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When sustainability becomes the fashion

| By Björn Lindahl, Editor-in-chief

The circular economy is only part of the solution for making our society greener. But it is very concrete and it is easy to measure its results. The circular economy is the theme for this edition, and we look at how it influences trade, fashion and the textile industry.

What is the oldest item you own and still use? The question might make us think about how often we change clothes, vehicles and tools. Personally, I have some glass and porcelain which was bought or inherited early on in life, a cheese slicer which has survived many house moves and some screwdrivers that still gets regular use. 

But most things are newer and many tools are rarely used. One frequently quoted figure when the circular economy is being discussed is that a drill is used just 13 minutes on average during its lifetime. 

That example is also mentioned by Anna Strindberg, sustainability program manager at Clas Ohlson. The home improvement chain is known across the Nordics. Strindberg is one of the people who Bengt Rolfer and Gunhild Wallin have interviewed in their hunt for an answer to the question – what actually is a circular economy? 

They get a surprising answer from Tim Forslund, an expert on circular economy at the Finnish Sitra foundation that monitors future generations’ interests. He highlights Spotify as one circular economy company, because the company offers a way of listening to music without the need to own and produce CDs. I have just not thought about it like that before since I have associated a circular economy more with companies like Remake, Stockholms Stadsmission, which has redesigned donated clothes since 2002.

Marie Teike is both unit manager and designer at Remake. She loves fashion and the magic that clothes can represent. But she does not love the fashion industry.

“Today’s system is all wrong – in terms of how materials are produced, human conditions during production and the way in which products are transported. It is so wrong and I cannot imagine working in that industry,” she says.

Although it has taken a long time, changes are afoot also in the fashion industry. For the first time ever, Copenhagen Fashion Week has implemented a range of sustainability requirements, writes Marie Preisler. 

“It is a milestone and shows that the fashion industry is moving towards a greater focus on sustainability,” says Morten Lehman, owner of Tailwind, a consultancy firm advising businesses and organisations on sustainability. 

Although we as consumers can make a change by making more sensible choices, there is a need for common rules and demands which make sure that what we can buy is more sustainable. What is happening in the EU right now might be very important in that respect. Irish Cillian Lohan presents the EU’s action plan for how to make production and consumption methods more sustainable and circular. 

The plan consists of 35 different initiatives that are now being assessed. The aim is that by 2030, all products in the EU market should be sustainable and long-lasting, reparable and maintainable with spares, reusable and recyclable.

The Swedish Trade Federation, representing 9,000 members, is now going through all the new EU legislation which must be implemented. Magnus Nikkarinen is their director of sustainability:

“We are facing an avalanche of regulations,” he says.

Some worry about whether the many new regulations might be bypassed by companies operating outside of the EU.

"Our great fear is unregulated import via online platforms, with products that are completely unregulated when it comes to working conditions, materials and the use of chemicals. I support free and open trade, but that kind of trade is not sustainable,” says Magnus Nikkarinen. 

Free trade is the EU’s very reason to exist, but in the past year, Iceland has experienced the upside of not being able to export or import electricity. The country is energy self-sufficient, and the energy is green. The price has hardly moved in eight years, while the rest of the Nordics and Europe have been hotly discussing energy prices. 

Iceland’s stability – both in terms of weather and politics – attracts companies that are looking for green energy and cheap electricity. 

When discussing the circular economy it is important to remember that the most important factor of all is people themselves. A working life that is so tough that the workers burn out can definitely not be called circular. This autumn, Sweden will introduce new working hour rules, after the European Commission criticises the Swedish rules and after six months of negotiations. 

“It is great that we get longer periods of rest from the autumn, but this should have been done a long time ago. We work so incredibly hard when we work, so we are exhausted when we get home,” says Nadja Ståhl, a nurse at the Sunderby hospital north in Sweden.

Labour ministers play a key role when navigating the many initiatives being taken in the EU, the Nordic region or nationally. We portray four of the more or less fresh ministers in Sweden, Norway and Denmark. 


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