At first sight, it may not seem like cleantech and sustainable fashion have much in common. But when you start looking at a micro level, it becomes clear that both industries are facing similar challenges. Both are niche sectors within massive industries which are often composed of start-ups and SMEs that have to compete against global multinational corporations.
Similarly, sustainable fashion and cleantech companies benefit from increasing consumer awareness and demand for more ethical and sustainable solutions.
Put transparency at the core of your business
The fashion industry’s supply chain is profoundly complex and opaque, with most major brands not disclosing their suppliers’ name past first-tier manufacturers. In 2020, Fashion Revolution’s Fashion Transparency Index found that only 31% of the 250 biggest fashion brands disclosed their suppliers past their first-tier manufacturers, with only 7% able to tell report who their raw material suppliers were.
While transparency does not necessarily guarantee ethical and sustainable practices, it is a necessary first step in holding companies accountable and earning consumers’ trust. Although activists and consumers are traditionally more vocal in demanding transparency from B2C companies, especially in the food and fashion industries, B2B businesses are not exempt from similar demands.
For example, as an increasing number of individuals switch to renewable energy suppliers, those companies will have to prove a clear origin of the energy they provide. Similarly, as electric vehicles become the new norm for transportation, the source of the raw materials used to power them will come under scrutiny.
Having a transparent and ethical supply chain will become a clear competitive advantage for cleantech businesses which often operate as the suppliers of other larger B2B or B2C companies.
Environmental, but make it fashion
Being ethical and sustainable is not enough to attract a mainstream audience. While customers are increasingly turning towards more ethical alternatives, whether it be organic fibres or responsible working practices, the final product’s look is still what matters most. Sustainable fashion has struggled with getting rid of its image being “boring” and “dull”, partly explaining why it took it a while to reach mainstream audiences.
The cleantech industry suffers from a similar image issue of being too “techy” and impenetrable for a mainstream audience. This led John Elkington, one of the main authority voices in the sustainable business area, to write in his book the Zeronauts that “One of the missing links in this area, is the connection to consumers”.
As a cleantech business, your technology cannot do all the work. Instead, one of the most effective ways to connect with your target audiences will be via your brand. While you may not be able to change the final look of your technology, although companies like Sistine Solar are developing “aesthetically pleasing” solar panels to encourage their uptake, you can decide how to portray your company. Investing in branding and design is even more relevant to cleantech companies that have developed a software technology. Guaranteeing a pleasant user experience is a crucial software feature to engage corporate partners and mass consumers.
From your website to your messaging and subsequent communications material, crafting a beautiful and stylish brand (“Fashion fades, style is eternal” famously said Yves Saint-Laurent) can make all the difference between you and your competitors.
Rely on your community
One way to compete against the industry giants is by harnessing the power of the community. Sustainable fashions brands know this and have formed professional circles and industry groups to support and help each other.
For example, the Common Objective platform is the LinkedIn of sustainable fashion. The website indexes professionals of the industry, from raw material suppliers to artisans and brands. The platform’s goal is to connect sustainable fashion businesses, allowing them to be discovered by more prominent brands and retailers looking to make the switch towards more ethical practices. Fashion for Good is another platform that brings together members of the wider sector to spark sustainable innovation and together build a better fashion industry.
Similar industry organisations already exist in cleantech. The Global Cleantech Cluster Association unites over ten thousand cleantech companies across 50 global clusters and 30 countries. The recently created Greentech Alliance, of which we are advisors, brings together cleantech companies to support them with advice about funding, visibility and strategy.
The creation of a true global cleantech community is still in its infancy, with the competitive mindset first needing to be overcome. On our part, we are trying to break down those barriers by including community events in our membership offering. Each month, cleantech professionals can meet to exchange advice and support one another.
Circularity is the future
Finally, one common denominator of many sustainable fashion brands is how they incorporate circularity within their business practices. A circular economy maximises the value of products and materials while in use and recovers and repurposes them at the end of their lives, ultimately eliminating waste.
While some cleantech sectors are better designed than others to integrate and apply circular economy principles, like the bioeconomy, this system can be applied to any industry. The circular economy is necessary to achieve net zero targets: a research by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation estimated that adopting a circular economy approach with cement, steel, plastic and aluminium could achieve a 40% reduction in emissions by 2050.
As more and more countries commit to achieving net-zero emissions within the next three decades, calls for achieving a true global circular economy will only increase. By adopting a circular approach today, cleantech businesses can be at the forefront of the new green economy.