July 2016 | Commentary | Green Landscape

How to Be Fashionably Green

Tags: Retail, Logistics, Supply Chain, Sustainability

Jerry Levy is Director of Marketing & Communications, OIA Global, and Gary Barker is CEO, Ditto Sustainable Brand Solutions, 510-261-7343

The retail industry's tectonic shift toward sustainability is real, with a renewed focus on clothing made from raw, organic materials, and nontoxic dyes or bleaches, with low water usage, and produced under socially responsible conditions.

Yet this shift is only part of the story of how the retail and fashion industry is becoming greener. Other aspects of the retail apparel loop—the way the clothing is packaged, shipped, warehoused, displayed, marketed, and sold—present further opportunities for promoting sustainability. Green initiatives in all these areas produce not only a more efficient system, but also one that builds brand loyalty and decreases costs.

The Beauty of Planning

When retailers and their fashion brands address supply chain and packaging as part of the sourcing and manufacturing process, they can achieve cost savings and enhance sustainability. Efficient logistics planning nets fewer truck miles, less bunker fuel, and less warehouse space, which ultimately boosts revenue and cuts costs and waste.

One example of supply chain optimization is using a sustainable hanger rather than a virgin plastic hanger in shipping, which can result in savings of up to 20 percent. With an estimated 85 percent of plastic hangers landfilled at the store end, eliminating them results in less spending on disposal. Fashion companies can also use compression packaging to pull air out of packaging, increasing efficiencies up to 25 percent.

Another approach is optimizing the retail packaging of garments, which reduces the use of toxic glues and packaging footprint, and simplifies assembly. This reduced packaging footprint enables more product to be shipped in an ocean container or 53-foot trailer.

Here are other measures fashion retailers can take to boost supply chain efficiency:

  • Plan transport routes, collaborate with other companies along "green corridors", and ensure trucks are full in both directions.
  • Offer "green shipping" options that use cleaner—but slower—transport modes such as ocean and rail, and reduce truck and air miles.
  • Reduce processing errors that result in using more energy-intensive transport to meet delivery windows.
  • Optimize carton size to item being shipped to reduce packaging waste.
  • Make garments out of organic fabric, ship products in the most sustainable way possible, and use recyclable packaging to reduce costs. In addition, retailers can claim a significant marketing win. Communicating your good work to consumers presents a powerful marketing tool that can build brand loyalty and enhance your reputation as a sustainability leader.
  • Create a profitable, sustainable retail environment that starts at the storefront. Use natural lighting, and organic or recycled counters and floors. Eliminate all plastic and acrylic. Sustainable hangers made from recycled paper fiber bring out the beauty of organic materials and convey your marketing message. Supply reusable or bioplastic shopping bags to get your message out as well.

    Fashion Forward

    Taking a sustainable approach to manufacturing, logistics, and packaging brings savings and efficiencies to fashion retail operations. Sustainability practices in multiples areas build a unique and authentic platform consumers can touch and connect to.

    By demonstrating forward-thinking values and priorities, you build brand loyalty and trust with consumers. It's a no-risk vehicle to lead by example. And with a younger demographic that shops their convictions, it's a simple investment for a greener future.