Short essay - investment and innovation for design

A short essay from Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership's course "Business Sustainability Management", working on a case study of a workwear clothing company.

Identify two aspects of your selected case study company’s operations or supply chains that would benefit from investments and innovation to improve sustainability design (i.e. the application of new technology, better planning, or re-imagining the business model).

 

To tap into the $100bn annual opportunity around wasted fibre input [1], and address 80% of the product’s environmental impact [2] we need a new product design process. We should focus on solving our problem areas: we could reduce GHG emissions by 44% by doubling product life [3], water usage through lower use of virgin materials and less water-intensive materials [4] - Levi’s saved 1bn litres through their “Water<Less” initiative [5]; and up and down-stream waste, by driving a circular product lifecycle, optimising for product longevity [6].

We must incorporate multiple stakeholders and a sustainability focus from the start of the design process [7] leveraging inclusive/participatory design, including sustainability experts, entrepreneurs/intrapreneurs from our target market (also forming our marketing campaign) and suppliers - typically 80-90% of impact sits in supply chain [8]. This will deepen stakeholder relationships, however, we may first need to build their capacity to contribute in the transformative ways required for big change.

As well as incremental innovations reducing impacts around existing materials, we should work to discover substitute materials with exponentially lower environmental impact, and circular sources of materials, i.e. through reclamation - Adidas met increasing consumer demand for this, selling 1m pairs of trainers made from reclaimed plastics in 2017 [9]. This will make us more robust against rising resource prices globally [10], however we will need to ruggedly test these materials across a number of criteria for circularity suitability [11].

Subsequently designing a new circular business model and a technology-driven ecosystem - both physical and digital – to deliver and track it, opens a $500bn global market opportunity enabling us to offer repair, subscription, exchange, resale, recycling and redesign services, as well as driving significant reductions in our environmental footprint [12].

To enable these new forms of consumption we will need to develop a robust physical infrastructure (e.g. collection points, logistics) and a digital ecosystem with internal dashboards to manage usage [13].

To understand where the biggest risks and opportunities lie, we need to undertake Material Flow and Lifecycle Assessments [14]: blockchain company Provenance could enable this, simultaneously tracking the impact of our new model and resilience of our supply chain [15]. However, given our supply chain is located in developing economies, is this Appropriate Technology [16] that will be readily adopted? We may need to start more basic and build up, although aWEARness have utilised digital tracking to record material flows to great effect [17].

We can create new value through these new business models, developing new markets, potentially locally and reducing carbon footprint [18]: Nudie Jeans have employed a repair shop, recycling [19], 100% organic materials [20], achieving significant growth and winning Ethical Awards in the process [21].

Our barrier will be capital capabilities to develop this new ecosystem, particularly as our revenue is stagnating. However, we can explore utilising “leveraged assets” [22] for delivery through a partner, looking at sharing both risks and returns [23].

 

1 - Ellen MacArthur Foundation, 2017, “A New Textiles Economy”, Retrieved from: https://www.ellenmacarthurfoundation.org/assets/downloads/publications/A-New-Textiles-Economy_Full-Report_Updated_1-12-17.pdf

2 - European Commission. (n.d.). “Ecodesign your future: How ecodesign can help the environment by making products smarter” European Commission. Retrieved from: http://www.buildup.eu/en/practices/publications/ecodesign-your-future-how-ecodesign-can-help-environment-making-products

3 - Ellen MacArthur Foundation, 2017, “A New Textiles Economy”, Retrieved from: https://www.ellenmacarthurfoundation.org/assets/downloads/publications/A-New-Textiles-Economy_Full-Report_Updated_1-12-17.pdf

4 - The Conversation, 2017 – “Sustainable shopping: for eco-friendly jeans, stop washing them so often”. Retrieved from: https://theconversation.com/sustainable-shopping-for-eco-friendly-jeans-stop-washing-them-so-often-75781

5 – Levi Strauss & Co, 2018, “Water<Less”, Retrieved from: http://www.levistrauss.com/sustainability/products/waterless

6 – RSA, 2013, “The Great Recovery: Investigating the role of design in the circular economy”, RSA, Retreived from: http://www.greatrecovery.org.uk/resources/the-great-recovery-report/

7 - The Natural Step, 2013 “Interface: The Journey of a Lifetime” Retrieved from: http://www.thenaturalstep.org/sites/all/files/case_study_interface.pdf

8 - The Natural Step, 2013 “Interface: The Journey of a Lifetime” Retrieved from: http://www.thenaturalstep.org/sites/all/files/case_study_interface.pdf

9 - Edie, 2018, “Adidas sold one million pairs of ocean plastic trainers in 2017”, Retrieved from: https://www.edie.net/news/5/Adidas-sold-one-million-pairs-of-ocean-plastic-trainers-in-2017/

10 - Ellen MacArthur Foundation, 2017, “A New Textiles Economy”, Retrieved from: https://www.ellenmacarthurfoundation.org/assets/downloads/publications/A-New-Textiles-Economy_Full-Report_Updated_1-12-17.pdf

11 - CISL, 2016 “Collaboration for a closed-loop value chain” Retrieved from: https://www.cisl.cam.ac.uk/publications/publication-pdfs/cisl-closed-loop-case-study-web.pdf

12 - Ellen MacArthur Foundation, 2017, “A New Textiles Economy”, Retrieved from: https://www.ellenmacarthurfoundation.org/assets/downloads/publications/A-New-Textiles-Economy_Full-Report_Updated_1-12-17.pdf

13 - Ismail, Salim et al, 2014, “Exponential Organisations”, Diversion Books

14 – CISL, 2017, “Notes: How design and technology lead to sustainability”, Cambridge University

15 – TechHQ, 2018, “How blockchain is changing the face of the fashion supply chain”, Retrieved from: http://techhq.com/2018/03/how-blockchain-is-changing-the-face-of-the-fashion-supply-chain/

16 – CISL, 2017, “Notes: How design and technology lead to sustainability”, Cambridge University

17 – Visser, Wayne, 2017, “Innovation Pathways Towards Creating Integrated Value: A Conceptual Framework”

18 - Ellen MacArthur Foundation, 2017, “A New Textiles Economy”, Retrieved from: https://www.ellenmacarthurfoundation.org/assets/downloads/publications/A-New-Textiles-Economy_Full-Report_Updated_1-12-17.pdf

19 – Fisher, Alice, 2015, “Observer Ethical Awards 2015 winners: Nudie Jeans” Retrieved from: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/jul/02/observer-ethical-awards-2015-winners-nudie-jeans, The Observer

20 – Borromeo, Leah, 2014, “A Swedish denim label wants to change the way we wear our jeans”, Retrieved from:  https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/nudie-swedish-denim-label-jeans, Guardian         

21 – Fisher, Alice, 2015, “Observer Ethical Awards 2015 winners: Nudie Jeans” Retrieved from: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/jul/02/observer-ethical-awards-2015-winners-nudie-jeans, The Observer

22 - Ismail, Salim et al, 2014, “Exponential Organisations”, Diversion Books

23 - The Natural Step, 2013 “Interface: The Journey of a Lifetime” Retrieved from: http://www.thenaturalstep.org/sites/all/files/case_study_interface.pdf