More and more clothing brands are taking it upon themselves to dive deeper into the impacts of their garments, increasing transparency around and improving their materials, processes and operations as a whole.
Now, Houdini, a Swedish independent outdoor clothing brand, has launched the textile sector’s first-ever Planetary Boundaries Assessment report. The report is based on research that illustrates the safe operating space and boundaries of the planet’s limitations. Houdini has used this framework to understand the impact of the company’s operations and prioritize policies to continue its mission towards ‘impact positive’ status.
“It’s Houdini’s mission to not just limit our negative impact on the planet, but to have a long-term positive influence,” said Houdini CEO Eva Karlsson. “The Planetary Boundaries Assessment is a key foundation for that ambition.”
The Planetary Boundaries report has assessed the impact of Houdini’s fiber use – from understanding, for example, how the wool produced from sheep farming and grazing affect biological diversity in local ecosystems, to its impact on climate change on the global scale. Houdini plans to repeat and expand the project every three years. By doing this, Houdini hopes to benchmark its progress by continuing to gain access and insight from its suppliers and customers across the globe.
Understanding the planetary ‘butterfly effect’ of business
“We aim to know the ‘butterfly effect’ of everything we do, both positive and negative, so we can build a new model of production, innovation, sales, customer experience and resource management that inspires the rest of the industry to follow suit,” said Jesper Danielsson, head of design at Houdini.
Houdini’s Planetary Boundaries Assessment was conducted in collaboration with Swedish sustainability communications consultancy Albaeco and is the first of its kind. Albaeco has been working as strategists in sustainable development for 20 years and has close links with the Stockholm Resilience Centre and the latest research in the field.
“This has never been done before, and it has been an exciting learning journey for both us and Houdini. At Albaeco, we have a deep insight into the research on Planetary Boundaries, but the research results do not hold all the answers on how to translate the framework into practice in this way. Houdini’s willingness to explore new avenues, and valuable dialogues with various researchers has been important for carrying out the study,” said Fredrik Moberg, CEO of Albaeco.
For someone used to reading sustainability reporting, the Planetary Boundaries Assessment is somewhat unconventional in that it takes many more aspects of impact into account.
“The Planetary Boundaries framework lets us look at responsible business from a systems-thinking perspective. It doesn’t simplify or pose easy questions; it challenges us to learn and find out where our blind spots are. We always embrace that kind of complexity and think it’s absolutely necessary to succeed in shaping a responsible business,” Karlsson said.
“It’s not just about materials or design: We want to know how we can reduce the impact of our clothing post-sale, too,” Danielsson added. “Can we influence more people to rent clothing? Can we build our existing reuse and recycling systems more efficiently? And how can we inspire people to seek out biodegradable materials and reject the most harmful substances used in fashion? These are all questions this and coming Planetary Boundaries Assessments will not only raise but help us to prioritise and answer.”
The assessment provides a visual ranking system across the nine key areas of planetary impact – climate change, novel entities, stratospheric ozone depletion, atmospheric aerosol loading, ocean acidification, biogeochemical flows, freshwater use, land-system change and biosphere integrity. A single-minded focus on only one of the boundaries can generate unwanted effects in others, hence Houdini’s holistic approach.
Sustainability: An 'underwhelming ambition'
This isn’t the brand’s first time challenging the traditional approach to assessing the sustainability of clothing: In 2017, Houdini released a short film, “The Houdini Menu,” in which it put the purity of its garments to the test — by eating them.
“We find ‘sustainability’ not only a boring phrase, but an underwhelming ambition,” Karlsson added. “To be sustainable should be seen as the bare minimum for an organisation’s social and environmental impact.
“Imagine a world where businesses set out to have a positive impact on the planet, and customers demanded it. That’s not just our dream, it’s our mission; and if the Planetary Boundaries Assessment does just one thing, our wish is that it gives hope to our industry and beyond that we can all contribute to overcoming some of the planet’s biggest challenges through practical and realistic changes.”
The Houdini Planetary Boundaries Assessment is available to everyone at http://houdinisportswear.com/planetary — and the brand hopes other businesses will take inspiration from the recommendations and undertake their own assessments. Houdini has offered to provide counsel for any business looking to undertake its own project.