How Chief Sustainability Officers can be the saviour of fashion and luxury brands

The Chief Sustainability Officer plays a key role in making product and process-oriented decisions, as well as fine-tuning operations by implementing green strategies, technologies and methodologies.
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Gone are the days when models would proudly walk down the ramp, decked up in an outfit made out of animal fur. Today, consumers are more aware and sensitive towards the needs of animals and are openly saying no to animal products and outfits made of animal fur/skin (thanks to veganism).

The buzzword in fashion is “sustainability”. Today, sustainability has become an absolute necessity in the luxury industry as well as in fashion as a whole.

Leading fashion and luxury brands are left with no choice but to embed sustainability into their business models for 21st-century challenges and work in a more eco-efficient way.

Furthermore, global luxury and fashion brands are now looking at sustainability as an opportunity as CEOs are now realising that sustainability is good for business as it enhances creativity.

From a talent perspective, there has now emerged the need to hire a highly evolved Chief Sustainability Officer (CSO). Globally, this is one of the most sought after roles for most fashion and apparel companies, and in the last couple of years, this has been reflected in India as well.

Increased focus on sustainable fashion products

Top chief sustainability officers believe that sustainable development is no longer an option for the luxury industry. If fashion and luxury brands want to be remembered for their products 10–15 years down the line, they must adopt sustainable practices. Businesses must now consider sustainable technology as an investment that would have a long-term impact.

Sustainability is all about sourcing the finest raw materials more sustainably and responsibly, taking care of the people all along the supply chain and testing innovative materials and innovative processes.

As a trendsetting industry, the global fashion industry must serve as a role model, and as informed consumers, we must support them in their endeavour to build a sustainable environment.

What role does CSO play

In the past, a CSO’s role has often been in the background of decision-making. Their role has been restricted to the technical/engineering aspects of the business, ensuring that a company meets necessary green compliances, liaising with external stakeholders such as environmental activists and consumer groups, and implementing effective corporate social responsibility programmes.

The last few years have changed the scenario. Today, the CSO plays a key role in making product and process-oriented decisions. Fine-tuning operations by implementing green strategies, technologies and methodologies are important roles to set and meet the company’s overall carbon goals.

The so-called climate emergency has led to chief sustainability officers becoming increasingly influential and expanding their research into product development, manufacturing, and marketing.

CSO roles in the fashion space are not new, at least not globally, and LVMH (Louis Vuitton) has had a Sustainability Director since the nineties, however, now this is becoming more of a norm than aberrations.

This trend has started reflecting increasingly in the quest for Superior Talent for this function. While having a series of discussions around succession planning for a leading fashion and apparel business house, it was quite apparent that one of the key hires in the new structure would be a Chief Sustainability Officer well versed with the best of global norms.

Parameters of success for Chief Sustainability Officer

CSO’s can achieve success over rapidly evolving sustainability in terms of several factors despite the intersectional and cross-functional roles they have to play. At an individual level, an ideal CSO needs to have the ability to quickly and clearly perceive global megatrends and the organisation’s position in light of this megatrend.

In terms of qualifications and skill set, as the function becomes increasingly professionalised, so too have the educational backgrounds of sustainability heads today.

The aim is to achieve sustainability in every part of the business. The Chief Sustainability Officer has to be an inspirational leader who can look at the larger picture. It is quite likely that going forward the Chief Sustainability Officer may well lead Business Strategy for the company, and pave the way for more CSOs in the C Suite.

Hence, the verdict is clear. As more and more high-end luxury brands are embracing sustainable strategies, the need for a strong CSO is becoming more important now than ever before

Edited by Kanishk Singh

(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)

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