Navigating Sustainability in Fashion Industry: An APAC Perspective

By: Titi Susanti, Global Director, Consumer, Retail & Food Sector, BSI | Monday, 1 July 2024

Titi Susanti is a seasoned global commercial leader at BSI, overseeing growth in consumer, retail, and food sectors across Asia Pacific. With over 20 years in strategic business development, she holds a diverse background in certifications, including founding a company in Indonesia. Titi holds degrees in Textile Chemistry, MBA, and Environmental Management from Duke University.

In a recent conversation with The Global Woman Leader Magazine, Titi discusses effective strategies for aligning consumer demands with sustainability goals in diverse Asia Pacific contexts. She highlights fostering collaboration and knowledge sharing among diverse teams for consistent sustainability implementation. Her advice to business leaders navigating this landscape is to drive impactful initiatives while maintaining commercial viability.

In a rapidly evolving landscape of sustainability in fashion, what strategies have you found most effective in aligning consumer demands with organizational sustainability goals, especially considering the diverse cultural and economic contexts across the Asia Pacific region?

Sustainability in fashion has become a prominent topic in recent times, encompassing various challenges with no ‘one size fits all’ solution. Diverse cultures, consumer spending behavior and increasing economic development across the APAC region require a comprehensive and consistent approach to align sustainability goals with consumer demands, regulations, and the needs of wider stakeholders. Key steps for alignment that have the potential to be effective include responsible sourcing, reducing emissions, managing water usage, adopting circular economy practices, addressing human rights issues, maintaining ethical supply chains, and leveraging innovation. Collaboration with local and regional partners can also be critical to ensuring culturally appropriate and effective sustainability initiatives.

Verification and certification play a crucial role in mitigating greenwashing and building trust with consumers. Can you share insights into innovative approaches or technologies BSI is employing to enhance the credibility and transparency of sustainability claims within the fashion industry?

Addressing greenwashing and preventing unsubstantiated emissions statements can help organizations achieve and evidence climate or carbon neutrality. BSI has a range of tools to help organizations mitigate against claims of greenwashing, including a supply chain platform, immersive audit tools, and innovative technologies like satellite imaging, AI analytics, and blockchain. BSI can also certify companies to the standard on the carbon footprint of products (BS ISO 14067) or the carbon neutrality standard (BS ISO 14068) to allow them to make verifiable claims of carbon or climate neutrality. This offers the opportunity for organizations to prove they are meeting regulatory requirements and build consumer trust, ensuring their sustainability efforts are genuine and impactful.

As a global commercial leader, you oversee operations across 13 countries in the Asia Pacific region. How do you foster collaboration and knowledge sharing among diverse teams to ensure consistent implementation of sustainability initiatives and standards across different markets?

We ensure our teams have access to our sustainability initiatives, from our global giving platform to guidance on planning sustainable travel. Globally, we provide an internal portal for updates, an internal training academy for learning about sustainability, and monthly webinars to share progress. Regionally, we hold a monthly APAC Sustainability Champions Network to share best practices, and we distribute a weekly sustainability newsletter. In ASEAN, countries verify each other’s carbon footprint calculations and initiatives. Importantly, BSI has committed to becoming net zero by 2030, aiming to reduce carbon emissions (Scope 1 and 2) by 90% and 42% of Scope 3 emissions using 2022 as our baseline. This goal is part of our APAC leadership KPIs to ensure overall business achievement.

Sustainability in fashion often involves collaboration across the entire supply chain. How does BSI facilitate partnerships and encourage suppliers and retailers to adopt sustainable practices, particularly in regions where awareness and resources may be limited?

BSI’s purpose is to accelerate progress towards a fair society and a sustainable world. This is reflected in our role as a National Standards Body, developing innovative sustainability standards. For instance, we developed the first environmental management standard in 1992 (ISO 14001), now adopted globally. Today, BSI’s Net Zero Pathway offers an overarching scheme designed to help embed robust management controls to ensure organizations can meet their net zero goals on time and within budget. We are currently exploring the possibility of developing a sustainable fashion standard.

We are committed to achieving sustainability goals through collaboration and focused on communicating that sustainable practices are not only beneficial to people and the planet but can often be the smart commercial choice.

With your extensive experience in driving sustainable solutions across diverse industries, can you highlight any emerging trends or best practices from other sectors that could be adapted or applied within the fashion industry to accelerate progress towards sustainability goals?

Circular economy practices are one. Research suggests that designing for longevity and recyclability could unlock $560 billion by 2030. Another key area is ethical production. Increasingly, global consumers demand voluntary, industry-led standards and verification of social policies to ensure ethical supply chains. Research has found that 70% of consumers are willing to pay more for ethical brands. Lastly, improved resource efficiency is a key trend. Research suggestsreducing waste and energy use can cut costs by up to 20%.

Pan Brothers Tbk, one of Indonesia's largest apparel companies, is an example of a company putting the above principles into action. They recycle fabric scraps into uniforms and have installed solar panels in nearly all their factories, exemplifying sustainable practices.

As the fashion industry grapples with the challenges of sustainability, what advice would you offer to business leaders and organizations seeking to navigate this complex landscape and drive meaningful impact while remaining commercially viable?

Becoming more sustainable is an exciting opportunity. Business leaders can start their sustainability journey by optimizing existing resources and processes to minimize environmental and social impacts. This makes initial efforts manageable and effective, beginning with practical initiatives that align with current capabilities. Gradually, they can pursue more ambitious sustainability goals. While significant upfront investments may be required, the positive ROI and long-term benefits make these efforts worthwhile. Importantly, the sustainability journey need not be complex. Even organizations without specialist sustainability teams can make impactful changes. Starting with small, manageable steps establishes a strong foundation for future, more ambitious sustainability efforts.