Discuss about the Victoria’s Secret Ethical Report.
Victoria’s Secret is renowned for its sexy, powerful and dazzling assortment of intimate apparel. In the recent times, however, it has received a brand-damaging slander regarding their ethical behavior. Greenpeace (2012) for instance labels them as “toxic villains,” while Forest Ethics launched an entire campaign called “Victoria’s Dirty Secret” (Cervellon 2012). Both not-for-profit organizations have also negatively targeted the brand to expose their company’s disregard for the environment. By doing so, they reveal to the world the harmful and destructive impacts Victoria Secret products and company operations have on the environment, which causes customers to change their behavior regarding the brand and boycott their products (Cervellon 2012). The attacks are also a type of “shock tactic” to force this lingerie business to re-evaluate their reckless environmental conduct and finally motivate them to make changes and become more eco-friendly.
Until recently when Victoria’s Secret products became available to purchase online, they have always been open through their catalog. With their paper catalog, they can reach more than 390 million customers annually (Limited Brands 2013). However, is heavily scrutinized by some organizations including Forest Ethics due to their negligence to the forest environment such as Canada’s endangered Boreal Forest (Alter 2006). According to Weiner (2009), Catalogues encourage consumers to read and shop through them. This method of shopping, on the other hand, is dying due to the ease and accessibility of Internet shopping. This questions why Victoria’s Secret does not abolish this method and concentrate on its website. Indeed, sales from this shopping avenue will cease, but it will force people to visit a physical store or shop online if they desire their products. Ultimately, this will possibly not only save the company a vast amount of money on printing, paper, and postage but also reduce the energy consumption used to print.
Although it must be noted that Victoria Secret has indeed made ethical changes that improve their sustainability policies, the company has stopped sourcing their paper from their Canadian paper supplier, West Fraser Timber. Instead, they now only print on green-certified paper from the Forest Stewardship Council. Furthermore, Limited Brands, owners of Victoria’s secret, have established a different connection with their primary paper supplier to assist in removing all pulp provided from the Boreal Forest. Additionally, they have donated one million dollars to appropriate charities to help in research and advocacy to protect endangered forests (Alter 2006). It needs to be recognized that Victoria’s Secret is undoubtedly making changes that benefit our environment. However, there is still more room for improvement. Stopping their catalog system would, for instance, have a more substantial impact on the environment in almost all stages of their life cycle.
Victoria’s Secret is scolded for their use of hazardous chemicals in their supply chain/product production. Greenpeace (2012) for instance released a report called Toxic Threads; The Big Fashion Stitch-Up that divulged information regarding the chemical present in some of their products. It explained that 50% of their tested products contained nonylphenol ethoxylates (NPEs), which can disrupt human hormones, and 25% had very high concentrations of phthalates, which can cause serious health problems for humans and animals (Greenpeace 2012). Since the publication of this report, Victoria’s Secret has used high quantities of pre-fluorinated chemicals, which have strong correlations with many diseases (Steenland 2010, p. 1102).
Only two months after the report was released, Limited Brands became ambitious to making changes in their chemical use. They became the 14th global organizations to pledge to Greenpeace’s ‘Detox Commitment’ (Gray-Block 2013). This Greenpeace campaign requires participants commit to a zero discharge of hazardous chemicals by 2020 and to become fully transparent. Thus, Limited Brands, which prints the lingerie label, released a statement that outlined its short and long-term plan to detoxify its production chain (Lingerie Talk 2013) and “support a healthier plant” (Limited Brands 2013).
The product that has been selected for this product cycle poster report is Victoria’s Secret bra from their Cotton range. Its life cycle will be investigated regarding its material extraction, manufacture, packaging and transport, use and last end of life. The waste, water and energy consumption of this particular bra will be analyzed and discussed with recommendations to reduce. Additionally, this report will consider other intimate apparel labels and how they combat sustainability issues and how Victoria’s Secret could follow their lead, which could assist them in not only becoming greener but could also be the forerunner in the fashion world in regards to sustainability. This will be a leading example for other brands to follow and ultimately to clean up our world environmental problems.
Resource extraction refers to the procurement of materials used to make a product. In this report, Victoria’s Secret bra has been selected for exploration. This bra is a part of the company’s cotton lingerie range (Victoria’s Secret 2013) and is made up of cotton blended with spandex and is sewn together using polyester thread. Cotton alone is a viral material for intimate apparel but does indeed pose an environmental challenge. It requires a great deal of water, and a significant number of pesticides is used to produce it (Bjorn Borg 2013, p. 135). Due to these chemicals, considerable damage including water pollution, soil erosion and the emission of greenhouse gas (Achabou & Dekhili 2012, p. 1896) is felt in the environment. About the company’s fabric, Organic Cotton is a viable option in that it is much more environmentally friendly. It is “cotton that is farmed without the use of synthetic chemicals” (Rieple & Singh 2012, p. 2294) and involves fairer trading with farmers such as better pay and working conditions.
Victoria’s Secret has used organic cotton since 2007 through farms in West Africa, and they announced that their new organic cotton supplier from Burkina Faso would benefit the women, be pesticide free and 100% rain-fed cotton (Krupnick 2011). However, in recent times, the organic cotton farms they have partnered with have been exposed to the use of child labor. Victoria’s Secret yet claims that they were not aware of this child labor issue until now and that it is at the foot of the Fair-trade International who had certified the farm (Krupnick 2011). Victoria’s Secret ensures to follow up on the matter. If cotton products have been constructed with the involvement of child labor, then the selected bra for this report would be built under the illegal cotton trading, which is just not acceptable within society anymore.
Spandex is also another element of the bra. According to the Lingerie Addict (2011), spandex causes a garment to live longer and wear better, thus preventing it from becoming waste. By utilizing spandex within their material, its components help to ensure the bra’s longevity thus presumably not adding to the world’s textile waste problem.
Similar to spandex, the use of polyester thread on the bra also ensures extreme durability, particularly compared to the cotton thread (Urbanearthwear 2013). Although it is synthetic and intensive in its energy consumption and the longevity, its contents make it less energy exhaustive if there is ongoing use. It also promotes longer life and prevents the bra from becoming waste.
The materials used to construct this Victoria’s Secret bra unavoidably have detrimental harm to the environment. However, it must be noted that Victoria’s Secret make an effort to ensure the materials used have a lesser impact than such materials as conventional cotton. Polyester thread and spandex are not the most environmentally friendly materials. However, they do allow durability and longevity, thus, in the long run, cause less harm to the environment as there are lower chances of it ending up in landfill quicker than bras not constructed of these materials. During this lifecycle stage, it can be assumed that the bra does not cause a great deal of harm to the environment compared to other steps.
Victoria’s Secret in the past has been vilified for their environmentally irresponsible practices of manufacturing garments that contain incredibly hazardous chemicals. Consequently, the bra indeed has many impacts on the environment. The selected cotton spandex bra would require such processed interventions as cotton dyeing. Textile dying uses considerable amounts of water, as much as 200 tonnes of water for every tonne of textiles produced (Greenpeace 2012). Furthermore, a large quantity of chemicals is used to provide such items as cotton bras, which can contain harmful fumes for manufacturing workers and are dangerous for the consumer when wearing the product.
Victoria’s Secret is currently committed to reducing and ultimately eliminating all hazardous chemicals in their supply and production chain. Although it is a slow process and these chemicals are still found in their products, it is a tremendous step towards reducing their adverse impacts on the environment. Additionally, all textile manufacturing ensures significant amount of excess fabric that in most cases ends up in a landfill. Victoria’s Secret does explain on their parent website that they recycled 54 tonnes of textiles in the year 2012 and worked along with their suppliers to encourage recycling of excess fabric and defected products. Therefore, the production of the chosen bra is a part of a recycling program where the excess material from its construction was hopefully recycled instead of contributing to the global textile waste problem.
Presumably, the selected bra utilizes dying to obtain the pink coloration. Dying according to Green Choices (2013) uses vast amounts of energy, water and causes pollutions, therefore the manufacturing stage of the bra can be estimated as the second most environmentally harmful lifecycle phase.
Victoria’s Secret (Limited Brands 2013) understands that the movement of freight uses fossil fuels. They, therefore, opt for ocean vessels to transport their merchandise overseas, as it is the most fuel-efficient means of transportation and minimize air transportation as much as possible. Furthermore, Limited Brands have tailored their stacking technique, which enhances the amount of space in cargos and reduces the number of trucks to deliver merchandise (Limited Brands 2013).
Transportation is necessary for all fashion retailers by acting as the method of transferring the products to the customer. However, the bra product is a part of a highly efficient and organized transportation system. Indeed, the harm is still being subjected to the environment, but Victoria’s Secret has implemented strategies to their transporting system that reduces the impacts to the environment. Therefore it can be assumed that in regards to damage caused by transportation; the bra does not impact the environment significantly. The item is lightweight and small and does not take up a lot of space in cargos and truck; therefore many of the one product can be transported at a time causing less impact than other larger fashionable items.
In regards to packaging, Victoria’s Secret in recent times has made reducing waste a priority. They continually try to create ways to reduce packaging materials such as encouraging multiple sales of items online using 100% recyclable packaging for items bought online (Limited Brands 2013).
The selected bra was purchased in-store with other products. They were folded tightly together and placed in a rather small bag. Perhaps the use of smaller bags suggests that Victoria’s Secret adopts the idea of having smaller product bags to take home due to most of the products being small. Again it can be noted that the packaging component of the bra does not cause too much danger to the environment. Victoria’s Secret utilize environmentally friendly packaging, and the bra is a small product hence requiring a small amount of packaging. However, the bags and plastic do still end up in landfill assisting with the global waste problems.
Fashion garments like intimate apparels are worn every day. Thus, they are more likely to become dirty compared to other attire like jumpers or jeans. They require more washing for this reason. However, it also can be noted that they have direct contact with skin and sweat. Consequently, clothing articles such as bras and undies require very frequent washing.
A few years ago, underwear company Bjorn Borg conducted a lifecycle analysis on underwear. Their investigation found that the most significant environmental impact from underwear was from washing by the consumer (Bjorn Borg 2013, p. 136). This suggests that the chosen bra for this report would also have similar negative impacts. These impacts include the constant use of water, energy from the washing machine and even hazardous detergents. Bjorn Borg, as a result, has provided their garments with clear washing instructions for the consumers that make suggestions to their washing machines, lower the temperature to ensure longevity, use less detergent and hang clothes to dry instead of using a drying machine. Victoria’s Secret currently does not reach out to their customers in this way. They should continue the relationship with their customers at home by educating them on how to reduce more harm at home.
Chesty Bonds (Conversation 2013) also conducted a life cycle analysis study that showed up to 80% of their garments total energy consumption occurred during the use phase. Furthermore, Levi Strauss revealed that nearly 60% of their negative environmental impact comes from customer washing due the use stage (Conversationalist 2013).
Furthermore, as previously explained, Greenpeace (2012) found in their Toxic Threads reports that 50% of the garments sampled for their study contained hazardous chemicals. Some of these present chemicals not only cause cancer but also disrupt hormones (Greenpeace 2012). Through use, customers are being exposed to these chemicals on their skin, and they are also being released through the washing of the garment and thus ending up in our waterways affecting aquatic life. The bra could contain these chemicals and consumers are blind sighted to it. It is imperative that Victoria’s Secrets persist with their detoxifying commitment to eradicate all hazardous chemicals by 2020 as per the Greenpeace Detox campaign.
It is evident through such studies completed by Bjorn Borg and Levi Strauss that this stage of the product’s lifecycle causes the most harm to the environment. Intimate apparel is worn daily and has direct contact with skin and genitals hence it requires a lot of washing. Washing machines consume a lot of water and energy, and humans use detergents that are unfriendly to the environment. Furthermore, in particular to Victoria’s Secret, chemicals used the dying process (that cause hormone disruption and cancer) remain in the fibers and when the garment is washed to can contaminate the water, which causes harm to water species.
This stage also impacts the next step - end of life. As the bra requires many washes throughout its life cycle it wears, fades, loses durability and ultimately draws closer to its the end of life adding to the world's landfill. Therefore, this suggests that the use stage of the bra is the most harmful to the environment as washing the garment affects so many different avenues like energy and water consumption as well danger to animals.
Intimate including the chosen bra is a complicated garment to recycle as it has negative health connotations attached to it. As apparel a result, a lot of underwear and bras contribute to the globes textile waste issues. However, Italian lingerie company Intimissi has started a bra-recycling program to help reduce this problem whereby missing bra fibers with other textiles to create insulated and soundproof panels for construction (Intimissi 2012). The company also encourages women to drop they're used and worn out bras to its stores across Italy to help manage our global waste problem.
Moreover, Underwear Company, Bjorn Borg, has created an up-cycling program called Cut the Crap (Bjorn Borg 2012, p. 134) where they convert waste into new products with more significant environmental value. They use two leftover fabrics from different prints or styles and combine them to create a new pair of underwear. This program helps to reduce the impact we place on the environment regarding wastage.
Victoria’s Secret does not undertake any afterlife programs. Regarding wastage, however, they donate unsold but proper conditioned garments to the Waste Not Centre in the United States (Limited Brand 2013). They also hold an annual event called the Associate Sale where products that can no longer be sold in their stores could be sold to their associates for a reduced cost. In 2012 their Associate Sale “resulted in the reuse of more than 2821 tons of merchandise” (Limited Brands 2013). Additionally, all money raised was given to green charity organizations. Victoria’s secret should work towards creating a program where their products can be recycled or up-cycled to help reduce textile wastage similar to the previous two intimate apparel labels mentioned.
It must be noted that the bra is constructed of materials that do ensure durability and longevity and although the bra is a small relativity garment, it will ultimately end up in landfill assisting to our global wastage problem unless Victoria’s Secret establish a recycling program.
Marks & Spencer is one of the world’s leading retailers and a company that also leads the way for sustainable fashion. In 2011, the company released the world’s first ever carbon neutral bra (Marks & Spencer 2011). The Carbon Trust Footprinting Certification Company has been awarded the labels, ‘Autograph Leaves Collection’ including four different bra styles as carbon neutral. This certification examines the product’s entire lifecycle including manufacture and customer washing and drying.
Apart from being entirely manufactured with sustainable materials such as organic cotton, Marks & Spencer produces these bras in its eco-model factory in Sri Lanka that is estimated to reduce 33% of energy consumption compared to other retail factories (Marks & Spencer 2011). Furthermore, the firm plants over 6000 trees annually in farming regions of Sri Lanka. This not only provides a home for disappearing wildlife, but fruit trees that provide food and nutrition for farmers and their families are also planted (Marks & Spencer 2011). This notion is similar to William McDonough’s Cradle-to-Cradle system. Environmental harm is unavoidable in creating garments, but the C2C network shows that you can give back to the environment to replace or neutralize the damage you could or have caused. In this case, Marks & Spencer plant thousands of trees to give back to the environment by providing new wildfire habitats, food for the communities, clear air and so much more.
Mike Barry, the head of Sustainable Business at Marks & Spencer (2011) has explained that the bra is the perfect way to learn about the practicalities of carbon footprinting and to create products at a high sustainable standard. He shows that a single bra contains 21 parts from 12 different suppliers (Marks & Spencer 2011). Although it is only one product within their 2.7 billion individual product range, it is a considerable step reducing the harm fashion company’s cause to the environment. They plan to have this type of eco-system for all their products by 2020 (Marks & Spencer 2011).
Marks & Spencer are indeed leading the way in regards to sustainability. This should motivate other leading fashion retailers to follow their example. If more companies took such steps, it would vastly reduce the negative impacts the fashion industry cause to the environment. Victoria’s Secret could also start with making one of their products carbon neutral and slowly grow in line with Marks & Spencer
In conclusion, the impacts of the lifecycle of the chosen bra within each of the five stages can be seen in the following table.
Bra Life Stages
Total Percentage of Environmental Harm
Transport and Packaging
End of Life
This table shows that the use stage of the bra causes the environmental damage with a staggering 40%. The report explains that many studies from such companies as Bjorn Borg, Chesty Bonds, and Levi Strauss have shown that his phase causes the most harm to the environment due to customer washing. Washing consumes a lot of water and energy and the dye from the garment contaminates the water thus causing pollution and harm to water species. Therefore it can be assumed the bra would have identical results and even more so that lingerie requires a vast amount of washing due to everyday use.
In second place is the manufacturing stage. This period was given 25% because the dying process involved in dying the product uses not only significant amount of water but also many hazardous chemicals are used, which cause pollution and even harm to the workers. This, therefore, deserves the second highest percentage of environmental harm.
Lastly, with 5% is transport and packaging. It is felt that Victoria’s Secret utilize effective methods to reduce the damage caused to the environment in regards to their transportation of products and their packaging. As the bra is small, it requires a small amount of packaging upon which is 100% recyclable. Furthermore, it takes up little space in the transportation devices allowing many products to transport at once.
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