Drastic changes to our routines have forced us to alter our social habits, re-evaluate our relationships and put on the brakes due to Covid-19. What does this mean for environmental trends and brands?
Here, BMI’s Liz Gyekye catches up with Tomas Vucurevic, owner and managing director of brand consultancy specialist BRAIND to unpick this issue.
Liz Gyekye (LG): Tomas, good to catch up with you. How do you think Covid-19 will change the environmental strategies of brands?
Tomas Vucurevic (TV): Most of all, it will mean an end to greenwashing. Covid-19 is leading to transformational changes in our societies and as a consequence of that also for brands as living social systems. We are already observing a greater mistrust of people towards institutions and brands with regard to the fulfilment of their promises and the post Covid-19 environment, even though we are still in the middle of it, will lead to a much stronger focus on transparency. Sustainability won’t work anymore without transparency. Customers will demand better answers to their questions like ‘is the product I am buying really green and sustainable?’ or ‘what is the true environmental and social impact to make, sell and recycle this product?’
In fact, I think brands have to end “claiming” purpose and sustainability as superficial marketing statements and focus on providing verifiable evidence For example, the Everlane brand provides already today complete transparency of their pricing and breaking down the price in materials used, hardware, labour costs, duties and transport and by doing also their margin.
LG: How can brands prove that they are transparent?
TV: We are seeing more and more ingredient brands taking a clear stance on their sustainability efforts, demonstrating how much carbon or water they use to make a product. Ingredient brands like Econyl regenerated nylon or Isko denim have produced extensive Sustainability Reports providing deep insights about their sustainability efforts. The AWARE blockchain recycled fabric is taking it even a step further enabling supply chain transparency by using blockchain technology.
On a brand level the French/Brazilian brand Veja is demonstrating how you can sustainably source materials and make them into shoes, that the whole world wants! So, sustainability and commercial success can go hand-in hand.
LG: What makes you so sure that consumers will still be interested in green issues and demand that brands be transparent after lockdowns are eased? In the UK, when non-essential shops reopened, people rushed back to them to spend on fast fashion.
TV: Consumption isn’t at the forefront of most people’s minds anymore. We value again family and friendships more and material things are losing their significance. Anti-racism protests have recently taken place across the globe, sparked by the tragic death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, when a white police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes. Why did his death set off a global movement whereas countless other unjust killings in the past have not? During this period of lockdown, people had to focus on the true meaning of life and less on consumption. Suddenly, they have realised how vulnerable their own lives are and the lifestyles that they have created. This higher level of self-awareness helped to move so many people to take action. But it is a transformational process, it takes time. A part of the society is just waiting to get back into stores or on monster cruise ships, but one must not underestimate that our children are now growing up in this Corona time and that this will have a lasting effect on their value system and behaviours.
LG: Interesting. These are rapidly changing situations. Who would have thought you wouldn’t be able to sit next to somebody in the cinema six months ago. So, is this the end of fast fashion?
TV: More and more consumers will become loyal to brands that behave ethically. This is a trend that was started already before Covid-19 came into our lives and will now accelerate. Who would have thought that one of the simplest forms of life, a virus, could bring so many changes to our lives? Look at the current Facebook ad boycott situation. This social media giant has long been criticised for not doing enough to combat hate speech. Now the outrage against the world’s largest social network is growing into a strong movement forcing brands to take a stance on that matter. Brands have to become more political, weather they like it or not. Does this mean a part of consumers will not continue to buy products to express themselves and be admired by their peers? I don’t know, but the fast-fashion companies need to attract talent. So, a question to ask will be ‘who wants to work for such a company in the future, if they are not improving their environmental and social impact?’
LG: Do you think that lifecycle assessments (LCAs) will become more prominent for bio-based material producers?
TV: Absolutely yes! Many new materials, which are at first sight sustainable, have yet to prove it. Life-cycle assessments are an important element of that. For me this is very visible in the discussion about the so-called vegan leathers. Even if the original idea sounds promising, the reality still looks different. For instance, if you are using pineapple feedstocks to make a product, how many pineapple fields will you need in order to produce them? How many forests might get burnt down to make way for land to produce that product? How is that influencing the biodiversity? Also, most of these vegan leather options are composites with carrier materials based on oil and we know that multi-materials are difficult to recycle. So full lifecycle analyses have to be made for some of these case studies in order to understand the full picture.