BLE takes place in person (Nov. 17-19, ExCeL London and online Nov. 30-Dec. 10). We caught up with Jade Snart, senior sustainability and compliance expert, to find out more about George at Asda’s participation in the BLE Sustainability Activation in partnership with Products of Change.
Six months ago, you spoke about introducing 3D fittings and design, which meant you could eliminate samples prior to the gold seal stage and setting 3D tech KPIs throughout the business. What progress has been made since then?
It’s all well and truly under way and we’re currently working through our objectives for next year. I’m proud to say that 25% of our suppliers are now using 3D technology – of those, 60% of them are in the learning stage and 40% are using the tech for delivery.
The last time we spoke, we were on the cusp of launching a fully digital (end-to-end) range. The technology allowed us to use lifelike digital avatars through the whole design process, which means we only saw samples at gold seal stage.
It’s now become a bit of a case study for us, and we’ve since calculated that the number of samples we would have used for a product would have melted the equivalent size of half a laptop worth of Arctic ice. For George, if all samples were delivered in this way, we could potentially save a terraced house size piece of ice each year, which is a significant contribution.
At George, we recognize the need to constantly innovate, but appreciate it’s going to be a long journey that will require investment from us and our suppliers, so to get to 25% so quickly is a strong start.
You also talked about 70% of your supplier base engaging with the Higg Index Platform – has that increased and how are you going about encouraging/enforcing that engagement?
It has, yes, it’s now up to 83% of the supplier base and over 75% of these are fully engaged. We’ve just entered our first year of auditing, which means we can start to map out what that means and working with suppliers on where we need to go next in terms of, for example, water and energy use.
As well as converting existing suppliers to engage with the platform, any new suppliers who come on board with George are required to register with the Higg Index. We’re currently working through what our criteria is now so that we can match strategy and sustainability goals.
We have very open conversations with all our suppliers including brand partners about sustainability and how can we align together, and they are all expected to comply to our strategy (of which Higg Index Platform is a part).
We also touched on blockchain technology and how you’re hoping to adopt full transparency across the entire supply chain – have you managed to make advances there?
We are currently transitioning with our new owners, and this includes our tech capabilities, so we have a huge transformation to undergo tech-wise, but we’re not quite ready yet.
Having said that, when it comes to transparency, we are engaging with several different organizations including Brands Conscious – to test our ranges and see our progression.
We are also engaging with other partners to help us map out the process end to end. But our ultimate goal is to have our own systems in place to achieve full transparency across our supply chain.
What about consumer behavior – are you seeing any significant shifts there? How’s the Preloved partnership going?
Sustainability is a complex issue. Drapers released an article recently highlighting what consumers want when it comes to sustainability and what it means to them. And often it’s as simple as expecting a retailer to use organic cotton or recycled fabrics. But there’s so much more to it than that – we look at fabric, yes, but the entire end-to-end production; water, dyes, energy use, samplings, manufacturing, shipping and much, much more – so there’s a huge educational undertaking to be had.
My opinion has always been, as long as you’re not charging more and the products look, fit and feel good, make everything sustainable to give greater reassurance to the customer.
Sustainability is also about much more than the manufacturing process. It’s also about reducing volume to landfill. We launched our Preloved offering to introduce customers to the idea of wearing second hand at the back end of 2020 and that’s now been rolled out across 50 of our stores. Our ambition is for this to be rolled out further too.
We really want to engage and educate consumers to think differently and so all our clothes now feature the “Wear me, care for me, share me” logo, which we are using to foster a new hand-me-down mentality, which was the norm just 40 or 50 years ago.
I truly believe we are doing a good job sourcing wise, but if consumers are going to buy and discard our products, then I don’t believe we’re doing our job properly. We must encourage them to think about longevity.
You’re taking part in the Sustainability Activation at Brand Licensing Europe next month, what can visitors expect to see from George at Asda?
We’ll be showcasing our latest Hasbro and Peppa Pig campaign, which will launch end of October and we will have our 100% responsibly sourced school uniforms on display – building sustainability into school wear was a huge deal for us. We’ll be bringing some of the 3D technology that we’ve been using so people can see for themselves how it works, and how brilliantly lifelike the digital avatars are.
Over 80% of our shopfloor is now responsibly sourced so we are quietly pleased with the progress we’ve made to date.
What’s the one message you’d like them to leave with?
My message is always the same – don’t try to do everything all at once or you’ll end up doing nothing. The important thing is you start changing, however small, and make sure you are comfortable and confident with what you are saying. But still do what you’re doing. Taking action is so important.
We’re a small team here, so it’s essential to bring everyone else on the journey with you – we have that shared mindset at George when it comes to the environment and our leadership is very much behind our sustainability agenda.