Boden sustainability boss Ben Dreyer on stage at IRX 2023

IRX 2023: Green strategy reduces costs, says Boden sustainability boss

Fashion retailer Boden’s strategy, sustainability, and operations director, Ben Dreyer, has said adopting a greener strategy will save businesses money not add to their costs as many organisations think is the case.

An IRX 2023 panel on Wednesday 24 May, which took place at NEC Birmingham, discussed all things related to engaging with and meeting the needs of the more conscious consumer – including the dangers of keeping quiet about environmental strategy and the opportunities presented by the resale market.

Dreyer, who was joined by Joanna Yarrow, chief sustainability officer at advertising agency M&C Saatchi Group, in a panel debate expertly moderated by podcast host and author, Chloe Thomas, argued that getting stakeholder buy-in to sustainability strategy is where it all begins for a retail organisation.

“50% of our carbon footprint is in making the raw material – that’s where we’re really trying to tackle,” Dreyer commented.

“The interesting thing about sustainability [is that] a lot of it saves you money.”

He suggested that addressing Scope 1 and 2 carbon emissions – also known as those emissions directly within a business’s control – means “you’re basically saving energy” which brings with it significant cost savings.

Dreyer added that framing the conversation in this way – that “pursuing it is actually good for you” is a way to sell plans to key stakeholders within a business.

The Boden director explained he started at the business, which specialises in kids and women’s clothing, circa 25 years ago. He originally oversaw “back-end” operations and IT, but a few years ago he extended his role to drive the sustainability agenda at the retailer.

“I stepped away from some of that when I got frustrated four years ago we were doing lots of good stuff on the sustainable front but we didn’t want to talk about it,” he explained.

Dreyer acknowledged Boden is “still not perfect” and no organisation is because everything leaves a footprint, but he warned it is important to tackle the issue of reducing environmental impact head on.

“It’s a real fear for many people – if I put my head above the parapet will I be shot down?”

“Many people [including other retailers] were talking about it and they were much worse than us. [I thought] if we give them the air space talking about this, we won’t actually make real progress, and we need to make real progress – so I thought let’s start talking about it.”

He called on more industry collaboration to keep shifting the dial on the sustainability debate, and he suggested that one key strategy for Boden is to make products that last. He talked up the potential of the resale market and the ability to offer repairs, as key ways for fashion retailers to reduce their environmental impact and become more circular.

He also argued that Boden has approximately 140,000 items listed on eBay, which he said was a mark of the products’ longevity. The ability to resell, he commented, is something customers appreciate and a reason for connection with the brand.

Yarrow agreed that it is important for retailers and brands to talk about their sustainability stories and the work they are doing, and advised against “greenhushing”, where companies keep their plans to themselves due to fear they will say the wrong thing or be accused of greenwashing.

“Sustainability is a journey,” she noted.

“There is always more we can do to be better for people and better for planet, so there will always be problems. If you wait for that moment when you are immaculate, the world will have fried.”

[Image credit: Green Retail World]

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