Zalando Increases Transparency And Shares First Insights From Sustainability Brand Assessment

With the launch of its sustainability strategy, do.MORE, in October 2019, Zalando committed to continuously increasing its ethical standards, and by 2023 to only work with partners who align with them. Together with this, Zalando has made sustainability assessments mandatory for all brands selling on the platform. In the initial assessment round targeting the first cluster of brands, Zalando received sustainability information from over 250 brands via the Higg BRM. Partners reported on their activities for 2019. Results show that brands are performing better in the social and human rights sections than in the environmental sections. 

On the basis of the Higg BRM from the Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC) and Higg Co, Zalando has started assessing its over 3,000 brand partners and private labels, and aims to scale a global standard for measuring sustainability. The Higg BRM is a tool that provides brands and retailers with a comprehensive way to assess their performance around social and environmental parameters, such as human rights, fair wages or carbon emissions. For the first time and together with SAC and Higg Co, Zalando has gathered comparable sustainability data and insights from its partner brands to understand where the challenges of the industry are both individually and collectively.

Zalando recognizes its part to play as both platform and brand, and therefore has also completed the assessment at the group level. Overall, Zalando scores are on par with industry average in both the social and environmental sections. As part of the next steps, Zalando is currently participating in a verification pilot with the SAC to further strengthen the accuracy and credibility of the self-assessment data. The learnings from this pilot will be used to inform next steps in scaling the verification approach to the BRM.

The data received by SAC, Higg Co and Zalando from partners showed that brands have collected more points in the social and human rights sections, specifically focusing on issues including wages, health and safety, and working hours. Regarding environmental challenges, the data shows that while some brands focus on greenhouse gas emissions, not all brands select this as a focus area. “For the first time we have comparable sustainability data at brand level which gives us the opportunity to jointly develop standards that move us forward as an industry. Through the first results we can see a big difference in perceived risks by brands. We have learned that we need to align on highlighting the importance of topics like greenhouse gas emissions to drive the most impactful change together,” says Kate Heiny, Director Sustainability at Zalando. The platform has set science-based targets (SBTs) which look specifically at carbon emissions. As part of these targets, Zalando will be working with a large portion of partners to implement science-based targets in the coming years.

Through the data received this year, Zalando also sees the need for additional focus to be placed on tier transparency, which involves delving more deeply into the various manufacturing stages throughout the supply chain. To address this, Zalando has published all of its tier 1 private label suppliers via its own channels, as well as on the Open Apparel Registry (OAR). The OAR is an open source tool that maps garment facilities worldwide and allocates a unique ID to each facility. Zalando is committed to increasing transparency and disclosing deeper levels of its supply chain on an ongoing basis. When it comes to the brand partners directly, Zalando has defined minimum requirements that focus on the building blocks necessary to start with sustainability topics in a business. One of these key areas of focus is the expectation of brand partners having full visibility of tier 1 manufacturers. 

Long-term, Higg BRM data will help Zalando to identify trends across the industry and explore how to develop solutions to drive meaningful and lasting end-to-end supply chain improvement in collaboration with its partner brands. Ultimately, Zalando wants to share the information with its customers and enable them to make more sustainable choices. “Our customers are increasingly asking for more information about the products they buy, and how those products were made. In order to provide our customers with the clearest information to understand a brand’s behavior when it comes to sustainability, the data first needs to be comparable and also verified. With the first data collected and a verification pilot kicked-off, we’re taking the right steps and will continue this throughout the next years,” says Kate Heiny, Director Sustainability at Zalando. In early 2021, together with the SAC and Higg Co, Zalando will launch the next round of its brand assessment and continue to offer dedicated support to its partners in filling in the BRM tool and reaching joint standards.

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