For years, American designer Heron Preston has sought to operate as an enduring brand, whether he’s producing a workwear-inspired collaboration with New York City’s Sanitation Department, whether he’s hand-printing his t- graphic shirts or that he introduces materials like recycled nylon and pineapple “leather” into his collections.
This philosophy also applies to Preston’s events and marketing. The brand has moved away from traditional fashion shows in recent seasons in favor of experimenting with different formats. And for the past two years, its in-house production team has used a tool called inFocus to measure and reduce its overall carbon footprint.
Heron Preston is one of a handful of companies, including Alexander McQueen, North Six and Rosco Production, to test inFocus ahead of its official launch this month, working closely with the app’s founders, the Emelie Akerbrant sisters. and Melinda Akerbrant Gray, to help develop its functionality and user experience.
The tool is intended to help identify and reduce environmental issues for production teams who are responsible for glossy magazine covers, news stories, advertising campaigns and fashion shows. It provides quick and granular emissions estimates based on specific project plans, suggests alternatives to reduce the impact of an event, and post-production provides a final assessment that can be used to plan offsets and guide future efforts to further reduce the impact. The goal was to create a tool that could be used by teams working on multiple complex projects and tight deadlines.
“We started to realize that what people were focusing on when they thought they were making more sustainable productions had such a minimal impact [on] the global shoot,” said Emelie Akerbrant, a fashion communications veteran who, before founding her eponymous company Akerbrant Ltd. with his sister, managed sustainability projects at Kering. “At the end of the day, it’s nice that you don’t have plastic bottles, but the environmental impact of reducing or eliminating plastic bottles is miniscule as far as production goes.”
High Impact Opportunity
While the worst of industry pollution takes place during manufacturing, production and other events can be a particularly publicized symbol of excess and waste.
I think in our work, the awareness we create is as important as the carbon we save.
A standard campaign shoot can produce up to 200 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent, according to an inFocus estimate based on data from national government bodies, such as the UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in the United States. (In contrast, the global fashion industry produced 2.1 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent in 2019, according to a 2020 report from McKinsey and Global Fashion Agenda.)
At the same time, fashion’s high-octane marketing moments are an opportunity to promote a better way to operate. InFocus is the latest tool aimed at responding to a growing appetite to tackle the problem.
“In the fashion world, which is so visible, we probably have a big influence [over other] industries that run much bigger carbon spend events,” said Alexandre de Betak, founder of production agency Bureau Betak, known for curating some of the biggest shows in the fashion industry. “I think in our work, the awareness we create is as important as the carbon we save.”
Bureau Betak operates within a strict framework to ensure more sustainable productions and is in the process of obtaining B-Corp status. Elsewhere, Copenhagen Fashion Week halved carbon emissions from its operations between August 2019 and August 2020, and set environmental requirements for all brands to track by January 2023. Meanwhile, the French Federation de la Haute Couture et de la Mode (FHCM), the organizing body of Paris Fashion Week, announced the launch of a tool called Ecodesign with consultancy PwC in June, which allows brands to measure the social and environmental impact of their collections and fashion shows.
But challenges remain. Productions still often use elaborate sets meant to be used once and thrown away. And the industry’s penchant for flashy, far-off locations and global talent to stage its marketing moments means numerous flights and road trips are needed to bring in models, photographers, stylists and equipment. at the same location. Once there, everyone must be fed and housed. It’s a similar story for international fashion show guests. Tight time constraints, complicated logistics, and the coordinated management of multiple teams and freelancers make realizing the impact of an event even more complicated.
The creative industry has often turned to carbon offsets to manage the impact of events, paying fees to plant trees or similar initiatives intended to suck up an equivalent amount of carbon created by an event. It’s a widespread approach that has drawn criticism for diverting attention from reducing emissions in the first place.
Offsets are often seen as a way “to ensure that the creation [aspect] does not suffer,” said Daniel Worthington, owner and director of Rosco Production, which counts Zara, Bottega Veneta and Netflix among its clients. But offsetting can also be costly, prompting production companies to better understand their impact and find ways to reduce it. Rosco Production tested inFocus to get a clearer picture of its carbon footprint, a breakdown of where it can improve, and how much it should offset for the remaining emissions associated with its shoots.
While Rosco Production generally absorbs the costs associated with better operations, such as biodegradable materials instead of single-use plastics, other more fundamental changes like reducing travel might make long-term business sense. The process of collecting carbon footprint data “really educates you and then forces you to start asking yourself questions: Is there a better way?” he said.
It really educates you and then forces you to start asking yourself questions: is there a better way?
But industry-specific tools like inFocus and FHCM’s ecodesign require accurate data — a challenge that hampers much of fashion’s green efforts. Delivering precision at scale, to reflect the global nature of fashion image making, requires detailed and contextual data from a range of sources to gain a deep understanding of, for example, the mix of renewable and fossil sources in a country’s energy network.
“If you do the exact same shoot [in] In New York…as in London, your impact will be different,” said Emelie Akerbrant. She said inFocus was facing calls from clients to expand its carbon footprint methodology to include markets beyond the UK and fashion shows and events, not just photo and video shoots. It’s a process that took several months back to the drawing board to apply the same methodologies to new regions and new types of equipment. The company now cites power source data from Italy, the UK, France and the US.
A new model
The growing appetite to produce events with less environmental impact has prompted some creative agencies to rethink their entire business model and global footprint, particularly in the wake of international travel disruptions caused by Covid-19.
“It actually encouraged us to think about local offices rather than [sending] people at production locations,” said Oliver Hicks, founder and president of global production company North Six, which has used inFocus to collect field data and inform clients such as Puma, Gap Inc. and The Group. of Coty cosmetics of their environmental footprint. from creative projects.
For Betak, the industry must be more radical and take more risks. This can mean loosening the reins of creative control in favor of pared-back sets. For example, last September he ran Tory Burch’s New York Fashion Week show as a block party, turning Mercer Street into an open-air catwalk that only required staging or set design. minimum.
“The only 100% sustainable way to do an event is to not do it,” de Betak said. In fashion, “lightness is never easy… and involves a lot of risks…[but] most of the others [industries] would laugh at us if they understood what we call risk.
Disclosure: Bureau Betak produced several events for The business of fashionincluding its BoF 500 and VOICES rallies.
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