Sustainability: An Opportunity to Lead

an opportunity to lead

Sustainable Brands Barcelona will host Anna Maria Rugarli, VF Corporation Director of Sustainability and Corporate Social Responsibility EMEA, as one of the event’s key speakers. She found some time to explain how they approach sustainability at VF Corporation, a global leader in branded lifestyle apparel, footwear and accessories, with more than 30 brands (including The North Face®Vans®, Timberland®, Wrangler®, and Lee®), 63,000 associates and $12.4 billion in revenue.

 Where does  the mandate for implementing sustainability comes from at VFC? How is the decision making process around sustainability at VFC?

At VF, we are supported from the top as the decision making process and the program’s governance comes directly from the CEO. Sustainability is seen as an important business initiative. We agree our targets and our strategy with the CEO and senior management on a yearly basis.

At the same time, we have been able to engage the company from the bottom up. We created ambassador teams, i.e. the Green Teams in EMEA and in the USA, which, within the company, help us on a daily basis to deliver against our strategies. They encourage colleagues that are passionate about sustainability to meet and share ideas on how we can improve our sustainability performance in a big office or in a big distribution centre. It is really about making sure that we run more sustainable operations in our facilities, but at the same time we raise awareness and we make sure that we keep our employees engaged in these topics.

For us, sustainability isn’t just about doing what’s right, it’s also good business. It creates value by identifying new opportunities, reducing and managing risks and lowering costs. It is both seen as a competitive advantage and an opportunity to lead.

We have also created an internal newsletter in the EMEA region called MOVE that we release 4/5 times a year where we communicate the results of the projects and showcase brands and countries’ best practices. Our Green Team members are also key to help us organising, recruiting and managing our VF Community Day, a one-day volunteering event for all our employees. This has been a very successful way to educate all of our associates on sustainability, showing the company’s sustainability commitment to our associates.

For VF Corporation, sustainability isn’t just about doing what’s right for people and the planet, it’s also good business. Our sustainability platform creates tangible value by serving as a catalyst for identifying new opportunities, reducing and managing risks and lowering costs. In that context, sustainable operations are both seen as a competitive advantage and an opportunity to lead.

What are the main challenges when managing sustainability within the mother company of some global brands such as Timberland, Vans and The North Face?

At corporate level, we created the Sustainability & CSR platform to provide the brands the tools and infrastructures needed to run the program. Each Brand then decides how to leverage this platform based on their individual Brand and Sustainability & CSR strategy. For example, since we launched this corporate initiative, we built the data management system to gather Sustainability & CSR relevant data as well as the procedures to run our programs and policies for all brands to align with.

These brands are managing to stay young, keeping their appeal for young people around the globe… What role do you think sustainability plays now for millennials when deciding which brand they acquire and support? 

Sustainability is very important for millennials. They grew up listening to news on climate change, water scarcity…. They are more aware than the previous generations, because sustainability has become a mainstream topic. They probably have a better understanding of it. It is a built-in feature in their lives.

Many of them look for companies who have the best practices in this area. It is very important for VF, for our brands, to be sure that we don’t disappoint them and that we take responsibility for what we do. Millennials also have many ways to look for information and to find out what is really happening. They hold us accountable for what we do. It is important that we continue to improve our sustainability programmes both at brand and at corporate levels, we can’t disappoint them.

Sustainability is very important for millennials, for them is a mainstream topic. They probably have a better understanding of it. It is a built-in feature in their lives.

We have started to work with our Consumer Insights department, to be sure that we always stay in touch and that we also build and communicate our sustainability programmes in a way that speaks to them, that touches them.

When is sustainability most taken into account by consumers- when deciding a purchase or as part of the purchasing experience, part of the customer loyalty?  

The majority of consumers, although they do not make their purchasing decisions based solely on sustainability, greatly appreciate if there is a communication on the product’s sustainability attributes. Sustainability is an added value to a product that they would already buy. It helps to keep them loyal to the brand and enhances the brand reputation.

That said, there would always be a hard core sustainability niche that puts sustainability as the top choice-making attribute.

Innovation and sustainability. In your experience at VF… Sustainability is a compliance issue or does it also spur new products, business venues, etc.?

Sustainability started as a compliance issue many years ago, but we have moved forward, -we at VF, but also many other brands out there-, building programmes that go beyond compliance. Compliance is nowadays a given. If you don’t comply, you should not be in business, full stop.

Innovation and sustainability many times come together. It is a great platform that creates new opportunities, not only at business level, but also in product development and for the products we deliver to our consumers.

Compliance is nowadays a given. If you don’t comply, you should not be in business, full stop.

One example goes back to some years ago, when The North Face, decided to make a step forward towards the responsible use of down. In two years‘time they set up the Responsible Down Standard to trace the down throughout the supply chain. They were successful in implementing it and then donated the standard to the industry, so that it is now open for any company to use it. To date, 40 different brands have adopted it. This challenge created another opportunity, as the North Face started looking at alternatives to down and developed a partnership with PrimaLoft® to offer a new synthetic insulation technology, called Thermoball™ which they have integrated into some of their jackets, which are now some of their best-selling jackets.

Innovation and sustainability many times come together. It is a great platform that creates new opportunities, not only at business level, but also in product development and for the products we deliver to our consumers.

Another VF brand, Napapijri®, has embraced product innovation to enable solutions that have a positive impact on our world. The most recent example of this is a groundbreaking insulating filling developed for Napapijri: THERMO-FIBRE®, an eco-friendly replacement for down, amplified in Napapijri’s Fall/Winter 2015 outerwear collection. High-tech research, cold-weather protection and ecological responsibility make a statement in the new THERMO-FIBRE® system, which has achieved instant recognition and quickly become one of the season’s best sellers, garnering huge interest and praise from the market.

Probably one of the biggest challenges is managing the sustainability of the supply chain. What is your approach to this? How do you engage your suppliers? Do they reap benefits themselves when adopting sustainability?

At VFC we have been working since a couple of years on a Responsible Sourcing program with the aim to move forward, take a step into the future, go further beyond compliance, to be sure that we stay true to who we are as a company and we keep improving our programmes. The programme is in development; we have a team working on each of the focus areas and we plan to communicate our targets publicly later on.

Thanks to this programme, we have a ripple effect on our suppliers. We make an impact in the way they work together with us and they also start seeing the benefits of moving in this direction.

Why do you think events such as Sustainable Brands Barcelona are important?

These events are really important to keep sustainability high on companies’, civil society’s and governments’ agendas. I see my presence at SB Barcelona as a great opportunity. These events are crucial to highlight and keep highlighting the best practices and best cases in the business to share, inspire and involve other companies and other sectors of society to do more.

I hope that we will be able to inspire and motivate others to have a positive impact on our society. We still have a huge work ahead, so all of us need to improve our performance

I am a huge fan of these events. I hope that with the work we do every day, we will be able to inspire and motivate others to keep working and have a positive impact on our society. We still have a huge work ahead, so all of us need to keep talking about it, raising the bar higher and higher to improve our performance on a daily basis. The more you talk about sustainability the better it is to keep it on everyone’s mind.

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Sustainability is team work. This is why we have two new options to attend #SB16bcn. Our Vamos Juntos (Let’s go together!) campaign allows you to invite a colleague, a client or other stakeholder to accompany you. You buy your full pass ticket, and the second one is on us.

For companies willing to enhance their networking, we have devised the Corporate Pack, which allows your company to buy 8, 1-Day tickets and have a dedicated lunch table.

Check them out here.