ESG Outlook is the Sourcing Journal’s series of discussions with industry leaders to get their perspective on their company’s latest environmental, social and governance initiatives and their own personal sustainability efforts. In this Q&A, Megan Stoneburner, fiber and materials director of the non-profit Textile Exchange, explains why the industry needs to get out of its own way and stop letting perfection thwart progress.
Last name: Megan StoneBurner
Title: Fibers and Materials Director
Company: Textile exchange
What do you consider to be the best ESG achievement of your company over the past 5 years?
I joined mid-2021, so I won’t go into detail about the past five years. However, we have worked hard on our Climate+ strategy. This is the industry target of a 45% reduction in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from fiber and raw material production by 2030.
We call it Climate+ because it goes beyond accounting for greenhouse gas emissions. It is an interconnected approach that trades siled solutions for interrelated impact areas such as soil health, water and biodiversity, and is underpinned by three important areas of impact and opportunity : materials (making preferred fibers and materials the default accessibility); innovation (closing the innovation gap); and degrowth (slowing down of a growth-oriented economic model).
We are also proud to have collected and published vital data and information on topics such as biodiversity, regenerative agriculture and biosynthesis, as well as our work on the annual Insights Material Change Index, comparing progress of more than 290 participants.
What is your personal philosophy on shopping and caring for your clothes?
I mostly buy vintage or used clothes unless I need something special or can’t find my size or fit. My latest is the Vout consignment store in London. I also borrow from friends, co-workers and family members if I need a bit of wardrobe rotation based on seasonality and trending fashions.
When I buy new, I have a set of brands where I go to buy. I have done excessive research and due diligence to understand their commitment to people and planet and whether they are acting on those commitments urgently through investment, compliance and developing innovative programs and pilots that lead to transformation. I usually buy from smaller brands where I know I will own the pieces for years based on durability, quality, design and emotional attachment.
To what extent do you examine a brand’s social or environmental practices before purchasing?
I refuse to buy brands that don’t align with my values and do my best to stick to my own approved list. I recently came across a dress that I absolutely loved for an event I was to attend, but upon further exploration, I couldn’t wear this dress in good conscience and feel attached to its purpose. I invited a friend over to sort out my closet and style my outfit. A new perspective can take something old and turn it into something new.
Is there anything new you are doing to drive sustainability beyond the fashion industry?
When I moved into my home, I bought most of the furniture and home decor from antique stores such as OfferUp (second-hand peer-to-peer sites) and outlets where furniture were damaged and would otherwise be discarded. I am also an absolute advocate of clean beauty and diet. I always buy my skincare from own beauty brands (e.g. Botnia and Shop Good), and most of my groceries are organic or bought at local farmers’ markets. In addition to composting my food scraps, I have set goals to eliminate my use of plastic by carrying reusable cups, drinking containers and bags.
What’s the biggest misconception consumers have about sustainability in fashion?
I have a few. First, shipping has a large environmental footprint. Raw materials represent up to 24% of the impact of production; thus, choosing products with preferred or better materials leads to considerable improvement.
Second, that we can continue to buy so many new products and extract raw material resources from this earth at the rate we do. We need to rethink our supply chains, our business models, and how we sell and make clothes. Turning waste into new materials and products and keeping our products in circulation can transform industry.
Third, just buy sustainably produced products. We should buy well-made products and do our best to repair and reuse them to use them as long as possible. The best effort is to buy a second-hand item and promote service models that keep the products in use.
Fourth, this fashion cannot be sustainable. Sustainability is about long term planning and design. The industry can be sustainable if we transform/design our business models and products to be more intentional, measure against more holistic and long-term KPIs, and change mindsets around the true meanings of sustainability and affordability.
And finally, that environmental and human rights issues are distinct when interconnected, so they need to be addressed holistically. You cannot favor one over the other. It is essential for our existence that we seek solutions to improve the conditions and the environment of all the inhabitants of the earth. This involves respecting all forms of life and the planet that allows us to flourish.
What has been the biggest lesson your company has learned from the Covid crisis?
A transformation of the industry is badly needed to become a more resilient and fairer sector for people and the planet. Our supply chains are incredibly fragmented and fragile. All of industry must work together to halve our emissions by 2030 while thoughtfully adapting to the effects of climate change and the global issues we already face.
What do you think is the apparel industry’s biggest missed opportunity to achieve meaningful change?
We urgently need to transform commitments into concrete and collective actions. Also, less finger pointing and more problem solving. We must offer advice through collaboration. And stop letting perfection get in the way of progress. We have fundamental programs, solutions and data that we must rely on to keep temperatures from rising above 1.5 degrees. We have less than 8 years to make significant changes; therefore, we must expand the existing and proven solutions in place while working to improve and strengthen our work to strive for climate-beneficial outcomes and impacts.
Intention is vital. Asking the right questions to solve a problem is vital. Designing (garments, business and systems) holistically is vital. Taking meaningful collective action is vital. Everything is much simpler than we do. We need to get out of our own way and work smarter, faster, and together.