The role of sustainability in retail

5 Oct 2018

On 4 October, in partnership with YCN, we hosted a fantastic panel discussion at Kings Place about the role of sustainability in retail.

The panel offered a range of perspectives, comprising of Louise Ellison, Hammerson’s Group Head of Sustainability, Deborah Luffman, Design and Production Director at clothing brand Finisterre, Sarah Klymkiw, Education Programmes Manager of the fashion reuse charity TRAID, and Hilary Tam, Senior Strategist at sustainability consultancy Futerra.

Opening statements by our panelists explored how each organisation is shaped by, and is incorporating, sustainability into their daily operations and long-term strategy.

Discussion Points

The discussion focused on how retail is embracing sustainability and the demands from stakeholders, whether they are shoppers or investors. “Businesses 

are either born good or made good”. And with the recent uptake in interest from investors and consumers, businesses are ‘becoming good’ at an increasing rate.

However, internalising a truly sustainable outlook within a business is not without its challenges. For many, sustainability is still seen as an optional extra or inherently a more expensive choice. Furthermore, online brands are driving fast fashion and clothing prices no longer reflect a realistic, fair manufacture cost.

Whilst there were no absolute answers to these challenges, they spurred insightful and far-ranging conversations about how we can overcome the value-action gap: where we, as consumers, say we want to make more conscious choices, yet we rarely follow through with our intentions.

Millennials and Generation Z are proclaimed to be the generations who care most about ethical and sustainable sourcing. However, the pressure to promote a certain image on social media encourages fast-fashion and begins to explain TRAID’s statistic that 23% of Londoner’s wardrobes are unworn. As such, TRAID are utilising conversational education to promote charity shops as ‘cool’ to a new generation.

The evening drew to a close on a hopeful note. Consumers and investors are taking note of the sustainability credentials of the companies with which they interact. Targets and reporting and greater transparency are helping to hold businesses accountable for theirs.

Meanwhile, the race to the bottom in the value of clothing is looking like a short-term business model. Just as Hammerson invests for the long-term in high-quality retail assets, people are beginning to take the same approach with their clothes. Meanwhile, investors are seeking long-term security of income which is by sustainable business practices.

Louise concluded with the view that sustainability in retail is increasingly mainstream and that the focus is increasingly switching away from disposable fashion. Businesses, brands and retailers need louder and clearer messaging about the value longevity and the real cost of the instant fix.

This was a great event for Hammerson, demonstrating our forward-thinking and sector-leading engagement with sustainability. Read more on the event here.