A recent mindset shift among fashion and apparel brands suggests that the industry is leaning toward supporting a circular economy. When the United Nations released its 2030 agenda for Sustainable Development in 2015, its intention was to incite a global effort to preserve the future of Earth and its inhabitants. The world is in grave danger of being overrun by the by-products of mass industrialization, namely e-waste and plastic. Researchers estimated in 2017 that humans have produced 8.3 billion tons of plastic since the material was invented. When you consider that 91% of that plastic is not biodegradable or recyclable, the mental effect is quite jarring. Four years later, there has been a steady stream of movement from consumer products and fashion and apparel sectors in support of the UN’s sustainable development goals.

Everything’s Going Circular

In a circular economy, resources are kept in use for as long as possible and then repurposed at the end of life into new materials and products. This concept leverages sustainable practices of reselling, recycling and reusing to create ‘new’ inventory with long-term benefits for retailers. Benefits that not only decrease landfill disposal, but also ease resource removal with less potential risk to their supply chains. This is good news for the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, a global initiative that collaborates with companies like Apple, H&M, IKEA, Nike and Unilever to “accelerate the transition to a circular economy.” The foundation has partnered with about 100 organizations, all of whom are committed to establishing sustainable policies to ensure their brand operations minimize environmental impact.

A handful of fashion designers and apparel brands are also a part of the circularity movement including Stella McCartney, one of the Foundation’s core partners. Heralded as a pioneer of circularity and sustainability, the fashion line has crafted a dedicated platform to inform consumers and colleagues within the industry on how best to implement a sustainable business strategy. In addition to their existing sustainability efforts, which include using eco-friendly fabrics, implementing waste-reduction strategies across its supply chain and transparency around the company’s greenhouse gas emissions, the designer recently pledged to stop using new nylon in their product lines by 2020. There is a definitive interest from other like-minded brands to discontinue their contribution of plastic into the environment, Everlane jumped on the plastic bandwagon, launching an internal sustainability committee to eliminate all forms of plastic from the brand’s supply chain.

Other brands are conscientiously appraising how to reuse and recycle their source materials for good. Adidas has committed to revamping its manufacturing processes to use only recycled plastics for their footwear by 2024. The sportswear company recently launched The Futurecraft Loop, a running shoe made entirely from thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU), a fully recyclable plastic design six years in the making. America’s Cotton Blue Jeans Go Green initiative has created a ‘new’ inventory line, one that recycles denim clothing to create UltraTouchTM Denim Insulation. The byproduct is then used as construction material for community building efforts like Habitat for Humanity. According to Blue Jeans Go Green, it takes roughly 750 pairs of jeans (the equivalent of three bales of cotton) to produce enough insulation for one average-sized home in the U.S.

And let’s not forget about the KonMari effect on resale over retail. Better known as the KonMari Method, founded by decluttering wizard Marie Kondo, millions of people worldwide are learning to purge in excess. Since Marie Kondo’s rise to fame on Netflix, consignment resellers have seen an uptick in resale requests. As a long-time fan of consignment, it’s rather exciting to consider that the resale retail market is expected to surpass fast fashion within the next decade.

According to thredUP’s 2019 Resale Report, the resale sector is growing 21x faster than the retail apparel market, with projected revenue of $51 billion by 2023. Resale has become a hot commodity in the retail space, spurring interest from retail executives to enter the resale market. Last week, Neiman-Marcus announced its intent to acquire a minority stake in Fashionphile, an e-retailer selling pre-owned, high street luxury handbags and accessories.

The No Waste Movement

With consumer awareness of plastic use at an all-time high, local activists are finding strength in numbers and the ability to be agents of change within their own communities. In recent months, there has been an increasing trend to ban plastic straws and bags on a national level, something that Californians have proudly supported since 2014. Change is inevitable and sometimes it takes a village: Trader Joe’s announced last year their intent to cut back on plastic (and other packaging waste) after a Greenpeace petition harnessed nearly 100,000 signatures.

All of these efforts to do good better has carved a path for the Zero Waste Movement to gain momentum. A complementary element to circularity, zero waste perpetuates the systematic reuse of products to reduce and eliminate trash.

And what better way than to exonerate plastic from your daily life completely? Such is the intention of the Zero Waste Lifestyle Movement, a consumer-driven initiative that influences followers worldwide to voluntarily Refuse, Reduce, Reuse and Recycle plastic with vigor. Using alternate materials for storage and transport is almost a throwback to a forgotten era. The ‘milkman model’ was first introduced at the World Economic Forum with hopes to change consumer purchasing habits of brand-name products. Loop, a shopping platform designed by global recycling firm TerraCycle, has one main goal: to eliminate disposable containers in favor of delivering popular CPG products in sleek, reusable containers. As part of Loop’s program, TerraCycle will collect, clean, and return the containers to manufacturers to be refilled and reused. Nestlė, P&G, PepsiCo and Unilever are among the first CPG insiders to join Loop’s coalition to support the reusable and returnable container system.

CRE Sustainability Strategies

As existing buildings age, landlords and tenants will need to partner closely to address and prioritize sustainable policies. One consideration is revisiting lease agreements to allow for the landlord-tenant relationship to keep pace with evolving changes and regulations.  We at Colliers have recently started working with landlords and tenants to lease and manage green space with a team of LEED-accredited professionals with room to grow.  Additionally, an immediate option for owners and tenants to consider—if they haven’t already—is implementing facility management tools to properly assess the overall footprint of their portfolio. IBM TRIRIGA’s Real Estate Environmental Sustainability Manager software evaluates areas for improvement and leverage insights to help tenants manage their organizations’ environmental impact. Alternatively, brands and retailers have the option of integrating sustainable elements into their owned and operated properties. As an example, Target, IKEA, Walmart, Johnson & Johnson and General Motors are leading adopters of on-site corporate solar power. The adoption of solar not only saves retailers money but is a proponent toward actively decreasing greenhouse gas emissions.

What goals are you implementing to usher in this new age of sustainability? Share your stories on Twitter @anjeesolankiCRE #colliersretail

Anjee continues to be an insatiable enthusiast of all things retail. She’s a student of culture with a pulse on future shoppers and the fleeting trends constantly changing the retail landscape…driving retailers, landlords and developers crazy!