Sustainability is a broad theme and the feeling is that the more we talk about it, the more complexities emerge. Where do we start, then?
“We have 10 years to change the way we live on this planet and, consequently, to do business. In order to achieve this goal, we can only connect the sustainability theme to that of innovation, the only resource that can help in leading us towards an impact reduction on the Planet.
And the sustainability theme must be applied to various areas, it cannot be otherwise, since it touches and involves production systems, the environment and society. Personally, I consider the latter to be fundamental and sometimes forgotten. To me, however, it is and must be the starting point: placing people involved in the various production chains at the centre must be the principle of every good sustainable policy. Now that we talk so much about sustainability, and it is good talking about it, the time has also come to accelerate and proceed with a radical, effective and impactful change at least when it comes to society and people”.
What tools can help put the person at the centre of reflections on sustainability?
“Traceability and transparency, effective monitoring tools and effective government policies are the areas to lay hold of, which are even more important when it comes to global supply chains, even if very far away.
It should be recalled that traceability and transparency are themes that do not just involve the production world, but also the entire value chain – from the supply and production phase to the distribution, sale and use stage. Effective monitoring and measurement are essential in order to collect data, information on which to take preventive and corrective actions in order to measure one’s improvements over time, in a transparent and traceable system where the roles and responsibilities of the various stakeholders are clear and shared.
Let us remind you that focusing on the principles of social justice and equity in all supply chains is not just a matter of fairness, but also one of the prerequisites and objectives set out in the UN 2030 agenda and in the European Green Deal, whose priority was also highlighted at the World Economic Forum 2021”.
What are the strongest critical issues to overcome in order to achieve effective social sustainability of fashion products?
“One of the points to pay particular attention to is the necessary improvement of monitoring systems that have not always been effective in light of the objective for which they were designed”.
Are there any cases that most struck you recently?
“All those companies that for some time have already looked to sustainability not just as a duty to be fulfilled, but as a new strategic approach to be effectively integrated into the business strategy, in order to create new opportunities. Those who have been able to integrate into their work scheme themes which were unthinkable until recently, especially in fashion, such as recycling, reuse, regenerated materials, innovative processes, second hand market. Therefore, those who have given space to innovation collaborating with innovative start-ups in the world of fashion and sustainability.
I am also thinking of those companies that have decided to invest in sustainability, creating dedicated platforms and websites, seeing in the issue a real opportunity not only to do well, but also to communicate well in a clear and transparent way. I was struck by the very strong acceleration of the last year and a half, thanks to the pandemic. Now it will be important to evaluate how facts can follow words, grounding all the various initiatives”.
Could fashion, in light of being an impactful sector, become an example for other industries?
“Fashion is a world that works on setting trends, which could prove to be a great opportunity for the sustainability theme. It could be able to activate a positive emulation effect that would definitely be very important. An opportunity, a privilege that should also be accompanied by a strong sense of responsibility in being carriers or agents of change in order to create a more inclusive and fairer fashion and society”.
What other sustainability keywords should be kept in mind?
“Regeneration. Regeneration is an evolution of the sustainability concept. It does not just imply taking care of nature giving back what we have stolen from it, but also trying to leave it better than how we found it. To do this, it will be inevitable to seat people, who come from very different worlds, around the table. It will therefore be necessary to create alliances between different sectors: fashion and agriculture, fashion and medical … so that they innovate together by creating materials with a regenerative feature.
We are within the scope of a vision, of course, but after all it is the vision that must guide our actions in order to have a purpose and achieve effective results”.
A vision that is no longer considered madness …
“When I started dealing with these topics, companies looked at me sideways, and reminded me that their job was to generate profits. Luckily, things have changed since those days, now the awareness that sustainability is not something “nice to have” but a “must have” is widespread and the “culture of purpose” is promoted also in the financial – entrepreneurial field and companies are urged to refocus their objectives that should not primarily be oriented towards the generation of profits but rather on “how” profits are generated. We are undoubtedly entering a new era, but we must not forget or abandon the idea of having disruptive thoughts, even at the cost of being seen as dreamers and utopians.
The vision must obviously be accompanied by concrete, perhaps uncertain and non-perfect steps which allow us to gradually approach the imagined arrival point”.
On a methodological level, on what issues is there still to work on?
“On always adopting a holistic view: actions that seem optimal to us to achieve a goal, but which could cause damage in other areas, must be mediated and balanced. The long-term view should not be an excuse for not seeing the collateral damage that could be generated by a rigid approach. The same objectives of the UN teach us to maintain an overall vision, capable of integrating different fields, but not as distant as one might be led to believe.
Another problem to be solved is that of measurement and data. The need and the will to identify an international standard that allows a univocal measurement of actions aimed at sustainability has emerged precisely from the World Economic Forum. So that it is easier to identify the areas to improve, easy to compare different realities, and to effectively evaluate the possible achievement of the objectives that have been set out.
Moreover, concreteness and comparability of actions are fundamental to combat the phenomenon of greenwashing.
The tools that already exist are valid and must be used, but the path that we must have in mind is the one that leads to a standard/framework internationally shared by a large number of stakeholders, representatives of the business, governmental, non-governmental, associative and academic world”.
WHO IS Rossella Ravagli
She has 25 years of experience on sustainability field. After earning a degree in Statistical and Economic Sciences from the University of Bologna and a master's degree in quality, she had a first consulting experience and since 1996 she started to deal full-time with social responsibility and sustainability as CSR manager for two certification bodies. From 2008 to 2020 she continued her professional path as “Head of Corporate Sustainability and Responsibility” at Gucci. In her role she led the company to achieved internationally recognized leadership on sustainability. From January 2021 she is Sustainability Strategic Advisor, Board Member and Director of Three-Year Course of Higher Education on Sustainable Fashion at Accademia UnIdee – Fondazione Pistoletto. Author of articles, publications and speaker at many conferences.