Melanie Wilson, our Senior Director for George Sustainable Sourcing, talks about our plans to improve the impact of our products on the environment...
As one of the UK’s biggest supermarkets and the second largest clothing retailer in the country, we have a responsibility to do the right thing by our customers – not only on the price and quality of our goods, but also on the impact we have on the world around us.
This isn’t new thinking – we’ve been working hard over a number of years to improve the livelihoods of the people working in our supply chains and reduce the environmental impact our products have. Collaboration has always been at the heart of how we can tackle these international issues and we’ve been working alongside a number of partners, such as the Ethical Trading Initiative’s programmes to improve working conditions in India and Turkey.
As food forms the largest part of Asda’s business, we have rightly been targeting our efforts there to date, and we’ve got a great opportunity to take lessons from our food business on sustainability. For example, we were the first retailer to publish our fish sourcing data through the Ocean Disclosure Project. This type of transparency is crucial when you’re on a journey with such long timescales.
We also know things can’t happen overnight, like our work moving our palm oil to be 100% sustainably certified, but that systemic changes like this are possible – and that’s why our plan for George is seeking to do the same.
So we’re bringing the learning from our food business to accelerate what we are doing in George. We don’t believe there should be a trade-off between value and values, but recognise that we can, through our scale, provide products that are both a low cost to the customer and have a lower cost to the environment.
Our new George sustainability strategy builds on the work we’ve done to date and sets stretching targets and commitments to reduce the environmental and social impact of our products. Because we know that, for our customers, looking after the environment is always in fashion.
By 2025, we’re committing that any George fashion or George Home products using polyester fibres will be made from fully recycled plastic. So that means that your drinks bottles, rather than ending up in the ocean or in landfill, will be reused and made into clothes and other fabric products. Our first products – featuring a range of George Home cushions and throws made from recycled plastic bottles and blouses and dressses made from recycled polyester clothing – will launch in our Spring/Summer collection later this year.
We’ll also only sell products that contain sustainably sourced viscose and cotton by 2025, certified sustainable timber by 2020 and will continue to source only certified sustainable palm oil.
And as we know that microfibres – small particles that wash off our clothes – can find their way into our rivers and oceans, we’ll develop the work we’re already doing as part of the Microfibre Consortium and publish our own microfibre strategy by the end of the year. This will look at identifying the fibres where shedding occurs and working to minimise this, both in our factories and in our customers’ homes.
To reduce our impact further, we’ll only use recyclable materials in our packaging by 2025 and will guarantee certified zero discharge of hazardous chemicals or waste from any of the fabric factories in our supply chain by that same date.
We’ll also continue to increase transparency by publishing a list of not only our direct apparel factory suppliers – which we already do on our Sourced by George website – but also a list of the factories and sites in our second tier, where clothes are dyed, printed or finished.
At George we have a zero-tolerance policy towards incineration and donate garments that cannot be sold to charitable organisations to be repurposed. We also have clothing banks at our stores for customers to donate clothes they no longer want. But we know we can do more.
Broadly, we want to make it easier for our customers to understand how best to care for products to reduce their own environmental impact, and make it clearer to know what to do with products that have reached the end of their lives. The aim is to repurpose, reuse or recycle as much as possible, and minimise the amount that goes to waste.
We’ve still got a way to go to achieve these targets and I’m sure there will be some challenges along the road. Equally, where we can meet these milestones faster, we will do. But customers can trust that, when we say we’re going to do the right thing, we mean it.