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UNEP and UN Climate Change release sustainable fashion playbook

By Danielle Wightman-Stone


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Credits: Pexels, by Karolina Grabowska

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the UN Climate-Change-convened Fashion Charter released the first Sustainable Fashion Communication Playbook to offer a practical guide for fashion marketers on how they can contribute to sustainable change.

Launched at the Global Fashion Summit in Copenhagen, the playbook shows consumer-facing communicators, including marketers, brand managers, image-makers, storytellers, media, and influencers how to communicate to take action to align efforts to sustainability targets, incorporating both environmental and social factors.

Ina Parvanova, director of communications and engagement for the UN Climate Change, said in a statement: “The fashion industry recognises the changes it needs to implement are systemic. Shifting consumer behaviours and confronting the role marketing and storytelling play within this are crucial.

“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.”

The guide highlights the importance of shifting fashion communication to enable a sustainable and circular fashion sector by countering misinformation, reducing messages perpetuating overconsumption, redirecting aspiration to more sustainable lifestyles, and empowering consumers to demand greater action from businesses and policymakers.

The UNEP and UN add that unsustainable patterns of consumption and production are contributing “directly and significantly to the triple planetary crisis, not to mention social injustices worldwide”. The fashion sector is considered responsible, for instance, for between 2 percent and 8 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions as well as significant pollution, water extraction and biodiversity impacts, including 9 percent of annual microplastic losses to oceans, while consuming 215 trillion litres of water per year.

Sustainable Fashion Communication Playbook to help marketers shift focus to circular consumption

The Sustainable Fashion Communication Playbook acknowledges the power of fashion’s marketing engine and the significant role it plays in shaping desire, aspiration and levels of consumption. It presents the need to direct such efforts towards sustainable and circular solutions as a creative opportunity. It also provides a framework for when policies around how to communicate environmental claims increasingly come into force.

“By leveraging their skills, communicators can be a part of the solution rather than contributors to the problem, and, in doing so, help advance towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Paris Agreement on climate change,” adds the UNEP and UN.

Daniel Cooney, director of communication at UNEP, said: “The balance between the science of sustainability and reimagining the fashion narrative is where communicators can excel. There is so much power in the stories fashion tells. 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 realise the world we want to live in.”

The playbook offers practical guidance, including lists of “do’s” and “don’ts” and case studies as examples of best practices.

It suggests that brands should lead with science, as showing scientific evidence and transparency is “fundamental to communication change,” while also ensuring a change in behaviours and practices by explaining why eradicating messages of overconsumption is crucial by pointing consumers towards lower impact and circular solutions instead, such as repair and reuse, “to normalise sustainable behaviours”.

In addition, it recommends a focus on reimagining values by empowering role models "to help portray alternative models of status and success, decoupling identity from newness and recalibrating what is deemed aspirational" to social proof a sustainable future, while also driving advocacy to encourage citizens to demand greater action from businesses and policymakers alike, holding stakeholders throughout the sector to account.

Global Fashion Summit