Sustainable Apparel Coalition - 2021 American Image Awards
Eco-Steward of the Year
The Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC) recently celebrated its 10-year anniversary. Congratulations! It has been a remarkable journey of vision, determination, and galvanizing a global industry. Tell us about your new, strategic plan and the next 10 years.
In 2009, Walmart and Patagonia — two really unlikely partners — had the radical idea of bringing together the industry to develop a common language for measuring and communicating sustainability performance. At the time, companies worked in silos on proprietary programs and solutions that weren't moving the industry forward. We formed the SAC and developed the Higg Index to fill that need and rally the industry around a common language for measuring sustainability performance.
Not only have we enabled our members to measure environmental and social performance in their global supply chain and take action on those insights, but as we enter our next decade, members will be able to communicate their organizational and product-level performance to their business partners, stakeholders, and consumers with a framework for verification and Higg Index performance.
Our work is even more important now than when we began ten years ago, and we look forward to working together across the industry to implement smart, scalable solutions that lead towards industry transformation. We have a vision of a global consumer goods industry that gives more than it takes — to the planet and its people. As we enter our next decade, SAC's new strategic plan focuses on collective action, integrated tools, transparency, and sustainability leadership to move us forward. It will take the entire industry working together to achieve systemic change, and we are excited to be part of that journey.
Earth Day’s 2021 theme is ‘Restore Our Earth’ — What does that mean to you?
The recent global crisis has highlighted many systemic issues facing the industry and the importance of accelerating our work and progress. To me, the theme ‘Restore Our Earth’ means the opportunity to work together and rebuild better than before.
It means taking a truly holistic perspective of how we protect people and the planet — to thrive together. We can accomplish so much together versus alone, and the past year has shown that when we do come together, we can achieve great things that benefit both people and the planet. We don’t need to work in silos or reinvent the wheel when there are so many solutions that already exist that can drive real change. Collective action and pre-competitive collaboration will help us move forward and solve our most significant challenges together.
The consumer has become a partner in how our industry is developing and making products. How best should our companies stay connected with the consumer from a sustainable point of view?
There is increased pressure – from consumers, investors, NGOs, governments – to really understand what companies are doing, how they address social and environmental issues, and how transparent they are about their impact and progress. Companies will need to navigate these increasing pressures while simultaneously adjusting to this new reality.
The Higg Index was built with the intention of having industry adoption and transparency so that, ultimately, consumers can compare products in a standardized and trusted way. These tools measure environmental and social labor impacts across the value chain. Our next step is tackling industry-wide transparency and helping companies get this data into consumers' hands to inform their purchasing decisions. With this information, companies can address inefficiencies, decrease impacts, improve sustainability performance, and achieve the environmental and social transparency consumers are demanding.
When you think of the opportunities that COVID-19 has created, the silver linings if you will, what comes to mind first?
The pandemic has spotlighted the serious problems within the industry and the need to rapidly accelerate our work to find solutions as a global community. We're at an inflection point that can spur urgency and change across the world and have an opportunity to rebuild the industry better than it was before, with trusted sustainability data at its core. The crisis illustrated the power of collaboration and collective action — and what happens when we don't act on the data and science in front of us. Both can be powerful motivators and drivers of change — what happens when we fail to act, and what happens when we come together as a global community with a common understanding to solve global challenges. I've seen firsthand the power of bringing organizations together to create a community that can transform an industry. If we continue to work together, with common goals underpinned by common data and insights, there's not much we can't do.
Spring is often a time of optimism — but the past two springs have felt a little bit different. What is one thing that helps you spring out of bed each morning?
I believe we can decide what kind of future we want to create, and we can activate change as individuals, governments, and organizations. As a parent, I also believe we have a responsibility to leave this world better for future generations.
Initially, we had concerns that the impacts of COVID-19 would make it difficult for brands, retailers, and manufacturers to continue to prioritize sustainability efforts; however, we have been pleasantly surprised to see that sustainability-driven by increasing consumer, stakeholder, and government demand — has continued to be a priority and grown in importance as companies shift their strategies.
We're optimistic that sustainability integration will remain a critical part of our members' success in the months and years to come, and we're ready to help our members define and achieve their ambitious goals.