As the world has become more eco-conscious, almost every company is keen to show willing on the ethical and sustainability front. Even fast-fashion businesses like to be seen to be doing their bit by using recycled fabrics or donating to charities. Your garment will likely still arrive in single-use plastic, though. Conscious consumers are quick to label many initiatives as ‘greenwashing’ – conveying a false, or exaggerated impression of being environmentally friendly, with big brands coming under (often justified) criticism for not doing enough. Many are also miles away from true gender equality for their employees and executive board.
The biggest multinational corporations are the ones with the research and development budgets to put into innovations like plastic-free solutions, and they do have the profits that should enable them to offer employees improved benefits. But it’s often the smaller, nimbler businesses who are leading the way.
Here are some companies who are doing better.
At the top of any discussion on brands that do good, Patagonia will always place high. It’s a company as eco-conscious as they come, pioneering in its attitude towards sustainability. One of the first brands to use recycled materials and organic cotton, it’s been operating with purpose since it started nearly sixty years ago.
Back in 2011, Patagonia launched ‘Don’t Buy This Jacket’, a revolutionary Black Friday campaign. Because social media was in its infancy at the time, the campaign took the form of a full page and hard-hitting ad in the New York Times. The goal was to encourage people to think about the effect that consumerism has on the environment and only buy what they actually need. Patagonia has kept this message up consistently over the years, and for Black Friday 2021, it launched a similarly-themed event, which paradoxically netted $10m in sales – five times more than they had predicted. So the company donated 100% of that money to environmental organisations. It’s brilliant marketing, and it’s making a real, provable difference to people and planet. Patagonia’s success is inspiring countless other brands to do better, too.
This young (in all senses of the word), sustainable athleisure brand powered onto the scene in 2019, but far from suffering when the fitness industry took a hit from repeated lockdowns, Tala has gone from strength to strength. Its mission is to bring sustainability to as many activewear fans as possible, with affordable prices, use of upcycled and recycled fabrics for its products and packaging, plus a strong focus on transparent and ethical production. Tala’s plantable swing tags containing seeds went viral in 2021, too.
As any truly modern brand should, the company uses models with diverse body shapes, as well as those with disabilities. Tala is fronted by Grace Beverley, a 24-year old entrepreneur and influencer and has a majority female board, so they’re not just paying lip service to diversity and equality. Having just raised a further £4.2m in investment, this brand is one to watch.
Iceland has hit the headlines a few times over recent years for its environmental activism. The supermarket chain had its 2018 Christmas advert banned by regulators for being politically motivated. The animated campaign was made in partnership with Greenpeace and aimed to highlight how deforestation caused by the palm oil industry had led to orangutans being classified as critically endangered. Luckily, the ban, and its subsequent press coverage only helped to further the cause, with Iceland selling orangutan toys and donating the proceeds to an orangutan charity in Borneo.
Iceland is also currently the only UK supermarket to commit to eliminating plastic packaging from its own label food range by the end of 2023. It’s been campaigning for a revival of the Deposit Return Scheme to increase plastic recycling rates, and has a Charitable Foundation who do all manner of good work. This includes partnering with Surfers Against Sewage to reward plastic-free communities and the #BackyardNature campaign, which aims to get kids from diverse, and especially inner city backgrounds, out into nature. Recently, Iceland has pledged to keep its £1 value meal range at the same price point until the end of 2022, to help combat increasing food poverty.
By far the biggest company on this list, multinational consumer goods corporation Procter & Gamble launched #WeSeeEqual for International Women’s Day in March 2017. P&G have since made it a focus as part of their drive for being a ‘Force for Good and Force for Growth’ in a world free from gender bias and inequality.
Their brand Always does great work around period poverty, donating more than 50 million products to girls in schools. Last year, the company set out a goal to spend the next three years educating more than 30 million adolescent girls on puberty and hygiene across Asia Pacific, the Middle East and Africa, as part of its ‘Keeping Girls in School’ programme. They’re committed across all regions to support with female-owned businesses, achieving a 50:50 gender balance across its workforce and even launching a new parental leave policy that sees new parents of both sexes entitled to a minimum of eight weeks’ fully paid leave.
P&G set a goal to do ‘2,021 Acts of Good in 2021’, although it’s worth noting a running total hasn’t yet been published. Fingers crossed it achieved even more than that.
Ethical and sustainable French trainer makers Veja have been a B-Corp since January 2019, achieving the highest levels of transparency and eco-friendliness possible in a business. It’s not actually a vegan brand but as well as planet-friendly veg-tanned leather, Veja uses materials such as recycled corn waste, banana oil, plastic bottles and sugar cane to make its understated trainers. Veja claim production costs are five times that of big brand sneakers, with organic cotton prices alone doubling since 2017. And the brand has paid its cotton farmers a set price since 2004. Prices are kept affordable by simply not advertising. Not that Veja needs to – word of mouth and social media does all the work.
It pays every employee and producer a fair living wage. All Veja logistics are handled by non-profit enterprise Atelier Sans Frontières, a job reintegration workshop who help around a hundred vulnerable individuals annually to find a job and regain social stability.
All of this excellent work, along with Veja’s signature low-key but stylish designs, has added up to create a trainer brand that’s fashionable, desirable and doing genuine good on the daily.
Many fashion brands claim to be doing their bit for equality, as well as tackling waste and pollution within their industry, but there’s one which stands head and shoulders above most of the herd. LA’s Reformation has a management team with a higher percentage of women or people from underrepresented populations. All their clothes are produced from eco-friendly or recycled materials, regularly reusing offcuts created during the manufacturing process to reduce waste.
Reformation has also been carbon-neutral since 2015, and continues reducing its carbon footprint by manufacturing much of its range close to where it is sold, pays a living wage to their employees and even uses a reputable carbon offset programme called NativeEnergy. Customers can gain shopping credits by switching to renewable energy suppliers via the Reformation site and even purchase carbon offset tokens for everything from flights to weddings on their e-commerce site, supporting the Honduras Coffee Growers Clean Water Project with the money.
For every garment they produce, Reformation breaks down the item’s impact on the environment, and even uses recycled paper hangers, packaging its sales with 100% consumer waste materials.
You do pay for all these admirable business practices – as a brand, they’re definitely in the ‘luxury’ price bracket. But in the spirit of buying less, but buying better, it’s definitely worth saving for. Saving the planet comes as a bonus.
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