Business of Fashion’s Inaugural Sustainability Index: The Sustainability Gap

By Sarah Kent 23 April, 2021

BoF's Kent who led the inaugural index talks to us on the why, how & how the 15 companies scored

The Index was created as it was really difficult to understand how each companies’ performance compared - BoF wanted to answer that & give a framework to do better
15 of the largest fashion companies were scored against 16 ambitious targets comprised of >300 metrics for the next decade; poor data & patchy disclosure was a challenge
Lots of work to do with avg overall score of 36/100; public sustainability commitments are outpacing concrete actions but positively, already gotten feedback from brands
Sarah Kent
Author: Sarah Kent
Sarah Kent is London Editor at The Business of Fashion. Her writing is primarily focused on the environmental and social challenges and opportunities facing the fashion world today. She helped create the BoF Sustainability Index, which measures the industry’s progress towards sustainability goals for the next decade. Prior to joining BoF, Sarah spent eight years at The Wall Street Journal, where she covered the energy sector.
Read more from Sarah Kent →

Earlier this month, The Business of Fashion (BoF) released it’s inaugural Sustainability Index, which tracks fashion’s progress towards ambitious sustainability targets for the coming decade. It examines public disclosures to benchmark performance and enable like-for-like comparisons at 15 of fashion’s largest companies (including: Kering, LVMH, H&M, Inditex, Nike, Adidas & Under Armour) . CWR’s own Dawn McGregor sits on the council that helped decide the metrics for the benchmark.

Following it’s release, we sat down with Sarah Kent from BoF, who lead the Index project to understand why they did the Index, share key findings and where they see the index going. Download the BoF Sustainability Index here.

CWR: Why did you produce The BoF Sustainability Index?

Sarah Kent (SK): As the sustainability reporter at The Business of Fashion, I was frequently getting pitches from brands about new sustainability initiatives. But it was really difficult to understand how each companies’ performance compared, or whether any of the activity they were marketing was really moving the needle when it came to improving the industry’s environmental and social impact.

“… it was really difficult to understand how each companies’ performance compared…”

BoF is known for its authoritative and analytical insights and we wanted to address that gap, particularly as the fashion industry has a substantial environmental impact, but also cultural influence that gives it great power to drive positive change.

Our aim was to create a benchmark that would take stock of progress, while also leveraging data to objectively identify shortcomings and lay out a clear framework for future advancements.

CWR: What makes The BoF Sustainability Index unique? And how did the 15 fashion companies do?

SK: The Index is designed to offer a framework for fashion companies to establish more environmentally and socially responsible business practices by 2030, a critical milestone to achieve global sustainability goals.

The Index – comprised of >300 metrics – is designed to offer a framework for co’s to do better…

…avg overall score just 36/100

It’s based on a series of 16 ambitious targets for the next decade, established in consultation with a council of global experts, including China Water Risk. The targets are broken down into more than 300 individual metrics and span six categories: Transparency, Emissions, Water & Chemicals, Waste, Materials and Workers’ Rights.

While fashion companies are speaking about sustainability more than ever before, the Index found that the world’s largest fashion companies’ public sustainability commitments are outpacing concrete actions.

The average overall score of the companies assessed was just 36 out of a possible 100, with significant disparities between engagement and action. Overall, progress skews towards target setting, with data often self-reported and unverified, pointing to a wider accountability challenge.

CWR: What were the challenges in creating The BoF Sustainability Index?

SK: The research was a really substantial task that involved trawling through thousands of pages of documents. In total, we evaluated more than 5,000 individual data points across the 15 companies. The biggest challenge was poor data and patchy disclosure, particularly as we relied on publicly available information.

CWR: Where do you see this going? Will this be an annual report? What do you want it to achieve?

SK: While the fashion industry is still reeling from the impact of the coronavirus pandemic and its effects on businesses around the world, the impending climate crisis cannot be ignored. With just a decade to avoid catastrophic environmental damage, there has never been a greater need for business models to change.

The Index is intended as a benchmark of progress that we will build on as part of our ongoing Sustainability coverage.

CWR: Has there been any feedback from brands already? If so, what have they said?

Brands are already using the framework to inform their strategies

SK: The feedback so far has been very constructive. We’ve found some companies engaging with our framework to inform their own sustainability strategies and received valuable insights that we’ll use to inform our next iteration of the report.

Further Reading

  • Fast Fashion’s COVID Death & Virtual Revival? – Fast fashion is dying – from broken supply chains and no demand thanks to WFH. CWR’s Dawn McGregor and Debra Tan reimagine fashion’s future – a virtual realm where our avatars attend Zoom drinks and digital supermodels walk the runway
  • Sustainable Fashion Today: A Sweet But Short High – 2019 has been a busy year for sustainable fashion but with sweet but short highs as CWR’s Dawn McGregor highlights. Given fashion’s huge climate impact, McGregor laments the need for more strategic solutions
  • Fashion Has The Power To Shape A 2℃ World – If fashion were a country it would have the fourth highest carbon emissions behind the US, China, & India. China Water Risk’s Dawn McGregor & Debra Tan question why the industry is not under the spotlight like coal and call for faster disruptions
  • Fashion Headlines This Festive Season – With lots happening in fashion over the last quarter, China Water Risk’s Dawn McGregor shares what is making her hopeful but also fearful. Plus, see what she says is forcing the industry to develop a new relationship with pollution
  • The Status Of Fashion’s Redesign – Fashion, an industry not often associated with climate change & technological innovation has been redesigning itself to change just that. With growing global focus on the environment China Water Risk’s Dawn McGregor takes a look at the status of this redesign

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