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UN’s sustainability playbook for marketers says they’re key to driving change

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As concerns over the impact of fashion’s climate footprint and greenwashing activities grow, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the UN Climate Change-convened Fashion Charter have launched the Sustainable Fashion Communication Playbook.

Photo: Pixabay/Public domain

It’s “a guide for consumer-facing communicators in the global fashion industry to align efforts to sustainability targets, incorporating both environmental and social factors”.  

What that means in practice is that it’s urging those who communicate about the fashion sector to stop promoting more and more unsustainable consumption and to get with the programme by putting their expertise to good use in promoting a more planet-positive approach.

The Playbook draws attention to “the role of marketers, brand managers, image-makers, storytellers, media, influencers and beyond”. 

It shows communicators “how to take action through countering misinformation; reducing messages perpetuating overconsumption; redirecting aspiration to more sustainable lifestyles; and empowering consumers to demand greater action from businesses and policymakers”.

The ultimate aim is to “help communicators explore how to assist in decoupling value creation from resource extraction and volume growth, while improving wellbeing”.

It’s clearly a necessary step with fashion responsible for up to 8% of global greenhouse gas emissions, as well as major pollution, water extraction and biodiversity impacts. The industry consumes 215 trillion litres of water every year and accounts for 9% of annual micro-plastic losses into the oceans. 

And as well as the impact on the planet, there’s also the issue of social injustice globally that fashion’s over-consumption model contributes to.

It’s an interesting approach for the UN to take given that – aside from the issue of greenwashing – the importance of fashion’s communications army is often overlooked in the drive towards a cleaner and more ethical industry.

We’re told that the Sustainable Fashion Communication Playbook “acknowledges the power of fashions 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 provides a “much needed framework 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”.

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.” 

Developed in “consultation with fashion stakeholders looking to effect change at this level.”, the Playbook provides guidance, including lists of dos and don’ts for consideration and case studies as examples of best practice.   

It covers area such as leading with science, “recognising the importance of translating technical, science-based information into credible and meaningful messaging”; changing behaviours and practices “to point consumers towards lower impact and circular solutions, such as repair and reuse, helping to normalise sustainable behaviours”; focusing on the need for role models to help portray alternative models of status and success, decoupling identity from newness and recalibrating what’s deemed aspirational to social-proof a sustainable future; and demonstrating how communicators can empower consumers to demand greater action from businesses and policymakers alike”.

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