Burberry's luxury bonfire is the result of the garment industry's standard practices
Burberry has been caught burning millions of pounds worth of product. Quite understandably, most people are horrified, while Burberry is claiming that the process is 'environmentally friendly' because the heat was captured for energy generation.
I call bs.
There is simply no way that incinerating tonnes of product can ever be environmentally friendly. Let's leave aside the energy capture canard for the moment, and go back a few steps to look at how these goods came to exist, and exist in excess.
Stage 1- Raw materials.
Mining of metals for buckles, clasps and rivets. Drilling of oil for chemical inputs for perfume and synthetic fibres. Use of land, water, pesticides and fertilisers for production of natural fibres and materials.
Each of these stages uses significant resource and energy inputs.
Stage 2- Processing and manufacturing.
Use of more water and chemicals for leather production, fabric printing and dyeing. Use of more energy for processing and manufacturing.
More resources, more energy, more carbon, more water, more chemicals - all embedded in the production of each item.
For example, the leather required to make up a single tote bag might have up to 80kg of embedded carbon equivalent - equal to almost 70 trans-Atlantic flights - before manufacturing, transport and packaging.
Stage 3- Sales forecasting and production planning
The dominant business and operations management model in the garment industry is based on the 'newsvendor' model. This uses a combination of forecasting and statistical analysis to to estimate demand for products. Further, it includes a calculation to determine the optimal point at which consumer demand meets supply to maximise profits.
Crucially, this calculation assumes that the cost of a lost sale is greater than the cost of an unsold product. In this way newsvendor model creates an accounting incentive to overproduce. The consequence is that waste creation is built in to the business models of garment companies from the first stage - and it's profitable for them.
It's time to challenge and change our practices
Very few mainstream garment producers are looking at alternative operations models, which are badly needed to combat this type of inbuilt waste. While they remain profitable, companies will continue using these wasteful methods - even Patagonia, a supposed leader in this area uses the same methods.
Companies need to invest in new techniques and technologies that will enable waste reduction at all stages. This requires new thinking and revisiting assumptions about what luxury is and the role of garment companies should be. Do we need instant gratification and a new tote bag delivered by express courier tomorrow? Or is it time that we rethink the assumptions and values that make the businesses providing goods in this way profitable instead of pariahs?