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  • A coherent strategy with measurement is integral for a sustainable clothing supply chain


    We recently spent a fascinating morning at the RSA with a group of business leaders from the clothing industry talking about creating sustainable clothing supply chains.  Our discussions showed that, whilst the industry is taking action to become more sustainable, levels of progress vary significantly and there is a recognition that much more needs to be done.

    However, ‘doing much more’ is easier said than done.  Sustainability practitioners in clothing retailers and brands face pressure from a wide range of stakeholders across complex supply chains and are pulled in a variety of directions as they try to respond to their sustainability challenges.

    To date, social considerations have rightly received a lot of attention, however environmental considerations are becoming increasingly prevalent.  Ensuring that your sustainability strategy balances environmental and social considerations and focuses limited resources effectively is, therefore, essential.  

    Our work with companies in the clothing sector and beyond suggests that answering four key questions can help companies to understand and start to address environmental challenges across their extended supply chains.

    1. Where are your biggest environmental impacts?
    To get started, a high-level, simplified assessment of your footprint is enough to get a sense of scale and help determine priorities.  For example, whilst it is undeniably important for a company to tackle emissions from its own operations, this    indicative carbon footprint of a clothing retailer illustrates that impacts across the wider supply chain are often much larger.  This is why leading retailers and brands are increasingly collaborating with suppliers, customers and even competitors to improve sustainability across their supply chains.

    Such a simplified analysis is often all that is needed to make an effective start.  If necessary, this can be supplemented by more detailed work in specific areas, for instance, to support decisions about fibre selection and process improvements, and to measure and publicly communicate results of specific initiatives.

    2. What are your sustainability priorities?
    If your organisation already has clearly stated sustainability priorities, you should review these against your environmental impact assessment to confirm that you are focusing on the right things, and adjust if not.  If you are in the process of developing sustainability priorities, then an environmental impact assessment will help to inform this process and ensure that you are focusing on the right things at the right points in your supply chain.

    3. What are your biggest supply chain risks and opportunities? 
    Understanding environmental risks and opportunities is key to developing a resilient and effective supply chain and to delivering strategic priorities.  There are many ways to do this – the most important approach is to select tools and methods appropriate to your organisation and its sustainability objectives and to initially focus on areas where you can make the most difference.  This might involve using a 2x2, or even 3x3 matrix, to map the likelihood and business impact of risks and opportunities, accompanied by some means of prioritising and scoring these.

    4. Where can you make the biggest difference?
    Once you have worked out where you are, where you want to be and what you should be focusing on, you need to work out where and how you can make the biggest difference.  This includes what you can change right now and where do you need to work with supply chain partners to encourage change.

    Making the most of your sustainability initiatives
    In order to make the most of each initiative you undertake, it’s important to create a coherent narrative, both internally and externally.  We work with organisations that are doing a range of great things, but these are often the result of a reaction to the highest profile issues of the day rather than part of a well-structured and proactive approach to sustainability.  As a result, the synergies between initiatives and their combined value can be overlooked.  This represents a missed opportunity to build the internal business case for further sustainability improvements and create a compelling story for your stakeholders.  

    The response to climate change and other environmental challenges requires sweeping changes across the entire clothing supply chain - a daunting prospect for many!  However, there is widespread recognition across the industry that doing nothing is no longer an option and that small, focussed steps from an informed starting point are preferable to a scattergun approach that fails to identify, prioritise and effectively address the main sustainability challenges.

    About us  

    This blog was written by Elanor Swan, Principal Consultant, LRS Consultancy and Dr Stephen Allen, Director, Circular Ecology.

    LRS and Circular Ecology are working with the School of Design at the University of Leeds, SRS Sustainable Business and Wellington Green as part of a consortium that supports the UK clothing sector.

    Elanor Swan
    About the Author

    Elanor Swan

    Principal Consultant

    Elanor has over 15 years' international consulting experience through a range of supply chain and sustainability engagements in the private and public sectors, predominantly with large retail, consumer...

  • The role of planning in waste management


    In October 2014, we finally saw the publication of the long-delayed National Planning Policy for Waste. This is the document that is referred to in the National Planning Policy Framework, which was published in March 2012, and pointedly did not include waste planning within its otherwise complete remit.

    Why is planning for waste management so different from other kinds of planning that it took an additional two and half years to write a further four and a half pages of policy?

    When it comes to planning for waste management facilities, the theory is straightforward: the development should be in the right location and well designed and constructed so as to enhance the environment.  The right location means that there is adequate transport access for both goods in and out and that feedstock does not have to be transported unsustainably long distances. It also means that the ecology and wider environment of a site must be respected.
    But other impacts are harder to assess, especially before a facility is actually built and operating.  Noise, dust and odour are all issues that are raised when the word ‘waste’ appears in a planning application, but these are impacts that are dependent on the technology used and the way a facility is operated. Members of the public have repeatedly proved difficult to persuade that these factors will not be seriously detrimental to either their health or their property prices.
    The reality of the planning system is that it is a very political process.  It’s also possibly the most transparent element of our politics with which most people ever come into contact. So if you can’t persuade the voters on the ground that the proposal is a good one, or at least serves an important purpose, it can be a real struggle to get planning permission for it.  Furthermore, there are a myriad of ways that locally made decisions can be overturned or delayed.  

    Major facilities can fail to get planning permission or be significantly delayed if the site lies in the constituency of a Government minister (for example, Veolia’s facility in Welwyn and Hatfield, Hertfordshire, and Grundon’s in Bognor Regis, West Sussex). And despite the reform of the planning system to make it quicker, waste applications are notorious for getting stuck on Minister’s desks. Perhaps the most extreme example being the Norfolk incinerator, for which planning permission was submitted in June 2011 and is still yet to be determined.
    If there is public disquiet about a proposal, the planning stage is the most likely point at which it will be brought down. So the best approach must be to develop facilities that the public accept, which could include making them look more like manufacturing operations than waste ones. This is one reason that sorting and re-processing facilities can often be easier to deliver on the ground.

    More importantly, the day of large energy from waste facilities (efw) being built seems to be over in the UK. Defra has withdrawn funding for councils to secure large efw operations and their latest projections state that there is likely to be over-capacity in England. Meanwhile, resource security is increasingly cited as a major concern of manufacturing companies in the UK, indicating that burning or exporting used raw materials might not be the most efficient approach.

    So future waste management developments should look like dismantling and sorting facilities that can easily be accommodated in a standard industrial shed. The environmental risk should be low, which helps with obtaining a permit from the Environment Agency. And as long as the traffic impacts aren’t unreasonable, delivering these types of waste management facilities should be straightforward.

    Deborah Sacks
    About the Author

    Deborah Sacks


    Deborah is a town planner and chartered surveyor with specialist expertise in waste planning. Prior to setting up Sacks Consulting, she was responsible for the development of regional waste policy for...

  • Public Services (Social Value) Act 2012 and its impacts


    I question whether many businesses and third sector organisations that provide services to the public sector are considering the Public Services (Social Value) Act 2012 and how public bodies such as local authorities will evaluate their contribution to social value when they procure their services.

    The Act, which received Royal Assent in March 2012, and was implemented at the end of January 2013, calls for all public service commissioning to factor in social value.  All public bodies in England and Wales, including local authorities, are required to consider how the services they commission and procure might improve the economic, social and environmental well-being of the area.

    Social value involves looking beyond the price of each individual contract and understanding what the collective benefit to a community is when a public body chooses to award a contract. Social value asks the question: ‘If £1 is spent on the delivery of services, can that same £1 be used to also produce a wider benefit to the community?’

    For example, a local authority contracts a private sector company to deliver its waste collection services.  As part of the contract, the company states that they will provide greater social value by promoting careers in waste management to local schools and they commit to employing young people and the long-term unemployed.  Or they propose to work with local third sector organisations to reuse furniture for local socially deprived families.  The social value comes through local jobs for local people, raising the aspirations of local pupils and supporting local families.

    The report ‘Creating Social Value: the role of the waste and resource management industry’, published by SITA UK, concluded that as the waste and resource management industry moves towards the circular economy, increases in movement of formerly unemployed people into employment in this sector could generate an additional £600 million in social value by 2020.  It also concluded that third sector organisations, often working in partnership with the private sector, could increase their contract value share in local authority collection contracts, potentially delivering an additional £26 million in social value annually.  If a greater proportion of this increase is assigned to reuse projects, which make up the largest proportion of third sector provisions, the additional annual social value could reach £54 million. These are significant benefits!

    There are clearly tremendous opportunities for private and third sector organisations in partnership to deliver genuine social value through public contracts, to the benefit of those communities served by those contracts, but only if public bodies, including local authorities, take advantage of the Social Value Act provisions.  Understanding and quantifying social value is not a trivial task and this is certainly an area which needs more work to assist public procurers to systematically assess the solutions they are being offered. 

    Peter Scholes
    About the Author

    Peter Scholes

    Principal Consultant

    Peter Scholes has extensive experience of delivering consultancy work to both public and private sector clients throughout the UK. Formerly Managing Director of environmental consultancy Urban Mines,...

  • Resource efficiency in a sustainable clothing supply chain – how hard can it be?


    By 2030, pressures from the growing global population and from land-loss will resulting from climate change, will force a reduction in arable land availability and generate strong competition between farming of raw materials for clothing and food and energy crop production.  Innovations in more sustainable and renewable material use in the clothing supply chain will soon be required if the UK’s clothing sector is to continue to be able to meet increasing consumer demand for its products.  The brands, manufacturers and retailers that will prosper in the future will have placed the circular economy and new sustainable business models, with an emphasis on clothing durability and longevity, at the centre of their innovation programmes.  Academics and businesses are both focused on approaches to decouple growth in the sector from environmental impact and resource use without reducing impacts on the human well-being, as retail is still one of the UK’s top leisure activities.

    Great work has been done by many of the UK’s clothing retailers to reduce their in-store environmental impacts with change management programmes being driven by cost and carbon reduction targets.  Most UK stores have systems, KPIs, monitoring programmes and projects on the ground to reduce their environmental footprints, however, such concerns are often not reflected in their supply chain and buying management activities and the biggest environmental risks and efficiency opportunities often lie outside an organisation’s four walls.

    This month, I was privileged to engage with leaders in the clothing sector at a workshop for industry trailblazers in sustainable clothing, bringing together brands, manufacturers and retailers in the first in our series of invite-only business leader discussions. The event was sponsored by the School of Design, at the University of Leeds and delivered in partnership with SRS Sustainable Business, Wellington Green and Circular Ecology as part of an ongoing consortium project that has supported businesses in the clothing sector for over a year.

    In an engaging and, at times, passionate debate, the group addressed issues as diverse as obtaining buy-in from senior management and procurement professionals, collaborative working, monitoring and reporting for environmental sustainability, and demonstrating the economic impacts of resource efficiency and sustainability.

    The discussion quickly identified that environmental impacts are not an important consideration when consumers buy clothes. Related research demonstrates that consumer choices are mainly influenced by cost and garment choice, eg colour.  This means that the brands, manufacturers and retailers need to adopt responsibility for taking actions to drive environmental improvement in the supply chain, choice editing on behalf of their consumers.   However, the clothing supply chain is complex and environmental transparency and traceability are hard to achieve, especially given that most environmental challenges exist beyond the first tier suppliers and there is often poor visibility of second and third tier suppliers, combined with low levels of influence.

    Despite such challenges, there are considerable benefits to be realised.  Waste in the supply chain is factored into the cost of garment production and there is a clear link between cost and quality. Implementing performance indicators that support suppliers to get production ‘right first time’ can reduce waste and realise significant resource efficiencies and cost savings.  As prices for raw materials rise as a result of increased demand and resource scarcity, so better transparency on issues such as waste in the supply chain become increasingly important.

    Many retailers are already carrying out projections of future supply risk in other key categories, eg food, however the group agreed that there is increasing need to find ways to share these lessons internally between the category management team to enable knowledge and good practice to be transferred.  There is also a real commitment to continued information sharing between the workshop participants with a view to further future collaboration, something that LRS and its consortium partners are keen to support.

    Debbie Hitchen
    About the Author

    Debbie Hitchen


    Debbie Hitchen is a Director at LRS with a strong track record in project management, business development and consultancy. She is recognised for her ability to build and manage multi-stakeholder teams...

  • Targets and TEEP; do our requirements of recyclate quality and quantity conflict?


    We all know that targets have, historically, played a crucial role in driving increased recycling in the UK, but as the European Commission (EC) considers proposals for more challenging recycling targets to 2030, I am starting to experience a real sense of nervousness across the recyclate supply chain, from local authorities and the waste management sector, to manufacturers and retailers.

    Recently, there have been a number of reports which show that recycling rates across local authorities are starting to flat line and in some cases they are reducing.  As a result, there has been much debate around whether we will be able to reach the targets, which were in the legislative proposal and annex which the EC adopted in the summer.  These include increasing recycling of municipal waste to 70% and of packaging waste to 80%, by 2030.  These proposed changes will undoubtedly test the strengths and weaknesses of our current systems, which are set up to recover materials from both the household and commercial and industrial streams.  It was recently pointed out that increasing domestic recycling rates by 1% each year will get the UK to 50%, by 2020, which sounds like a challenge enough, but to reach 70% we need nearly 90% of the population to put out 90% of materials that are recyclable and for 90% of that material to be successfully recycled!

    To maximise recycling, it is essential that local authorities and their contractors are able to offer collection approaches that fit the circumstances of both their residents and their commercial clients.  As well as continuing to engage residents who are already recycling (approximately 75% of the UK population classify themselves as Committed Recyclers, according to WRAP), to reach the next level of recycling we need to focus on multi-occupancy properties, multi-user offices and public spaces.  In these situations space and practicality will, in part, determine the success of recycling schemes: for many authorities, commingling will be the key to achieving this next stage of uptake.  If high quality recycling is produced, commingling is permissible under the terms of the revised Waste Framework Directive.  Whilst at first sight, the requirement of the Directive for local authorities and waste contractors to ensure that they have separate collections in place for key material streams, by January 2015, could seem a distraction.  Let’s remember the conditions that this applies only where it is necessary to produce high quality recycling and not at all if it is technically, environmentally or economically impracticable (TEEP) to do so.  If responded to positively, as a chance to focus on increasing quality of recycling, as well as participation and capture levels, it may prove to be the impetus we need to maintain the focus on growth in this area.

    We have recently run a roadshow of workshops which have brought together local authorities and waste contractors in an environment which is designed to generate discussion and a better understanding about the quality versus quantity debate; examining the interplay between the ‘Necessary / TEEP’ requirements and the newly active MF Regulations.  The feedback was overwhelmingly positive and these workshops have highlighted how collaborating with partners in the supply chain will help respond to this change.

    While the exact nature of the future direction with regards to tougher targets is unclear, it is evident that what is needed is enthusiasm, dedication and fresh ways of thinking by all of us in the resources industry – people really can’t think of it as waste anymore!  Only in this way will we halt stagnating recycling rates and maximise the future potential to create high quality recyclates to contribute to the circular materials economy in the UK.  A combination of regulation and innovation will ensure that more recyclate, of an appropriately high quality, is collected and reprocessed.  And it can only be achieved by partnerships working collaboratively up and down the recyclate supply chain.

    Geoff Green
    About the Author

    Geoff Green

    Principal Consultant

    Geoff Green is a chartered waste manager with experience in waste collections and waste procurement. He has a background in the manufacturing and process industries, as well as having undertaken general...

  • Material quality in the circular economy: transforming the way we think about resources


    In a survey at RWM recently, 83% of attendees at the Circular Economy theatre lecture I attended agreed, or strongly agreed, that a business model which is based on linear supply chains will become a limitation for successful economic development in the near future.

    The emergence of the circular economy as a key driver for government and industry has created a new emphasis on the recyclate supply chain, requiring it to stand up to the same level of scrutiny as the supply chain for products made from ‘virgin’ materials. The impact is being felt at each stage of the chain, from collection, to sorting and processing. Specifically, there is an increasing awareness that to be able to meet the specifications for new product manufacture our recyclate needs to be of a high quality.

    The UK Government set out its approach to improving the quality of recyclate through the Waste Policy Review 2011, the Quality Action Plan (published in February 2013) and the Waste Management Plan for England (published in December 2013), which is underpinned by the terms of the EU revised Waste Framework Directive (rWFD).

    The rWFD and Waste Management Plan for England propose targets that at least 50% by weight of waste from households is prepared for reuse or recycling and at least 70% by weight of construction and demolition waste is subjected to material recovery by 2020; and the Directive details a requirement to set up separate collection of "at least the following: paper, metal, plastic and glass", from the household waste stream, by 2015.

    The Quality Action Plan outlined the Government’s intentions to develop a code of practice to improve material facilities’ approach to reporting on the materials that they process. The industry has agreed an approach which will facilitate better transparency in relation to materials quality throughout the supply chain, which comes into force from 1 October 2014.

    I am aware that there is still a high degree of uncertainty about the ways in which local authorities, their contractors and MRF operators will respond to these requirements, which is why we’ve been delivering interactive workshops across the UK to support people who want to know more.

    Dee Moloney
    About the Author

    Dee Moloney

    Managing Director

    Dee has been the Managing Director of LRS since 2006 and has extensive experience of delivering consultancy work to the public and private sector clients at all points within the resource efficiency loop,...

  • Drivers for change: new recycling targets on the horizon


    Over the summer, the professional forums I have attended have been dominated by discussions about the European Commission’s (EC) announcement to revise the packaging waste targets. While, as a country, it is clear that we have embraced the term ‘circular economy’, it seems that many have been surprised by the EC’s proposals to stimulate it by increasing recycling targets to 80%, for all packaging by 2030, and more specifically by the materials targets for plastics, wood, steel, aluminium, glass and paper.

    As for the intention to include preparation for reuse, it’s clear that this will represent some major challenges and there is still much to be ironed out about how this will be implemented. Similarly, there is a lack of clarity as to how the measures to increase public awareness of proper waste management and litter reduction will be implemented and measured.

    To really progress to the next level on the journey towards the circular economy, surely difficult challenges have to be faced, and overcome? Are these changes not, in fact, the driver that we need to bring all the parties in a materials resource efficient supply chain together from designers, manufacturers and retailers to local authority and commercial collectors, re-processors and remanufacturers?

    In my view, the mainstreaming of multi-partner relationships across the recyclate supply chain will be essential to the achievement of higher packaging waste recycling targets in the future, acknowledging that there is a need to better understand where the barriers to meeting the targets would lie. Now is the time to explore whether or not targets with this degree of challenge could be met by the current Producer Responsibility Obligations (Packaging Waste) system or through modifications to it, or whether we would need an entirely different approach.

    It is therefore not surprising that in spring 2014, Defra announced their intention to review the producer responsibility regulations and to consult with leading stakeholders in the packaging, compliance and waste sectors to obtain views and evidence on both the strengths and weaknesses of the current Packaging Recovery Note (PRN) system and on alternative approaches that are used around Europe.

    This review will not only consider how the UK will be best placed to meeting European and domestic targets, but will also focus on mechanisms for ensuring sufficient reprocessing and collections of packaging for recycling and recovery are in place; review lessons from other producer responsibility regimes (in WEEE and batteries, for example) adopted by the UK, and seek to understand how best to strip out unnecessary bureaucracy associated with compliance with the Regulations.

    Significantly, the Defra review will also address the imbalance between PRNs and PERNs with a view to finding a solution to the low cost export of materials which prohibits the development of infrastructure in the UK and our ability to create a national circular economy.

    Debbie Hitchen
    About the Author

    Debbie Hitchen


    Debbie Hitchen is a Director at LRS with a strong track record in project management, business development and consultancy. She is recognised for her ability to build and manage multi-stakeholder teams...

  • The future of the waste management industry


    I believe that the challenges which the waste management industry faces relate to the journey rather than the distinction. I am a strong supporter of a resource efficient society and the circular economy. In the long term, the characteristics of the industry will reflect issues such as energy security, resource scarcity and the need to reduce the carbon footprint throughout the supply chain.

    In practical terms, products and packaging need to be designed to be recyclable and manufactured using an appropriate level of recycled content. We also need to maximise the use of waste heat and renewable energy and to adopt energy efficient production and logistics. After initial use, products and packaging should be addressed per the waste hierarchy.

    So far so good, but to reach that destination will require the coordinated deployment of government policy, regulatory enforcement / facilitation, land, new technology, funding and skills. Only with all these in place, will the necessary investment become available.

    Given the long lead times in new waste infrastructure projects, it is vital that we have long-term certainty and consistency in terms of government policy and legislation, which means a cross-party consensus is needed. At present, investors still consider certain waste technologies to be a risk and are waiting for clarity having seen unexpected changes with PFI, ROCS, solar, etc. The continuing uncertainty about the impacts of the revised Waste Framework Directive in relation to co-mingled collection and TEEP raises questions about when and if municipal solid waste (MSW) collection systems will be improved to achieve the 50% recycling target – 50% is an average, so some councils must do better.

    Those who invest in providing infrastructure and or meeting increased legislative standards need to be confident that regulations will be strictly enforced. For instance, modern recycling plants in the UK should not face uncertainty regarding feedstock whilst poorly sorted materials are exported in breach of the Transfrontier Shipment of Waste Regulations. This is exacerbated by the unintended consequences of a flaw in the Government’s PRN system, which provides disproportionate financial incentives to exporters. Urgent action is needed to prevent this differential increasing, as the Government reviews the PRN system and its strengths and weaknesses in relation to meeting the new higher packaging targets, which the European Commission is considering.

    Modern waste facilities are generally enclosed in buildings and look much the same as other industrial facilities. It is important that developers locate waste plants in areas where the impact on residents can be managed, whilst recognising the need to minimise the distances that wastes need to travel. Where possible, brownfield sites in industrial zones should be used. Our planning system needs to be streamlined, so that applications are processed in a timely fashion, thus avoiding prolonged periods of uncertainly for developers and residents.

    The UK needs to embrace the requirement to introduce technologies which are new to the UK and or in terms of scale, application or waste type. It’s often perceived wise to be second to adopt a new technology, so that experience can be gained from an initial reference plant, ideally operating on similar waste at similar scale. However, lead times are such that it could take many years before initial plants have been planned, constructed, commissioned and successfully operated. This tends to discourage the adoption of innovative new technologies. Government needs to provide incentives to those pioneering technologies which meet rigorous review criteria.

    Despite these challenges I mention, the waste management industry offers growth and development opportunities. Equity investment is available for businesses which carefully select appropriate sites and technologies and which undertake thorough market due diligence on waste arisings and composition, as well as actual and planned competitive capacity.

    While Landfill Tax has been successful in creating demand for alternative waste treatments and can be underpinned by Government delivering policy certainty and consistency. However, it seems that we are still some years away from the UK having sufficient domestic capacity to maximise the energy and resources which can be extracted from our waste. Until then, the UK will continue to export valuable resources and green jobs.

    Paul Levett
    About the Author

    Paul Levett

    Chairman of the Board

    Paul has 25 years' of experience in the waste management industry having most recently held the position of Deputy Chief Executive of Veolia Environmental Service’s waste business in the UK. Paul joined...