Pioneering Sustainability

Sustainability is a core tenant we seek in every brand we carry. Icebreaker takes sustainability seriously and like us, looks at sustainability through multiple lenses. In this exclusive interview with Meredith Dawson Lawry, Global Sustainability, Quality and Compliance manager at Icebreaker, discover what makes this brand a leader in sustainability.

Tell us about yourself. Who are you? What inspires you?  What drives you? What brings you joy?

I am the Global Sustainability, Quality and Compliance manager at Icebreaker. I come from a varied background in the apparel industry including development, sourcing and technology. My passion for sustainability and human wrights brought me to my current role, where I am driven to better understand the environmental and social issues we are facing as a global society and how we can each play a role in effecting positive change. Being in nature brings me joy, and working for a company who celebrates and respects nature is hugely satisfying.  

Tell us about Icebreaker. How does your own life mission fit into the company mission?

Icebreaker pioneered the ethical and sustainable production of natural performance clothing as an alternative to petrochemical synthetics. Icebreakers founding purpose defines not just what we make, but how we make it. It guides every design and development choice we make, it guides our manufacturing and distribution decisions, and it powers how we operate as a global team wanting to make a difference. Sustainability isn’t just a feature of our products, it’s in the values and design of our business.

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The apparel industry faces a unique set of issues and has had some devastatingly negative environmental and social impacts on our world. As someone working in the industry and as a consumer, I find this hugely concerning and simply put-  unacceptable. Working for a company that is committed to addressing these issues and doing everything they can to function in a sustainable and ethical way is hugely rewarding. It promotes a level of honesty and passion for the brand which is incredibly special.

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How and why did sustainability become an important value in Icebreaker and in your personal life? Tell us about how your company incorporates environmental stewardship into the business model, product design, distribution and customer experience? [Meredith] addressed in the above

How does Icebreaker inspire other companies and individuals to incorporate sustainable practices into what they do on a daily basis?

In 2017 we published our first Transparency Report to provide our consumers with the ultimate level of transparency into how we run our ethical and sustainable business and to inspire other brands in the industry to do the same. It is impossible for brands to ensure respect for human rights, sound environmental practices and uncompromised product quality without knowing where their products are made, who is making them and under what conditions. Transparency means a commitment to full and regular public disclosure of all policies, procedures, progress and real world impacts on workers, animals, communities and the environment. Transparency enables consumers to make more informed decisions by helping people to scrutinize brands and build trust. For Icebreaker, this means opening all our decisions up to scrutiny and assessment. Put simply, our ‘inside’ needs to be the same as our ‘outside’ and we accept responsibility for all of it. We acknowledge that transparency alone is not enough. But it exposes the structures we use so we can better improve them.

What are some of the obstacles the company has faced in holding itself accountable to higher standards of sustainability? 

By opening ourselves up to the deepest level of scrutiny and encouraging our customers to ‘Ask Us anything’ we have been able to continue to grow, evolve and stay true to our nature. Articulating our principles and goals for the future, not only builds trust with our consumers, but it also serves as an invaluable tool for our internal teams to clarify and reinforce our priorities.

What is the biggest challenge you face today in being a business with an environmental conscious?

One of the biggest challenges is to know how and where to prioritize our time and resources when there are so many different goals we want to achieve! That’s why earlier this year we conducted our first materiality assessment. This is a stakeholder engagement exercise, capturing inputs from our Growers, suppliers, customers, consumers and employees. The purpose was to better understand the most important issues to our business and our stakeholders so that we can use this information to better guide our sustainability strategy and ensure we are addressing and prioritizing issues accordingly.

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What is your favorite aspect of your job and why?

Working with amazing people, who share the same passion as me for our brand, our purpose and for nature.

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What’s next for you and Icebreaker? 

Our 2018 transparency report will provide an update on the progress we have made since 2017. Highlights include; 1) the launch of the Icebreaker Growers Club, further developing our direct grower relationships and offering world first 10 year contracts. 2) The completion of our first Materiality Assessment, which will guide our sustainability strategy and ensure we focus on the most important issues to our business and stakeholders. 3) We have successfully converted all water repellent fabrics to be PFC free by 2020 (Fall Winter 2019 range). The report will also share more goals for the future as part of our ongoing commitment to ‘pursue better’.

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What piece of advice do you have for people pursuing sustainability work with environmentally responsible companies?

Go for it! It is a hugely rewarding area to work in. Cross functional communication skills are crucial- the more you can engage with different teams and other business to better understand what they are doing, their needs and priorities, the better you can guide and ensure that sustainable principles are authentically embedded into the businesses operations.

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What piece of advice do you have for individuals who want to be sustainably minded consumers? 

Ask questions! It is so important to communicate to the brands and companies you purchase from that sustainability is important to you as a consumer. Small actions turn into big movements. There is now so much information available to consumers about which companies are running their operations in a sustainable way, so do some research and vote with your wallet!  

What is your top priority right now?

In my icebreaker life- it is to develop a circular business model through re-commerce, rental and recycling initiatives. In my home life- it is to safely bring my baby girl into the world – who will arrive any day now.

If you could preserve one place in nature, where would it be? 

It’s hard to highlight only one- sadly there are so many natural environments at critical risk. But I will have to mention one who’s existence is crucial to all life on Earth- Antarctica. It’s ice caps hold 90 percent of freshwater on the planet. As the result of rising temperatures caused by global warming, these ice caps are rapidly melting. If this continues it will cause sea levels to rise, whole islands to disappear and mass migration on a scale that the world will not be able to cope with.