Shopping for a better world

Posted: 5 June 2003

From the cat-walk to the consumer the world's leading fashion designers and retail giants could play a major role in saving the planet, says the UN Environment Programme (UNEP). Now, to encourage more ecologically sensitive retailing, UNEP is launching a new drive, which it calls "shopping for a better world."

Whether it is the high-end labels of Prada or Versace or the high-street brands of Carrefour, Monoprix and Marks and Spencer, UNEP says a growing number of professionals in the fashion and retail business are responding to a latent public demand for ethical and green products.

'Wabi' shoe designed by the footware company, Camper. This indoor shoe is made from the naturally grown Jute plant. The inner sole is made out of materials which can be recycled. © L.e.A.F

UNEP aims to influence the $US 7 trillion global retail industry and to link up with a new partners from the fashion world "to show how new lifestyles can be fashionable and cool".

"Consumers, especially the young, are often confronted with the seemingly contradictory choice of wanting to help the planet and thehedonistic desire to buy the latest 'must-have' brands," said UNEP Executive Director, Klaus Toepfer, speaking in Brussels at the opening of the European Commission's Green Week.

"But, what can be more modern, more fashionable, than caring about our planet," Toepfer continued. "By working with the retail and fashion industry we can help change attitudes towards consumption, and ultimately people's actions."

Marketing life-styles

The new activities are the latest in UNEP's sustainable consumption campaign.. Earlier this year, the agency launched a new project that puts an emphasis on marketing "attractive" or "desirable" life-styles as a way to sellenvironmentally friendly products.

One of the first partners in this area is the award-winning web-based global fashion magazine, Lucire, whose Founding Publisher, Jack Yan, says that "Fashion magazines should not only communicate the labels and their offerings, they should also give the industry insight into what's hot and what's not."

"In our joint effort with UNEP, Lucire will champion those who understand sustainability, bringing them the consumer demand that theydeserve," says Yan. "At the same time, we will be able to send a signal back to the fashion industry that this is what today's society desires."

With the wider retail sector, UNEP recently hosted an informal meeting often international retailers and associations, including those involved in food and clothing.

"On the one hand, the retail sector can influence suppliers to produce in a more sustainable manner - raising questions of resource andenergy use for example," said Toepfer. "On the other hand, the sector is in a unique position to help the public to adopt more environmentally friendly lifestyles and purchasing habits by providing customers with an appropriate choice."

In recent years, UNEP says, a few retail companies have not only started to green their own operations but also to become important players in global efforts to make consumption and production patterns moresustainable. They are taking action: developing new transport strategies, making life-cycle assessments of packaging, marketing green products, drawing up codes of conduct for suppliers, and demandinginnovation in building design and energy systems.

Recycled clothes

dressReciclar-T3 is a Brazilian non-proft company that makes clothes out of recycled clothes, creating jobs for less advantaged youth.© Reciclar-T3Among those who have shown what is possible is the Brazilian NGO. Reciclar-t3 that makes clothes out of recycled clothes, creating jobs for less advantaged youth. In Europe, the Love the eArth. Fashion association links planet-friendly fashion designers and editors in support of environmentally friendly design and production. In Italy: Armani jeans has an environmental policy in place and produces beautiful hemp shirts.

According to Philippe Houze, President of Monoprix, "A survey done by Pricewaterhouse Coopers in March 2000 showed that 64 per cent of consumers want to be informed about the production methods of the goods they buy and that 73 per cent would be influenced by social labels in their purchasing decisions.

Source: UNEP