An interview with PFI’s Sustainability Manager Sarah Obser

1. How do you rate the status quo of sustainability in the footwear industry?

The footwear industry, like the apparel industry, still needs to take a few more steps to become more sustainable. However, it is exciting to see that more and more companies are tackling the issue, because in the long run there is no way around it. It will be crucial for the industry to promote recycling and thus to enable a circular economy. Only in this way we can satisfy the growing consumption even with scarcer resources

2. What can shoe companies learn from the apparel industry in terms of sustainability?

The apparel industry has been under considerable pressure for several years due to events such as factory fires and building collapses. Numerous initiatives were created that drive the industry forward, such as the HIGG Index for a standardized reporting of factories’ social and environmental data or ZDHC for harmonized chemical standards. The shoe industry does not have to reinvent the wheel, but can take advantage of many of these tools. It is crucial to create synergies between the industries as well as between the individual companies. The CADS initiative will address the topic of harmonization and will be ground breaking for the future of the footwear industry.

3. What is the first, most important step a company needs to take to become more sustainable?

Transparency in the supply chain! A company needs to know where it’s shoes are being produced and where materials come from in order to be more sustainable. Companies that are in the dark cannot address improvements.

However, it is also important that the final goal “sustainable” does not exist. It is crucial to continuously choose the better alternative and to consider social and environmental aspects in business decisions. This also means that companies can decide for themselves whether to focus first on more sustainable production conditions, more sustainable design and materials, or more sustainable purchasing practices and long-term supplier relationships.

4. What role does the use of data in relation to sustainability play?

Data is crucial for setting up and successfully implementing social, environmental, and chemical management systems. Only in this way companies can set indicators to measure resource consumption and emissions or to make processes and entire supply chains leaner and more efficient.

5. How is China dealing with sustainability? How important is the topic on the ground?

At government level, the issue is becoming increasingly present. Numerous stringent environmental laws have been enacted which are putting pressure on the industry to rethink their actions. However, at the corporate level, it is still a fairly new topic. Factories are mostly addressing sustainability issues if buyers are asking for it. However, in order for companies to tackle the issue on their own, their mindset must change. I believe that European companies can contribute by providing longer-term order forecasts and thereby enable factories to plan better and to invest in better production conditions.

Read the full article in German language here

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