Debenhams sets sweeping new fashion sustainability targets

Department store retailer Debenhams has set a string of new green targets for its fashion and homeware departments, in a bid to set new sustainability benchmarks for the sub-sector following a difficult financial year.

Sourcing sustainable cotton forms a key part of the new commitments. Image: Debenhams

Sourcing sustainable cotton forms a key part of the new commitments. Image: Debenhams

The firm this week launched ambitions to source 100% of its cotton from sources certified as sustainable by 2022; to switch to FSC-certified paper for swing tags by December 2020; to remove plastic lamination from all swing tags by December 2020, and to divert all old fashion stock and samples from landfill or incineration.

On the latter of these targets, Debenhams is working with charity NewLife, which takes surplus fashion stock from retailers and sells it at a discount through its network of charity shops. The retailer is aiming for all of its facilities to be sending 100% of surplus fashion stock to NewLife by this spring.

As for Debenhams’ new cotton commitments, the retailer is working with third-party verification schemes including the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) to drive progress. An interim target of 100% BCI-verified cotton across the department store’s Mantaray brand has been set for the spring/summer 2020 collection.

Debenhams first joined the BCI in August 2019 and, since then, has sourced two million garments containing certified cotton content. Other BCI participants include the likes of Target, Gap, C&A and Marks & Spencer (M&S), as well as luxury brands, independent stores and cotton suppliers. H&M Group, meanwhile, is the largest procurer of BCI cotton by weight, with certified and recycled cotton having made up 59% of its total cotton consumption last year.

On packaging, Debenhams’ director of stores, technology and supply chain Angela Morrison said the new aims around swing tags build on “real progress” made on sustainable packaging in 2019.

Between 2018 and 2019, Debenhams reduced the amount of packaging it uses annually by 22% by weight.

“As a senior leadership team, we are committed to examining everything we do with a more sustainable focus,” Morrison said. “There is still a lot for us to do but we made real progress in 2019…. reducing the amount of packaging we use by 22% is the equivalent of powering 79 British homes for a whole year.”

Planet and profit?

Debenhams’ announcement comes at the start of what is being described as a “make-or-break year” for the retailer.

After entering administration in 2019, Debenhams is closing 19 of its stores this month as part of a rescue plan.

Debenhams is not alone in these challenges; KPMG’s latest report into retail concluded that 2019 was the “worst year on record for the sector”, with businesses struggling to manage rising business rates, the shift to online shopping and changing consumer sentiments around environmental issues. In the UK alone, 140,000+ retail jobs were lost during 2019.

At a recent edie roundtable, expert speakers representing an array of organisations across the retail sector’s value chain discussed the ways in which businesses can tackle present economic and environmental challenges simultaneously. You can read about the actions they are working to deliver to drive progress on these fronts here.

Sarah George  



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