• WWD/ By Samantha Conti on July 16, 2019

Zara’s Green Agenda Sees Zero Waste, 100% Sustainable Fabrics by 2025

Inditex chairman and ceo Pablo Isla argues that Zara is the very opposite of fast fashion, with an aggressive green agenda that also foresees the elimination of single-use plastic products for clients.

Has Zara found the fast track to greener fashion?

Not only has the Spanish retailer been hitting some of its sustainability targets early, it revealed a list of new goals to shareholders at parent Inditex’s annual general meeting on Tuesday.

Among them is a 7,500-strong store estate that will be eco-efficient by the end of 2019, one year ahead of target, while all collections from Zara, and its sister brands in the Inditex stable, will be made from 100 percent sustainable fabrics before 2025. That compares to today’s figure of 20 percent.

The company has also committed to zero waste in landfills from Zara facilities, and 80 percent renewable energy consumption in its headquarters, logistics plants and stores by that same year.

Zara is running — and thinking — far ahead of fast-fashion customers who aren’t as woke as their luxury counterparts. Luxury shoppers are less impulse-driven, they demand more for their money, and they expect a compelling narrative, around heritage, craftsmanship or sustainability served up with their high-end goods.

Instead of pushing the big retail chains to do more on the sustainability front, fast-fashion customers are the ones being pushed by Zara and other retailers that are getting progressively greener.

“We need to be a force for change, not only in the company but in the whole sector,” said Pablo Isla, executive chairman and chief executive officer of Inditex, which was named the most sustainable retailer by the Dow Jones Sustainability Index for three consecutive years, from 2016 to 2018.

“We are the ones establishing these targets: The strength and impulse for change is coming from the commercial team, the people who are working with our suppliers, the people working with fabrics. It is something that’s happening inside our company,” he added.

Isla’s and hundreds of Zara staffers’ annual bonus payments are tied, in part, to long-term sustainability goals, while the company has recently added a sustainability committee to its board of directors.

Zara is even flying ahead of government policymakers, in Spain and worldwide.

“We are a global company, and involved in the different concerns of public opinion about sustainability worldwide. We are not thinking about political policies. This is our own approach, and it is clearly a work in progress,” Isla added during a briefing with top management at the company’s headquarters outside A Coruña, on Spain’s northern coast.

Much of that work should center around educating fast fashion consumers about the environmental impact of their casual consumption.

According to a Censuswide survey this month for the U.K. children’s charity Barnardo’s, Britons alone will spend more than 2.7 billion pounds on single-use summer outfits this year, or about 50 million items in total. As a result, Barnardo’s is encouraging consumers to curb their shopping habits, and try second-hand clothing instead.

The Censuswide findings echo those of a Kurt Salmon report from 2017 that took a look at 2,000 18- to 24-year-olds in the U.K., and how they treated their fast-fashion purchases. More than half kept their clothes for less than a year, while a quarter held onto them for less than six months before discarding them. When they tired of them, the majority of shoppers threw their clothes away, gave them to friends or forgot about them in the back of the closet.

Asos, which markets to a similar demographic, has been pushing its consumers to think sustainably before they shop, launching a “responsible edit,” of environmentally conscious clothing and accessories. It has also created a “responsible filter,” which flags recycled goods and sustainably sourced fibers and fabrics that use less water and are better for the environment.

Eva Vidal, head of design at Zara’s young, trendy TRF collection, and a member of what Isla refers to as the retailer’s own “sustainability NGO,” said that while the company has been talking to consumers over social media and in stores about sustainability and recycling, people have been “quite shy” about returning their used clothing to Zara’s stores.

“But they will come, and the program will grow,” she said.

Like Isla, Vidal said the sustainability impetus is coming from Zara. “We have some comments from customers, but really in my department, it’s coming from our side. We are the ones making decisions about the fabrics, and we are in this every day. A big part of our business is talking to the stores, asking them to talk more about our Join Life garments, for example.”

Created in 2015, the Join Life label offers clothing made from the most sustainable raw materials — organic cotton, recycled polyester and Tencel lyocell — and processes aimed at reducing water and energy consumption.

Currently those sustainable materials make up 20 percent of the Inditex collections, and are grouped under the Join Life environmental excellence banner. The use of sustainable materials at Inditex should hit 25 percent by 2020, and eventually reach 100 percent before 2025. By 2023, viscose will be 100 percent sustainable.

Vidal said the mentality inside the company with regard to green policies and conservation is: “Wow, we can do this. Let’s see if we can do a little bit more, and how we can improve.”