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Eileen Fisher Isn’t Half-Assing Sustainability

Eileen Fisher Isn't Half-Assing Sustainability

Eileen Fisher is the real deal when it comes to sustainability.

Back in 2011, when I was a wee lass who had just been accepted to business school, I attended a panel discussion titled “Sales with an Impact: The CSR Advantage in Consumer-Facing Businesses” at Boston’s Simmons College. It was a fascinating event: One that left an aspiring, mission-focused marketing consultant wide-eyed and bushy-tailed at the thought of a concentration in business ethics and sustainability. There was one panel member, however, who – even several years later – I recall as being remarkably not full of shit. That was Amy Hall, Eileen Fisher’s Director of Social Consciousness.

It’s a testament to Hall’s character that’s particularly crucial on the heels of Eileen Fisher’s Vision2020 announcement: The declaration that, by 2020, to go from being on 66 percent sustainable, according to the initiative’s website, to 100 percent. By then, the company has declared, “if the linen is conventionally grown we won’t use it.” It’s so much more than linen, though. “Sustainability” is a far-reaching term that certainly includes, but also extends beyond ecological sustainability. It’s about labor issues, toxic treatments, and recycling, among other imperative parts of the supply chain. In the company’s words, there will be “no excuses.” But, as I said back in 2011, “no bullshit.”

Last Monday, Hall, joined by three of her colleagues (Liz Wisler, Eilieen Fisher’s VP of Manufacturing and Product Development, Candice Reffe, Co-Creative Officer, and Inka Apter, Facilitating Manager, Fabric Development) at New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) for a panel discussion on the company’s Sustainable Business Vision. Perhaps the largest takeaway, as first made evident by the multi-departmental composition of the panel, was, in fact, the company’s extensive and momentous definition of sustainability.

“Eileen Fisher is not siloing sustainability in a CSR department,” says Sass Brown, FIT’s Acting Associate Dean School of Art and Design. “It’s a conversation across the entirety of the company, the entirety of the supply chain.”

On Vision2020’s website, Eileen Fisher lists six fundamental categories that will fall under its broad sustainability initiative: Fibers, color, resources, people, mapping, and reuse. Fabric wastage? Outta there. Toxic dyes? See ya. And anything less than fair pay for global workers? Forget about it.

“They are talking about human rights,” continues Brown, “as well as environmental justice.”

Back to the idea of no BS, though. I hardly believe I was the only one who raised a skeptical eyebrow under the Color category when I read, “By 2020, roughly 30% of our product will be bluesign® certified,” meaning that it meets the standards of this third-party system of rating of water and chemical utilization.  That was, however, until I read the next sentence: “But frankly that’s not good enough.”

That sentiment reflects what was another key impression left by the FIT panel: The transparency of Eileen Fisher and its people. “They were quite honest that they don’t have all the answers,” says Brown, “and they don’t know exactly how they’re going to change, in some respects.”

The brand is the first to admit the freakishly ambitious nature of Vision2020. After all, I’ve been trying to give up carbs for five years, not change an entire corporate ecosystem, and I still haven’t been able to commit. While not an entirely fair comparison, Eileen Fisher does have its work cut out:  Four years, 6 months, and 17 days remain before January 1, 2020.

I have faith, however, and there are two reasons for my confidence: The first: Eileen Fisher’s role as something of a pioneer in the space of social consciousness. After all, prior to meeting Amy Hall at Simmons in 2011, the words “social consciousness” hadn’t even appeared in any job title I came across. Second, while its aspirations may be bold, they’re also precise; Eileen Fisher has broken down and analyzed vital details of what, exactly, the company is setting out to achieve within the realm of Vision2020. Rather than “going green” or “reducing waste,” the company has done its math and spelled out exactly what those commitments will look like. And if Eileen Fisher falls short? They’ll be the first ones to admit it.

Let the pervasive sustainability countdown begin.

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Image: Eileen Fisher on Facebook

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