Editor's pick Podcast sustainability

Meet 5 companies putting sustainability at the core of their business models

Consumer demand for more responsible products is clearer than ever, and companies – from legacy names to newer players in the field – are evolving their business models to incorporate more sustainable practices.

Consumer demand for more responsible products is clearer than ever, and companies – from legacy names to newer players in the field – are evolving their business models to incorporate more sustainable practices.

To hit their ambitious sustainability goals, the approach is diverse, from using blockchain in the supply chain to finding new ways to bioengineering innovative textiles.

Last year, TheCurrent Global’s Innovators podcast spoke to some of the world’s top brands and companies on what it means to be sustainable at this day and age, and how to create a more responsible future that will enable them to still be around in decades to come.

Nina Shariati, who is responsible for transparency at H&M, on TheCurrent Innovators podcast
H&M’s head of transparency Nina Shariati

H&M has some of the fashion industry’s most ambitious goals: by 2030, it aims to use 100% recyclable or sustainably sourced materials. Nina Shariati, who leads transparency at H&M, spoke to TheCurrent Global on how the group’s size in the fast fashion space could work in their – and everyone’s – favour: “We see it as a positive thing that we are a large company where we have [these ambitions], and we see that with the help of our size we can drive this change that we want to see.”

For example last year already, 36% of H&M’s total material buy was recycled or sustainably sourced.  “What we want to do with transparency is to set a measuring index that harmonizes the industry so that you can compare your product across brands,” adds Shariati. “We are far from the time where it’s OK to work in silos.” The ultimate goal, she notes, should be to empower consumers by enabling them to make more informed decisions.

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Liz Bacelar and Matt Scanlan, Naadam
Liz Bacelar and Matt Scanlan, Naadam

For Matt Scanlan, CEO and co-founder of the disruptive cashmere brand Naadam, being sustainable means transforming your supply chain into a community. The brand was conceived after he spent a month with local communities in the Gobi Desert learning about their lifestyles. He eventually returned with $2 million in cash to buy tons of raw cashmere directly from herders, thus allowing them to earn 50% more profit than in a traditional fashion supply chain. His ambition to disrupt the cashmere industry has grown rapidly since.

But Scanlan still holds some skepticism about reaching 100% sustainability in the supply chain, which he thinks is both fake and impossible to achieve. Speaking to Innovators co-host Liz Bacelar, he also talks passionately about the human side of the industry which, after all, is built on relationships.

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Rachel Arthur and Ikea’s Joanna Yarrow

Ikea is focusing on creating products and services that can support consumers to live more sustainably, and more healthfully, every day.

According to Joanna Yarrow, head of sustainable and healthy living at the Swedish giant, to achieve its sustainable strategy, the company’s approach is threefold: look at its use of energy and resources – by 2020, it will be generating at least as much energy as it is consuming in their operations; focus on its people and its supply chain; and lastly, work on how to improve its customers’ lives overarchingly.

Since the original episode was published, Ikea has opened what it claims to be its most sustainable store in the world in Greenwich, London, featuring solar panels, rainwater harvesting and a geothermal heating system. It has also introduced a furniture leasing pilot in Switzerland.  

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Martine Jarlgaard
Martine Jarlgaard and Rachel Arthur
Martine Jarlgaard and Rachel Arthur

Blockchain has an emerging and important role in sustainability, and UK-based designer Martine Jarlgaard was one of the early adopters of the technology in order to investigate a more sustainable supply chain.

In 2017, her namesake label teamed up with London-based startup Provenance to register and trace each step of the journey of a garment on a blockchain platform, which consumers could access by scanning a QR code found on its label.

Speaking to co-host Rachel Arthur last summer, Jarlgaard weighed in on how brands need to redefine the value of a product to change the way in which consumers shop, and emphasized the huge responsibility that sits on the industry’s shoulders to start driving sustainability ahead. “We are such a closed, centralized system. Being open and transparent is the only way forward.”

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Bolt Threads
Dan Widmayer and Rachel Arthur
Bolt Threads’ Dan Widmayer and Rachel Arthur

San Francisco-based bioengineering startup Bolt Threads is arguably one of the most known names disrupting the fashion industry, largely due to its relationship with eco-luxury label Stella McCartney. Working with the brand, it has so far launched pilot products such as a dress made of of lab-grown spider silk, as well as most recently, a ‘leather’ bag constructed out of mushroom leather, or mycelium.

Sustainable innovation and the power it now carries are a direct response to a shift in consumer behavior, he says. “Ultimately it is up to the consumer. [We’re] seeing the speed at which consumer taste is changing – 2017 was a transformative year for sustainability,” adding, “It is getting big really fast and it’s becoming one of the issues at the forefront of the industry because it touches everyone.”

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Catch up with all of our episodes of the Innovators podcast by the Current Global here. The series is a weekly conversation with visionaries, executives and entrepreneurs. It’s backed by The Current Global, a consultancy transforming how consumer retail brands intersect with technology. We deliver innovative integrations and experiences, powered by a network of top technologies and startups. Get in touch to learn more.

By Larissa Gomes

Larissa Gomes is a journalist reporting on the intersection of fashion, entrepreneurship, sustainability and tech. She’s covered everything from NYFW to SXSW, and has been published in print and online publications including Marie Claire and Refinery29. At Current Daily, she writes about innovations in retail, consumer trends and new developments across technology.