Consumer demand for ethical products continues to grow year over year. With each passing year, our collective definition of the word “ethical” becomes more nuanced, as we learn of additional ways to improve our sourcing practices. As a society, we’ve reached a complex point of reflection: we know we want a more ethical world, but we’re still in the process of extricating ourselves from decades-old systems that leave a lot to be desired.
This is why we believe in the notion of progress over perfection. We believe that “ethical” and “sustainable” are not finite endpoints. If we’re doing our jobs right, we will always be identifying ways to contribute to building a better world. That’s one reason we’re so dedicated to tracking the metrics of TTM’s impact - because when we have tangible numbers and detailed observations, it’s easier to spot opportunities for improvement.
In the retail sourcing and manufacturing industry, scientists are continually developing brighter and better technologies that make manufacturing less harmful to the environment.
Strategic change takes time, however. Transforming vision into action can require funding, education, and operational adjustments among other things. For example, let’s examine the steps required if a factory commits to using more sustainable material. To make the switch, the factory first must communicate this desired change to the mill, who will need to find a new farmer growing organic cotton. The factory likely also needs to find a way to afford that higher cost per yard. This may mean raising the price of their products, which is a delicate decision that could impact the survival of the business. Next, the factory will likely want to seek certification from GOTS or OEKO-TEX, which verify that the organic cotton meets stringent standards of quality and safety. This can involve an assessment of the entire supply chain. That means the factory may need to make improvements that hit these high standards, and may need to train workers on new methods of processing the material.
Let’s assume that after all these hurdles are overcome, and the factory successfully switches to organic cotton. This is a wonderful change! But that’s just the beginning. There may still be dozens of other components of that factory’s manufacturing process, including workplace safety, chemical waste management, and more, that could use serious improvement. And improving each of those factors will likely require the same amount of effort and expense as the switch to more sustainable cotton.
These improvements are worth it, but they take time! And they can be especially difficult in communities that have been reliant on less sustainable systems for decades. Even the most ethically minded factory owners may need to pace themselves as they gather the resources they need to build something better. By the time they make the change, standards may have shifted to even more sustainable options that they didn’t yet know existed!
This is why it’s important to approach ethical consumption with a spirit of collaboration. We need to lift each other up across industries and share tips for improvement. We need to expect growing pains and hiccups along the way.
Building a better world is an ever-evolving process. If we ever reach a point where we feel we are finished improving, that just means it’s time to take another look under the hood. Because the fact is that we can always do better - as a culture, as a company, and as individuals. And it’s about progress over perfection.
By Kristiane Davidson, Director, Europe + Impact and Vetting