Episode 78: Why we need to acknowledge the role that Marketing plays in sustainability.




  • Introduction to the Sustainable Fashion Communication Playbook
  • The inclusion of overconsumption in the playbook
  • The Role of Marketing in sustainability efforts
  • Overview of the three key pillars and eight principles in the playbook
  • Focus on Principle 3: Eradicating messages encouraging overconsumption
  • Detailed dos and don'ts for responsible fashion communication
  • Importance of promoting sustainable products beyond environmental and social aspects
  • Checklist for evaluating communication activities based on the playbook's principles
  • Examples of businesses aligning their marketing with the playbook's guidelines
  • Considerations for businesses in changing purchasing behaviours


Welcome to the Fashion Unearthed Podcast. If you need help navigating the fashion industry sustainably, you have come to the right place. I'm your host, Belinda Humphrey, and my hope is to simplify the fashion industry so that businesses can make the best decisions for people, planet, and product.

Welcome to episode 78 of the Fashion Unearthed Podcast. I hope everyone is doing okay out there. There's been a lot happening in sustainable fashion lately, and it's taken me ages to read through all the new developments. But the one I want to talk about today felt urgent and it addressed an issue that's often avoided. Before I get into that, I want to mention that early next month, on the third and 7th of August, I will be speaking at both Life In Style and Reed Gift Fairs as a part of their Retail Therapy Program. And it's on a panel discussion titled How to Improve Your Sustainability Credentials and Grow Your Business. If you are an independent retailer heading to either of those trade fairs, make sure you check out the retail therapy lineup, and if you see me, make sure to come and say hi.

Today I wanted to talk about a new playbook released by the United Nations Environment Program that has the goal of using the power of marketing to change behaviours in fashion, and more specifically align fashion communication to the 1.5-degree climate target and sustainability goals. It's called the Sustainable Fashion Communication Playbook, and it was launched at the recent Global Fashion Summit in Copenhagen. I'll put a link for it in the show notes of the website in the podcast section. But what drew me to choosing this for this fortnight's topic was the inclusion of overconsumption. Way back in Episode 40, I did an episode on greenwashing and the guidelines that the ACCC proposed to help businesses not get caught greenwashing, and where their guidelines focus on being specific, truthful, and able to substantiate any claims which make sense, is there a regulatory body and can deal out fines and other consequences.

This latest playbook at last addresses the role that marketing plays in overconsumption. Steven Stone, the deputy director of the Industry and Economy Division of UNEP, says that addressing consumption is a central part of reducing climate impact. From the volume of new products purchased to the carbon footprint of how we use these products, we must work together to align all stakeholders across the fashion sector towards the 1.5-degree pathway of the Paris Agreement. The UN's website, talks about shifting the fashion narrative and how the fashion sector's unsustainable patterns of consumption and production are contributing directly and significantly to the triple planetary crisis of climate change, nature and biodiversity, loss and pollution and waste while exacerbating the interlinked issue of social injustice. But fashion communication can use its cultural reach, powers of persuasion and educational role to raise awareness and drive a shift towards a more sustainable and equitable industry.

The playbook is broken down into three key pillars, countering misinformation, changing behaviour, and reimagining values. Within these, there are eight principles, and under each of these principles are the dos and don'ts as well as a checklist to help you. I'm not going to go into all of them today or put a link in the show notes for the full list for you to investigate yourself today, I just wanted to focus on one of the principles as I think it's such a necessary addition, and it simply spells out what not to do and what best practice looks like. I think it's so important because I work with businesses at all stages of their business, and they're often not from a fashion background with the shifting sands of what sustainability looks like, it's sometimes a shock that the way their marketing is a part of their sustainability efforts or should be a part of their sustainability efforts.

It's also sometimes a shock that they've modelled their business on the operations of another and inadvertently made them more of a fast fashion brand. To have it laid out in layman's terms should be really helpful. The principle I wanted to focus on today was principle three, eradicating all messages encouraging overconsumption, and it has seven specific dos and don'ts. The first “Do” is redirecting shoppers towards responsible consumption, such as supporting thoughtful purchases based primarily on needs and considering circular alternatives. Don't use buying new items as a key for psychological needs like retail therapy such as promoting disposable one-off purchases for immediate gratification or using language such as must-have. Secondly, do publish annual production volumes of new products. Don't shout about, for example, a sustainable capsule collection or progress with recycled materials, all the while continuing to increase production volumes of new products.

Thirdly, do engender pro-sustainability attitudes and appetite for sustainable lifestyles more broadly. And don't use sales promotions. Multi-buy offers, one-click purchasing, subscription models, limited runs and customer loyalty schemes that incentivize impulsive and unnecessary consumption or that make it difficult to offer sustainable alternatives. Similarly, do not rely on the use of continuous markdown cycles, buy now, pay later schemes, free returns, and next-day delivery options purely as a marketing ploy.

 Fourth, do opt for media placement and buys that support responsible consumption. Don't advertise alongside media that would otherwise encourage overconsumption. For example, reality TV or sponsored hall videos on social media. 

Fifth, do tell and show the story of fashion products in a manner that helps increase their value, reimagining them as lasting items with a role in enhancing consumers' lives. Don't devalue the product through cheap promotions and sales tactics that suggest obsolescence.

Sixth, do promote the benefits of sustainable products or services beyond their environmental and social credentials. Connect them to functional, emotional or social attributes that may more greatly motivate the customer, such as value for money, quality, desirability, and self-worth. Don't limit yourself to stereotypical and generic environmental and social imagery and messages that do not extend beyond being informative. 

Finally, number seven, do engage with relevant team members to input on how the pricing of all products and services can be fairly and clearly communicated considering their true cost across environmental and social factors. Don't use shock marketing tactics such as putting specific items on sale at extremely low prices to drive traffic or participate in extravagant one-off sales days such as Black Friday, because doing only implies that there are no costs or impacts in production, therefore, devaluing fashion and normalizing the notion of disposable. You can see it would be very easy for someone even outside the industry to recognize a lot of those terms and situations, and it really clearly demonstrates what to do and what not to do.

The checklist that follows those principles has five questions. The first one is, do communication materials demonstrate product longevity over disposable or one-off buys? Number two are sales promotions and media buys, thoughtful and considered rather than promoting overconsumption. Number three, does the communication activity inspire and encourage consumers to engage in a more sustainable lifestyle at large? Four is the why of sustainable products or services clearly stated and explained. Do the benefits inspire and motivate behavioural change? Finally, number five, are all products fairly priced in relation to their environmental and social costs? Again, you can see it's very detailed and specific on how you can change your marketing, what to do, what not to do, and how to use your marketing power to help shift behaviours and be a responsible brand. I also like that the full playbook includes examples of other businesses and the way that they've executed their marketing in line with these guidelines.

Will it be easier for some businesses than others? Yes, probably. Will it force businesses to change purchasing behaviours as well when they're buying their products? Hopefully, however, I'm not sure there are any consequences for not following the playbook, but if a brand wants longevity and ultimately a planet to still operate on, it's probably in everyone's best interests to start changing immediately. 

Finally, I want to end with a quote from Antonio Gutierrez, Secretary General of the United Nations who says, “The world is in a race against time. We cannot afford slow movers, fake movers, or any form of greenwashing.” 

Which brings us to the end of today's episode. I hope you enjoyed today's topic, and if you are an independent retailer heading to Life In Style or Reed Gift Fairs, I look forward to meeting you. I'll put a link for the Retail Therapy Program in the show notes where you'll find any other links for this episode too. You'll find those on the website, belindahumphrey.com in the podcast section. Thanks so much for reading.

Thanks for listening to the Fashion Unearthed podcast. If you want to get in touch head over to belindahumphrey.com or you can find me on Instagram @belindahumphrey

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