Three quarters of fashion and retail bosses believe more sustainability regulations are needed in their industries, with 70 percent saying a more sustainable approach is either “mission-critical” or a key objective for their companies, new research reveals.
According to a poll conducted by executive search firm Odgers Berndtson, just under a third (32 percent) of senior executives working in the fashion and retail sectors said the main driver for increased sustainability was company ethos, while the largest group (39 percent) cited changing consumer expectations.
But it’s not all plain sailing, as a high number of those bosses struggle to deliver greater sustainability measures. While almost all (94 percent) said their companies have a strategy and policies in place, most (75 percent) think a real step change will only be achieved with greater regulation. Four out of ten said commercial pressures, notably to grow sales and maintain competitive prices, are the biggest single obstacles to their businesses when trying to become more sustainable.
“Senior executives don’t need convincing about the importance of embracing sustainability, but it is difficult and counter-intuitive to implement initiatives which negatively impact profit, even in the short term,” said Catherine Broome, head of Fashion and Luxury at Odgers Berndtson.
When asked about the most significant gaps in their company’s approach to sustainability, goals not being included in the objectives of every team and department scored the highest (29 percent), while lack of leadership from the very top (20 percent) and a piecemeal approach (27 percent) also emerged as key issues.
“Companies don’t routinely include sustainability as a measure of success for all senior executives, instead, they're relying on a few named individuals and departments,” Broome said. “In many cases, this results in confusion over who is really accountable, puts individual performance indicators at odds with company sustainability initiatives, and ultimately slows overall progress.”
Around three-quarters of respondents in the poll were at senior executive level or above, and most said that a more sustainable approach was normally or usually a board-level issue in their companies. However, when it comes to actually implementing changes, there was far less clarity over who takes ultimate responsibility and reporting lines.
Jane Dessar, head of the retail and consumer practice at Odgers Berndtson, added: “Consumer expectations are changing but tough commercial realities are not. Consumers are shifting towards contributing to a better world, but the question is how many will change their spending and shopping habits. Companies will do what they can, but are conflicted over how best to proceed without putting profitability at risk.”
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