Overconsumption and the quest for a more sustainable future: 6 takes from day two at Davos

January 23, 2020 James Hayward

We’re living through a time where many of us can get access to anything we need or want at a click of a button. Information, transportation, entertainment, clothing, or the next must-have gadget, are all at our fingertips. 

But does this convenience come at a cost? Are we aware of what’s happening in the supply chains behind our screens? And do we really know what’s enabling our consumption?

Our panels on Wednesday in the Tradeshift CNBC Sanctuary at Davos set about to answer these questions and to debate what’s needed to create a more sustainable future in a world fueled by excessive consumption.

First up, television newsreader, Emma Crosby was joined by Christine Leong, Managing Director, Global Lead, Decentralized Identity & Biometrics, Accenture; Dominic McVey, Serial entrepreneur and non-executive director, Hela Clothing; Morten Lehmann, Chief Sustainability Officer, Global Fashion Agenda; and Sarika Garg, Investor and Advisory Board Member at Tradeshift, to debate the hidden cost of fast fashion. They discussed the negative impacts of fast fashion on the environment and the people that work in the industry. And asked how consumers, policymakers, and corporations can work to create a more sustainable ecosystem of affordable clothing.

Our second session of the day asked: what’s the price we pay for the convenience technology has brought to our lives? Pulitzer-Prize-winning journalist, Thomas Friedman hosted the session featuring: Bill Gross, Founder and Chairman, Idealab; Christian Lanng, Co-founder and CEO, Tradeshift; Charlie Muirhead, Founder & CEO of CognitionX & CogX Festival; and Stephan Nicoleau, Managing Director, FullCycle.

Here are some hot takes from the day:

Who’s willing to pay the price for sustainable fashion?

Fashion is one of the world’s most resource-intensive industries. It’s also one of the biggest polluters and contributors to landfill sites. Given these facts, few would argue that the industry must take steps to become more sustainable. And while most in the industry will say they’re doing all they can to be more sustainable, this is far from the truth, according to Morten Lehmann, Chief Sustainability Officer at the Global Fashion Agenda. "About 60% of the industry is super engaged, and 40% of the industry is doing next to nothing,” he says. “These numbers must shift for real change to happen.” Consumers must also get more engaged and put pressure on these companies, he says. And that’s just not happening right now. "In a global survey we conducted, 7% of consumers said they wanted to pay more [for sustainable fashion], but I think it's less," he says. 

Getting serious about transparency

As those of us in the developed world buy our clothing we very rarely think about where it comes from. “Have I thought about where my money is going and what it's going to lead to?” says Sarika Garg, Investor and Advisory Board Member at Tradeshift. “The reality is, people don't think about these questions.” But even if we did it would be difficult for us to get answers. That’s because only 6% of the world’s supply chain is traceable, explains Garg, and the fashion industry is particularly opaque. So if we’re to move towards a more sustainable future, consumers need to pay more attention to where their clothing is coming from. Brands need to illuminate what’s happening in their supply chains to drive out poor practices. And celebrities and influencers can take a stand on over-consumption by being seen wearing the same outfit more than once.

Fashion as a force for good

Dominic McVey has witnessed the dark underbelly of the fashion industry first hand while running sustainable fashion brand, Hela Clothing. "The stories and challenges you hear about in the fashion industry are unacceptable, and people knew about it,” he says. Yet, he is an optimist, believing the industry can change. And, in doing so, it has tremendous potential to transform the lives of millions. "If we continue to have poverty in the developing world, then there will continue to be a huge financial cost to sustainable goods. So we need to make changes that make sustainability affordable. And if we do that we shouldn’t be faced with these challenges.”

Counting the hidden cost of technology

The technology we use comes at a hidden cost. While we’re enjoying all the convenience technology has to offer, our environment is suffering as its carbon footprint causes untold damage. “Just look at Amazon,” says Stephan Nicoleau, Managing Director at FullCycle. “It provides us with tremendous convenience, but its carbon footprint is enormous and expanding daily. The same can be said for nearly every other mainstream technology brand. Something needs to change. Both consumers and corporations have to think about what they are actually contributing to.” 

There’s no slowing our technology consumption

Even if consumers start asking hard questions, will they ever be willing to sacrifice the convenience that technology provides for the sake of sustainability? Bill Gross, Founder and Chairman at Idealab, is doubtful. “Every one of us is emitting our body weight in CO2 every day, but we don't see it,” he says. “So how do we get people to change when the problem isn't visible? We can’t. So I don’t believe people will reduce their consumption habits.”

Trust and transparency

Christian Lanng, Co-founder and CEO at Tradeshift agrees with Gross. He thinks there is little chance of consumers curtailing their technology consumption now. “It’s too late for that,” he says. But for him, it’s about trust, not transparency. “ Everyone is talking about transparency. But I think we are asking for transparency because we don't have trust,” he says. In his view, technology companies need to think harder about the technology they’re creating, why they’re creating it, and the outcomes it will have. 

Don’t miss the final day of debate 

We’re rounding off our week at Davos with two unmissable panels in the Tradeshift CNBC Sanctuary where we’ll be exploring the future of our food supply and taking a deep dive into the exciting innovation happening across the African continent. 

Visit our Davos microsite to learn more about our panel program and everything else we’ve got planned this week. And subscribe to our blog to be the first to get highlights and reaction from Davos.

About the Author

James Hayward

James is a Senior Content Marketing Manager at Tradeshift, focused on crafting compelling stories that provide supply chain professionals with unique insights and actionable advice on how to take their organization to the next level. A journalist by trade, James was previously the Global Editor at Treasury Today magazine.

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