The principal contemporary challenge facing, not only marketers, but also supply chain practitioners and industry globally, is arguably the degradation of the natural environment faced by society as a result of individuals and industry not consuming or behaving in an environmentally sustainable manner. These negative effects are experienced, and therefore understood, by individuals and organisations in different ways and to varying degrees. For example, an individual consumer in a developed economy who does not regularly adopt an ethical approach to consumption may not consider the potential impacts of their consumerism; however, they may physically experience changes in weather patterns or hear how other people may suffer water shortages due to industrial production in third world countries. Moreover, organisational leaders may feel that they are changing their approach and culture towards becoming more sustainable by employing Triple Bottom Line reporting, mapping their supply chain and embedding sustainability into their published organisational values; however until a disaster occurs such as the Deepwater Horizon oil spill (also known as the BP oil disaster), organisations may not fully comprehend the consequences faced by themselves or their stakeholders from failing to proactively manage risk in the supply chain.
From an economic and shareholder perspective, as famously stated by Milton Friedman (Carson, 1993: 3), sustainability and corporate social responsibility concerns should only be pursued if they enhance the economic interests of the company. However, this is a limited perspective and is likely to produce nothing more than greenwashing which, from a B2B marketing perspective, could be more harmful in the longer-term on brand image if negative press and public relations stories appear. Moreover, Raman (2009: 137) argues that sustainability is now a corporate imperative without which companies are likely to be shut out of important markets. He recommends that organisations need to launch eco-friendly products and brands simultaneously as consumers from emerging markets become environmentally conscious.
From an alternative perspective, Brennan et al. (2014: 103) assert that a utilitarian approach offers a richer viewpoint and that all stakeholder impacts should be understood in relation to sustainability decision making. The view that industry must play a leading role in creating a sustainable global economy is reinforced by Hart’s definition: ‘an economy that the planet is capable of supporting indefinitely’ (1997:67). From a more environmentally sceptical viewpoint, strict legislation directs the behaviour of organisations to consider sustainability and the inauguration of Donald Trump on January 20th, 2017 marks a period of uncertainty in relation to sustainability policy from the United States. This is highlighted through quotes from the incoming president that climate change is not real and has been invented by the Chinese government to make United States manufacturing unproductive, together with displaying a changing mind-set on the Paris Agreement 2015, from firstly promising to repeal the bill to one of currently being ‘open-minded’ (Milman, 2016; On The Issues, 2016). This pessimistic approach to sustainability and corporate social responsibility is also supported by Fleming and Jones (2013: 1) who contend that global economic development and climate change are two things which are impossible to reconcile and that sustainability initiatives are nothing more than a public relations exercise.
The fashion industry generates revenue of over £2.4 trillion worldwide annually, employs over 57.8 million people (Fashion United, n.p.) and contributes to 7% of world exports (Draper et al., 2007: 2). Moreover, the UK industry generates £66 billion annually and employs 555,000 people (Fashion United, n.p.). The size of this industry and its considerable supply chain negatively contributes towards the environmental sustainability of resource use (for example, energy and raw materials), bio-diversity and waste (for example, oil, water, dyes, pesticides and detergents). Globally, the industry is becoming increasing locked into a cycle of environmental unsustainability at each stage of the supply chain from cotton production through to sale, usage and disposal. The reasons for this pattern are complicated, however Draper et al. (2007: 3) believe that the two main factors are, firstly, fierce competition and ‘fast fashion’ turnarounds have led to the driving-down of standards and costs meaning that clothing is more disposable and, secondly, the supply chain is complex and not transparent. Furthermore, a number of key industry reports and commentators (ChainPoint, 2015, Draper et al., 2007; Ethical Fashion Forum, n.d., 2016; Forum For The Future, 2010; Manufacturing Skills Australia, 2012; Purt, 2011; Singer, 2015) have asserted that the most pressing sustainability issues facing this industry are, firstly, excessive consumerism and fashion consumption, secondly, the carbon burned as fabric and clothing is transported globally and, thirdly, intense production which requires large amounts of water, energy and, sometimes, toxic chemicals.
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