Turning fashion from a climate foe into a friend is his “golden opportunity,” a Burberry executive said Thursday.
The challenges presented by the conflict in Ukraine and rampant inflation shouldn’t discourage or distract luxury fashion either, Julie Roche, Burberry’s chief financial officer at the Bloomberg Sustainable Business event.
La Roche said luxury brands can be at the forefront of transformation as “their products have longevity and their supply chains are very well established.”
To achieve this, traditional rivalries and commercial instincts must be put aside, he said.
“I think success comes from approaching this not only as individual companies, but also approaching this across the industry and in other sectors as well.”
“We are fashion companies: we compete on product and customer service, but we should never compete on the planet”.
Ms. Roche referred to Burberry’s 160-year history, but said that only in the past five has it given itself “stretched” climate targets, all of which have been exceeded.
He said Burberry wants to be a sustainable fashion benchmark and, to that end, its goal is not to be climate neutral but climate positive by 2040, making it the first luxury brand to set that goal. .
The unprecedented nature of the task means companies are learning as they go, but Roche said the first hurdle was simply a willingness to “get on the road” and then share what worked and what didn’t.
Measuring climate success
High goals are one thing, but putting cold and hard quantitative measurements on them is another, a reality not lost for Ms. Roche.
“I think it’s really important to start the measurement process,” he said.
For Burberry, where most of the improvements need to be made is in the “scope 3” category, which accounts for over 90% of its emissions.
There are three domains that are used to define and quantify a company’s carbon footprint:
Scope 1: direct emissions from owned or controlled sources
Scope 2: indirect emissions from the generation of purchased electricity, steam, heating and cooling consumed by the reporting company
Scope 3: all other indirect emissions that occur in a company’s value chain
The bigger the company, the more difficult the task, especially when it comes to scope 3, as a company like Burberry has a sprawling supply chain with many building blocks and potentially polluting parts.
But Ms. Roche believes the challenge is at least easier than it was.
“I honestly think the world has changed … it really woke up to the importance of that,” he said.
“And we work with all of our partners, all of our supply chains, down to farmers and herders on responsible agriculture and ensuring that the soil is regenerated because it obviously captures carbon. So that’s that circular message.”
Ongoing events such as the coronavirus pandemic, the war in Ukraine and rampant inflation have led several commentators to suggest that sustainability should be pushed firmly to the bottom of the global priority list.
Summary of success from adversity
Ms Roche said such events make focusing on sustainability even more important.
He gave the example of how Burberry approached Covid-19.
“Originally when [it] every company thought about how they would survive a major pandemic, but quickly moved towards ‘how can we make ourselves stronger? How do we make ourselves more sustainable?’
“And I think with the recent events in Ukraine, it can probably only reinforce that message overall.”
It has also shaken the idea that the interests of the environment and those of the economy are mutually incompatible.
“It’s interesting for inflation and costs,” he said.
“What we’re actually finding is that while some things are more expensive to do, if you do them sustainably, they are overall cost-effective.
“You can save money by being more thoughtful about buying and getting a better sell-through.
“So I continually join finance with sustainability metrics in everything we do.”
Updated: March 31, 2022, 3:53 pm