Sunday, October 1, 2023

UNEP and UN Climate Change Launch Sustainable Fashion Communication Playbook


The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the Fashion Charter, convened by the UN Climate Change, have jointly launched the Sustainable Fashion Communication Playbook.

The Sustainable Fashion Communication Playbook provides insights and recommendations for communicators within the fashion industry to align efforts with sustainability targets, offering tools for incorporating both environmental and social dimensions into their narratives.

The Sustainable Fashion Communication Playbook provides practical guidance, case studies of best practices, and a list of do’s and don’ts. It is segmented into four core themes: Leading with Science, Changing Behaviours and Practices, Reimagining Values, and Driving Advocacy.

As a new framework, the Playbook underscores the necessity for a paradigm shift in fashion communication in order to foster a sustainable and circular fashion sector. It brings to light the critical roles of marketing professionals, brand managers, image-makers, storytellers, media, influencers, and others in the fashion communication ecosystem.

Sustainable fashion label Stella McCartney has joined the CanopyStyle pledge
Sustainable fashion label Stella McCartney | Courtesy

The Playbook also includes actionable guidance for communicators on strategies such as counteracting misinformation, curtailing messages that promote overconsumption, encouraging sustainable lifestyles, and empowering consumers to push for more robust action from businesses and policymakers.

According to UNEP, patterns of unsustainable consumption and production have contributed significantly to the tripartite planetary crisis, and the fashion industry has been a notable contributor. Expert estimates put the industry’s global emissions at between two to eight percent.

The fashion industry has also been linked to substantial pollution, water extraction, and biodiversity impacts, including nine percent of annual microplastic losses to oceans and consumption of 215 trillion liters of water annually.

The urgency of addressing these impacts extends beyond reforming production practices. It is imperative to change the excessive consumption patterns in primary markets, which necessitates challenging the dominant linear economic model and its narrative of novelty, speed, and disposability.

“The balance between the science of sustainability and reimagining the fashion narrative is where communicators can excel,” said Daniel Cooney, Director of Communication, UNEP, said in a statement.

“There is so much power in the stories fashion tells,” Cooney said. “If the fashion sector is to meet its sustainability targets, we need its enormous marketing engine to redirect its efforts towards sustainable consumption. But there is a notable void for participation in this change from communication stakeholders. The Sustainable Fashion Communication Playbook provides the practical guide that is needed. Importantly, it highlights how there is scope for huge creativity to envision and realize the world we want to live in.”

A crepe Gucci shirt
Courtesy Gucci

The Playbook also establishes the need for systemic changes within the fashion industry. Ina Parvanova, Director of Communications and Engagement, UN Climate Change, says the fashion industry recognizes the changes it needs to implement are systemic. She also points to shifting consumer behaviors and confronting the role marketing and storytelling play.

“The Sustainable Fashion Communication Playbook was developed in consultation with fashion stakeholders looking to effect change at this level. It not only provides a framework for addressing the Fashion Charter’s commitment on communication, but in doing so gives practitioners around the world the means to support the industry’s wider sustainability goals across environmental and social issues,” Parvanova said.

The Playbook was developed through a consultation process involving 160 global industry stakeholders and an in-depth peer review process. It aims to apply a sustainable lens to everything communicated to consumers about fashion. It has been designed to cater to organizations of various sizes, ranging from Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) to multinational companies worldwide.

The Playbook forms a crucial part of UNEP’s Textile Flagship Initiative, which seeks to drive a just transition towards a sustainable and circular textile value chain. As part of the initiative, UNEP plans to offer a masterclass series for fashion communicators, focusing on the Playbook principles and how to integrate them into practice.

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