondering what difference they, as individuals, can make.

I believe that we can make a huge difference, simply by using our collective spending power to drive change and begin to reverse the damage that has been done to the planet.

Governments around the world need to talk less and introduce policies that rapidly drive down greenhouse gas emissions, end exploitation and place real value in the natural world. The fashion industry should no longer be allowed to hide behind these vague slogans in an attempt to persuade their customers and wider society that they take these issues seriously by being ‘ethical, ‘green’ ‘carbon-natural' and yes, ‘sustainable’.

Has fashion finally found its conscience?

I recently received an email from H&M’s Global Change Award, wanting innovators to find ‘planet positive’ innovations to protect the ‘global commons’, by which they mean ‘all aspects of earth’s natural support systems: land, water, oceans, climate and biodiversity’.

Now, someone less cynical and suspicious than me might think, well, they recognise there is a problem and are trying to make a positive change. Some, like me, may find it all a bit rich, coming from one of the major players in the fashion industry, an industry that is widely regarded as second only to oil and gas as the most polluting. An industry full of ‘innovators’ that have knowingly spent decades destroying natural resources and exploiting vulnerable workforces around the world. A player in an industry where profits have ruled supreme, has now supposedly found its conscience?

But why did it take so long in the face of overwhelming evidence that something needs to change and dramatically? Some less cynical might remind me that they are putting their money where their mouth is through the non-profit H&M Foundation. This is true - all one million euros of it. A drop in the ocean for a company like H&M, especially when one considers the PR they get from this award.

However, to imply that companies, like H&M, Boohoo, Primark and many others, can really make a sustainable change without producing and, yes, selling less is simply, in my opinion, refusing to address the crux of the problem. 

Many of the innovations that receive funding from this award seem to be aimed towards enabling these large clothing retailers to carry on as normal. 

Their modus operandi being to produce endless amounts of clothing as cheaply as possible, without accurately pricing their products to reflect the true environmental and social cost. They then attempt to persuade us all to buy as much as possible by introducing new collections, on an almost continuous basis, with the hope that, due to innovation, it will lead to less environmental impact in the years to come, but most importantly, have zero impact on their bottom line.

This is a misleading, cynical and dangerous approach the industry is taking.

Another area where the fashion industry is a world leader is unethical manufacturing practices. The fashion industry is well known for its exploitation of vulnerable labour forces in the developing world. However, this is not just happening in some forgotten corner of the world, but in cities, like Leicester, right here in the UK.

9plus1: an eco-friendly fashion solution for parents.

The future of fashion.

True sustainability, or sustainability with substance, will only be truly achieved with a fundamental change in the way we operate as a society, such as how we consume, buy and use products. This, in our small way, is what we are trying to achieve at 9plus1.

My interest in environmental issues and concern for the well-being of the planet started before sustainability was a well-used term and climate change was hardly ever mentioned by a point scoring politician, the media or a CEO. As a young child, my parents instilled in me the importance of environmental issues, which were inspired further by David Attenborough - avidly watching his natural history series on television and reading the accompanying books. This led to my teenage involvement in Greenpeace and then through my university education, culminating in climate change research.

This has always been guided by my desire to play a small role in helping to create a truly sustainable future for us all. Humankind living in harmony with the natural world - a world that is integral to our own species’ survival. Today, this has an even greater relevance now I’m a father myself. Suddenly, the future has a whole new meaning.

9plus1 is disrupting the way clothes are used.

My co-founder, partner and our company’s CEO, Hele, feels just as passionately about these issues as I do. This was why we founded 9plus1. To disrupt the way clothes are used and baby clothes was a great place to start - how they are used means they are a perfect fit (excuse the pun) for a rental model, but also because babies represent the future. Hopefully a fairer, cleaner and yes, more sustainable future for everyone.

Our team at 9plus1 all share these strong core values and we will never talk about sustainability in an attempt at greenwashing or as a soulless marketing exercise. We will rather explain honestly, in simple terms, how we are trying to make a real change in how we consume, own and use - beginning with baby clothes. Our aim is to maximise the life of clothing, protect finite resources and reduce waste by renting instead of buying.

Sustainability is not a dirty word. If governments and companies would talk about sustainability, which is backed up with meaningful measures - with substance - it can change the world for the better.

Oh, and one final thought. Hele and I should be grateful to H&M’s Global Change Award for one thing - it spurred us into formulating the seed of an idea. An idea that grew into 9plus1.

*Title Photo by Cherie Birkner on Unsplash

Chris, 9plus1 Co-Founder

This blog post is written by Chris.
The co-founder of 9plus1 who is passionate about sustainability—which he doesn't think should be a dirty word.