We visited the British Footwear Association Sustainability Summit last week to hear from industry partners and leaders about the challenges they’re facing in the world of sustainability.

The inaugural BFA Sustainability Summit was held in on 19th April 2023. Approximately 150 people from a number of brands and related organisations attended the event, which was facilitated in conjunction with Andy Polk of the FDRA (Footwear Distributors and Retailer of America),  who is one of the sustainability champions for United States footwear industry.

The day-long event covered a variety of subjects including where to start, chemical compliance, packaging, ethical trading, leather & materials, marketing of sustainability for brands, B-Corp introduction and End of Life & circularity.

It’s clear that sustainability is not just a “nice-to-have” nowadays, but a “must-have” and all brands need to develop a strategy if they haven’t already. The challenges facing the footwear industry were very evident, whether that’s simply where to start, how to market the efforts for fear of greenwashing or what happens at the end of life of footwear. The clear message was that brands will struggle to tackle all the issues working alone and that networking and coming together for the good of the planet, is the only way the footwear industry will move the needle on those bigger issues.

Distinct lack of trust…

One statistic that is both concerning and disappointing is the lack of trust in claims made around sustainability. Only 13% of marketing is believed by today’s consumers (source: Edelman). Businesses need to be simple, clear and transparent about their sustainability credentials with the credible substantiation to back it up.  The answer is not to go quiet on Green initiatives or targets due to the increased fear of being accused of greenwashing.  Consumers are demanding the information and transparency around what they’re buying and simply want to have trust in the brands they buy from.

Moving the needle

One thing is clear across the industry and that is the need for collaboration, common goals and a community approach to moving the needle on the bigger sustainability issues. Communication between brands, industries and consumers is going to be critical in making progressive steps and rebuilding trust in the sustainability messages being shared with the world.