Copenhagen Fashion Summit: Sustainability has a leadership problem, not a technology one

David Roberts of Singularity University at the Copenhagen Fashion Summit

David Roberts of Singularity University at the Copenhagen Fashion Summit

“Having technology, and having leadership that adopts it, are two very different things,” David Roberts, thought leader and distinguished faculty member at Singular University, said at the Copenhagen Fashion Summit in Denmark this week.

Keynoting the second day of an event dedicated to sustainability, he urged the audience to recognize just how much innovation is out there – from new materials to recycling tech. “This isn’t a technology problem, it’s a leadership one,” he explained.

Arguably, there is still big work to get such tech to the sort of scale the industry needs, but the wider challenge of uptake in order to make that possible as well as viable, is key.

Roberts pushed for the leaders in the room to therefore be the ones that stand up and try to make a difference – or to kickstart the industry into doing so. He referenced a quote from Robert F. Kennedy to illustrate it: “Each time a person stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, they send forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a wave that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”

The notion of the summit is indeed to inspire those sort of ripples to start taking place from individual sources, but this year’s underlying theme was also about collaboration. Speakers from Dame Ellen MacArthur to Eric Sprunk, COO of Nike, pushed for the industry to truly start working together.

“When it comes to igniting sustainable innovation, we believe in the power of collaboration. To design the future, we must do it together,” said Sprunk.

Complementing that notion is the CEO Agenda, a recently published list of seven priorities from the Global Fashion Agenda, the organization behind the summit.

Three of those priorities – supply chain traceability, efficient use of water, energy and chemicals, and respectful and secure work environments, can be implemented right away, Morten Lehmann, CSO of the Global Fashion Agenda, said on stage. But the other four – sustainable material mix, closed loop fashion system, promotion of better wage systems and the fourth industrial revolution – are focused more on the future. “They are transformational. You need to be aware of them, but no company can act on these alone. It needs to be the industry together.”

Added Sprunk: “This event is a catalyst for action for all of us. No single person, company or government will be able to do it alone… Just as in the design process, the best ideas come from a mash up of perspectives, talents and capabilities.”

MacArthur further pushed for regulation to drive this forward: “Regulation is important, but a common vision for that regulation is critical. We need collaboration around a vision so that everyone is working in the same direction, and only through that will this be possible.”