ASICS: Dare to focus

This interview is part of The Terrace's '1.5-degree society campaign'. In this series we ask professionals: how is your organization contributing to the 1.5-degree society? And - most importantly - what can other organizations learn from your experiences? We hope to inform and inspire other businesses to do even more and accelerate their impact. 

What if we are not committed to take any actions on climate change and limit global warming to 1.5-degrees? In the future, will it still be possible for people to enjoy outdoor sports in a sustainable environment? Or will having a city walk without the constant smell of smog be unimaginable by 2050?

Reason enough for ASICS to take continuous action: “Going forward, we will continue to act for future generations to achieve a sound mind in a sound body and address the climate change.’’ said Yasuhito Hirota, COO and President of ASICS Corporation, this September. To suit the action to the word they joined the RE100, the global environmental initiative composed of member companies committed to relying solely on renewable energy for their electricity needs in business activities.

We’re happy to see that ASICS takes a clear stance in accelerating their change and impact. We were able to ask the CSR & Sustainability team at ASICS EMEA, some questions on their challenges and learnings in contributing to the 1.5-degree society: 

What does positive change mean to you and what is your biggest, most important motive for investing in a sustainable future?
In the light of a 1.5-degree society, positive change would be the active involvement of all stakeholders that will enable us to fight climate change together. Not only us as a brand, but also our suppliers, customers and end consumers. We need to realize we all play a role in successfully changing the way we consume resources and impact our environment. I believe sports brands can play a positive role in changing the behaviour of people to reduce the impact we have on our planet.

How do you stay focused on your sustainability targets when so many things are changing in society, among which Covid-19, that influences nearly every cornerstone of the world?
This is indeed a challenge. At the same time some of the changes and crises in society like Covid-19 have also really helped people to realize that something needs to happen. So despite the many challenges, pressure on continuity of businesses and the economy, at all levels (authorities, institutions, companies and individual level) there is more motivation and determination to change than ever before. We also see a momentum of people and businesses being more open and receptive to big changes now, that we can also use to make changes toward more sustainable business actions, such as switching to digital services for sports and e-commerce sales growing dramatically. This can boost some of our sustainability programs even in these challenging times.

And are there any big bumps on the road that holds ASICS from going forward and hinder this progress?
For many team sports, people need to come together, which is a challenge in the lockdown situation that people are facing in many countries. However, due to the scale of this pandemic, there is a great push to develop alternatives to that, and at the same time more people are reverting to individual sports such as running in order to stay healthy and sound. Either way, the bumps on the road are not holding us back in the end, only delaying some people a little.

What do you see as the biggest sustainability challenge for ASICS at the moment and in the future?
With Climate Action and our CO2 reduction targets being the backbone of our environmental sustainability strategy, a big challenge lies with circularity. As a product driven brand, about 80% of our GHG emissions are so called indirect emissions and originate from processes that involve the materials, manufacturing and end of life stage of our products. There are still many challenges in truly converting into a circular business model. Some of them are technical and some of them also operational and involves the entire industry rather than only our company and its value chains.

What message would you like to pass on to other companies that are striving to create sustainable and social impact?
Focus. As a person and as an organization you cannot be and do everything. At ASICS, a lot of what we do has started with research. So, we would always suggest taking time for a good assessment. Take a close look at your organization and how you operate and where your – both positive and negative- impact lies. Although you can take a lot of inspiration and valuable learnings from others, you could sometimes feel pressure to start moving on a topic because of pressure from external stakeholders or other parts of your organization, but you will achieve the most impact if your sustainability and social ambitions are truly matching the nature of your business.


Sustainable Fashion Innovations

Sustainable Fashion: The innovations that are (or might be) closing the loop

A while ago, it was Dutch Sustainable Fashion Week and that means that there were plenty of side events to visit to hear the latest on moving towards circular fashion, waste reduction new textile innovation. I joined in the Book Launch of Dana Thomas ‘Fashionopolis” at the Fashion for Good Centre on Tuesday. As for any event on sustainability, Dana Thomas started the night by facing us with numbers, and these are extreme enough to create urgency to act:

  • 20% of our water is depleted by the fashion industry
  • 99% of our clothes are not recycled
  • 85 percent of textiles end up in landfills
  • for 1 kg of cotton 1 kg of chemicals is used
  • we throw away 2.1 billion tons of clothing a year
  • 60% of all textiles used in apparel are derived from plastic (accounting for nearly 3 trillion plastic bottles every year)
  • it is estimated that about 35 percent of the microplastics that enter the ocean are synthetic fibers from clothing

The industry, generating no waste, and all textiles would be recyclable and are put back in the loop. More than ever, the industry is embracing this change with 90 apparel brands committing to the Circular Fashion System Commitment due June 2020 and set up by the Global Fashion Agenda. And fortunately, there are also some great developments to learn from that could fix the broken system of our current ‘fast fashion’ industry. Lately, a small but growing group of innovators are attempting tackle wastefulness and pollution in the apparel right at the source and large brands are taking note and start to invest.

Herewith an overview of the innovations that are seemingly taking apparel from ‘beyond business as usual’ to circularity in the industry:

Reduce

An increasing number of brands are eliminating problematic materials and dyes from the production process. Everlane, for instance, publicly committed to eradicating all virgin plastic from the company’s supply chain, stores, and offices by 2021.

There is a natural fiber and eco-textiles ‘revolution’ approaching. Made from organic waste, living bacteria, algae, yeast, animal cells or fungi, designers are growing biodegradable textiles (Algae Life, AlgiKnit) and shoe soles (Bloom Foam) and are creating environmentally friendly materials like genetically engineered leather (Modern Meadow), leather made from pineapple leaves (Piñatex), silk made from orange peels (Orange Fiber). It is a matter of waiting for these technological advancements to reach more scale.

Then there is the waste of rest material. In in our current fashion system, the shirts, trousers and blouses are developed in large amounts of numbers where many (average of 30%) never reach the consumer. For fashion brands this is a built-in waste and for our planet, it is a complete waste of scarce resources. In comes ‘producing to order’, made possible by vastly evolving technology coined as ‘SewBots’. Programmed knitting and sewing machines can make ‘one offs’, where the product will get developed after you have ordered it and will be designed with your exact measurements, leaving little rest material behind.

Reuse

Will owning clothes become a thing of the past? We can now lease our jeans at Mud Jeans, and hopefully more clothing items will follow. I believe it will not take long before we will find more and increasingly user-centric borrowing platforms and stores like Lena Library, Tulerie, and My Wardrobe HQ in the shopping streets and, of course, online.

Brands are investing in expanding the life of clothing items, like the repair and reuse program of Patagonia and Nudie Jeans, and are investing in the afterlife clothing and take back the products after they are used. And Eileen Fisher now buys back garments from customers at $5 each and reworks the material into new merchandise. This Renew program brings in $3 million of the company’s $450 million in annual sales.

Recycle

Lastly, the fashion industry starts to ‘waste’ into value. An increasing amount of relatively new brands are building their collections on recycled materials like Ecoalf (100% recycled materials from discarded fishing nets, plastic bottles, worn-out tires, post-industrial cotton, and used coffee grinds), Veja (introduced material called B-mesh (“bottle mesh”) that is made from recycled plastic bottles) and Girlfriend Collective (sports bras and leggings made from recycled plastic).

At the moment, many textiles are cocktails of different fibre materials blended together and separating fibre materials so that they can be recycled is a major challenge. It is therefore crucial that we start designing products and textiles for disassembly, with different components made from mono materials. Filippa K is setting focus on 100% recycled and 100% recyclable collections, with their Eternal Trench Coat. Wear2 incorporates seams that by using microwave energy make the separation of tags, labels, zips and other materials easy and inexpensive.

A game changing technology that now enables us to separate cotton from polyester has also came to the rescue. The polymer recycling technology of Wornagain can separate, decontaminate and extract polyester polymers, separate cellulose from cotton and non-reusable and turn them into new textile raw material. With such advancements we are able to do this over and over again and we no longer need our planets raw and scarce materials.

Bringing it together

Of course, closing a loop can’t be done by one stakeholder alone. Given that the idea of a circular economy is to create a loop of events, everyone in the supply chain carries responsibility for the shift to take place. 2020 is approaching and we need effective alignment in the industry to turn otherwise fragmented innovations into change at scale. I am hoping to see and hear about collaborative initiatives like Easy Essentials and the Design for Longevity platform to connect the apparel industry for circularity.

So, are you a stakeholder working in or with the apparel industry and do you know about collaborative initiatives for circularity? I would love to get in touch!


Greta Thunberg

What sustainability needs now, is connection and activation

Last week, I was touched deeply by Greta Thunberg’s speech at the United Nations Climate Summit in New York. Still, as a communication professional, I can’t help but wonder if her words will not work counterproductively. Shouldn’t doom thinking make way for an inspiring movement of which everyone wants to be part? Or can’t the one do without the other?

Doom thinking petrifies

The message of Greta’s speech is dark and disturbing. It’s so dark that, as a listener, I feel like there is nothing left for me to do. I feel like my only option left is to book a one-way ticket to a tropical island to party until the whole world falls apart. Doom thinking has a petrifying effect and fear will never be an incentive for positive change. Yes, fear sends us in a direction, but it sends us the wrong way. This is the main problem of the current discussion about climate change. The discussion visualises a world characterized by images of endangered polar bears on melting ice caps. Not a world that you want to be part of and which gives you inspiration and direction.

The question of guilt polarises

All who are conscious of our environmental problems and who are already making an effort to change their behaviour in positive ways, feel addressed by Thunberg’s speech. All the while, climate sceptics just feel more and more united and their joint aversion is strengthened. Lastly, there’s the biggest group right in the middle: the group that’s neither sceptic nor activist. This is a group of people who can still be inspired to become more aware to take action. You inspire them by identifying the problem, point out a spot on the horizon and suggest the first practical steps to reach that spot. You inspire them by connecting, not by polarising.

Create a movement that people want to be part of

What would it be like if, instead of Thunberg with her dark speech, there would have been five kids on the stage? Kids who would point out the problem and its disturbing facts, as well as paint a picture of the world they’d like to live in when they’re as old as the politicians present. Then, they all tell us about the first steps they’ve taken to get there; whether it’s a clothing swap, a plant-based diet, the decision to stop flying or stop using a tumble dryer. They would dare every politician to join them in taking the first step. No matter how big or small that step may be. These children would unite in the ‘First Step Club’: a movement characterised by hopeful visions and first steps.

No revolution without rebels?

We need Greenpeace to put subjects on the agenda and to get activated. Is this speech also an example of this? Does the bridge-builder need the rebel? In the case of Thunberg’s speech, I’m doubtful. What I do know is that I get my energy out of connection and activation. That is my first step. I take this step with my clients at every single job I do.