Understanding the Impact Voluntary Commitments Have on Sustainability Strategies Adopted by US Fashion Brands, Shannon Welch

Over the past decade, the fashion industry has been striving to achieve more environmentally sound operations through the adoption of voluntary commitments. Voluntary commitments can be described as pledges that bring many global brands, holding groups, and organizations together who commit to reaching specific environmental goals. This study examines four voluntary commitments and their effect on sustainability strategies reported by Gap Inc., Levi Strauss & Co., Nike, and PVH. Using Bob Willard’s 5-Stage Sustainability Journey as a framework to identify and compare each brand’s stage, this research uncovers the degree to which sustainability is embedded within each company’s operational structures. This study adds to the literature in four main contributions: (1) it enriches and applies Willard’s 5-Stage Sustainability Journey Theory, (2) it builds an analytical tool to determine sustainability embeddedness that can be operationalized for other fashion brands, (3) it provides empirical insights into how four US fashion corporations have approached sustainability, and (4) it presents assessment on voluntary commitments’ effect on sustainability strategies. This research also offers new knowledge on the impact of the on-going COVID-19 pandemic on sustainability strategies. This research reveals several issues that need to be addressed for voluntary commitments, and ultimately sustainability goals, to be successful. The study demonstrates that the continued lack of transparency, precisely the unwillingness to participate in academic research, and internal operational barriers prevent brands from achieving self-set targets and goals outlined within voluntary commitments.

keywords: sustainability, fashion, voluntary commitments, Bob Willard

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