- The 2023 Surf Summit brought together surf and outdoor enthusiasts, brands, suppliers, and technology innovators to discuss the future of sustainability in the industry. Brands like Quiksilver, Rip Curl, and Patagonia showcased their pioneering sustainability commitments.
- The surf and outdoor industry sees sustainability not as a hurdle, but as a competitive advantage. Staying ahead of the curve and effectively communicating sustainability initiatives are essential for success in the modern fashion landscape.
- Environmental labelling and regulations, such as the PEFCR methodology, are gaining importance in the textile and surf industry in Europe. Brands are exploring ways to communicate their environmental impact and ensure transparency to meet regulatory compliance and consumer expectations.
Last month, the 2023 Surf Summit (organised by the European branch of the Surf Industry Member Association EuroSIMA) took place at Seignosse in the South West of France.The event gathered international surf and outdoor enthusiasts, including world champions, as well as brands, suppliers and technology solution vendors and innovators. Among the brands on-site were Quiksilver, Rip Curl, Oxbow, Patagonia, Billabong, RCVA, Vvast and Picture Organic – all mainstays of the outdoor and water sports scene that have made public, pioneering sustainability commitments.
I was on-site to see how, together, these different industry figures set out to discuss not just the future of their sector, but the future of sustainability as a whole. The prevailing idea being that the surf and outdoor industry now sees Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG), and regulatory compliance not as a hurdle to overcome, but as a competitive advantage waiting to be harnessed. Staying ahead of the curve in this industry is now seen as the only way to successfully ride the waves of change – and that is an attitude that the rest of fashion would do well to borrow.
The Changeable Customer 3.0 and the need to strike up a new, more honest conversation
In less than a year, the 2024 Olympic Games will take place in Paris. According to the BPCE 2023 group study, the sports sector in France represents 2.6% of GDP and has a turnover of 71 billion Euros, and those games are likely to pour even more fuel into that fire; creating greater consumer interest in sports as a whole, and water sport as a segment. Against that backdrop, selling new sportswear to a captive audience would seem straightforward, but the residual effects of the pandemic and the current polycrisis (spread across economic and sociopolitical challenges) are changing what it means to engage the modern fashion consumer (Customer 3.0). The work of sales, community management and marketing teams has been significantly reshaped.
From the products themselves to the different distribution channels – online or live sales – e-commerce is becoming a matter of dialogue and of digital experience. In virtually every session at Surf Summit concerning sales and production, the speakers touched on or directly addressed the need for brands not just to take action on vital sustainability metrics, but to consider how to communicate their initiatives to consumers with honesty.
Valérie Bossé and Patrick Beauduin, founder of Maïeutyk France, raised the concerning statistic that 73% of complaints filed with The European Advertising Standards Alliance (EASA) in 2022 were for greenwashing. This was discovered by using their method H2H (meaning Human to Human, connecting with customers on a personal level) business codes and motto: let’s cultivate the customer experience of tomorrow’s world. Their belief, which they articulated in a live session at Surf Summit, is believing that changes are accelerating opportunities, and that inaction is not an option.
For Maïeutyk’s teams, and its founders from Canada, the digital cultural revolution that marketing and communication must go through involves a horizontal H2H approach. The basis is that businesses have a fundamental role to play in the transformation of the economy and therefore of society – something that we know brands are already considering as they reflect on how far they are, and are not, able to influence consumer buying behaviours.
Facing this challenge, companies already have most of the tools at their disposal – allowing them to create an open, honest dialogue with consumers that reflects not just brand lifestyle and product values, but the brand’s actions on key sustainability metrics. In the age of smartphones, purchases on social networks, and the metaverse, each point of contact is a dialogue with a potential customer. Greenwashing is where that dialogue falls down, since it represents dishonesty rather than openness and transparency.
This is why the actions and tools that drew the most attention at Surf Summit were those that helped to unlock the data that can help brands to demonstrate their commitments, provide evidence of transparency, and lead to customer care success. This is exactly what the ski brand Rossignol has built: a transparent supply chain and consumer-facing labelling system that provides data-backed confidence in the exact composition of a pair of skis that only yields 6% waste. Or the “don’t buy the jacket” Patagonia™ campaign, which puts a similar emphasis on having an open conversation with consumers – even if it translates into a lost sale.
According to Global Inspire B2B study published in 2021: B2B brands that advertise with a B2C communication approach have five times more chances to be a B2B buyer’s first choice. To Valérie Bossé, the priority for brands in relation to customer experience is to align that kind of open disclosure with what the brand embodies. And for brands in both sportswear and in other segments, that means accepting the fact that consumer-facing disclosures won’t please everyone, but they will attract customers who share the same values and motivations, at the same time as providing the evidence needed for both current and future regulatory compliance.
To achieve this, mobile applications have to be used as allies both for tracking and for reporting to customers,and there are some e-marketing techniques and communication tools that can start a new conversation. Podcasts are one of them, indeed in addition to creating a marketing message, a brand podcast creates a sound identity (editor, male or female voice). White label podcasts and audio agencies that are set to follow up with audio trends are expanding Maison Chanel, Alain Figaret, Gucci, Nike Run club. Agencies such as Plink in Paris are working on a marketing message, editorial signature, and can provide the tech knowledge necessary.
Another example of revolution in progress through marketing transformation is the service provided by Flint Media. This is a comprehensive digital marketing agency that specialises in providing web development, SEO optimisation, social media management, and content creation. They help businesses improve their online presence and reach their target audience effectively through a tailored and data-driven approach, using an AI generative system. But each newsletter is proofed by a real person to avoid fake news and misunderstandings. We can also mention the digital revolution and influencers. In France, the job of being an influencer was met with new regulations. On instagram you can already follow up certified influencers and brand ambassadors.
Labelling and Regulations For the Textile and Surf Industry in Europe
A roundtable discussion dealing with environmental labelling and 2024 regulations was one of the focal points of industry interest during the summit. Since 2023, as readers of The Interline already know, France has enforced mandatory environmental labelling for clothing and footwear, with ongoing refinement in progress, and with provisions that extend the enforcement of the regulations to smaller and smaller organisations each year. And France is not alone: at the European level, multiple regulations, and the PEFCR Apparel & Footwear methodology, address this matter. This legislation all applies to multiple sectors in and outside water sports and fashion, but given the composition of the consumer market for water sports (where buyers tend to have very closely-held environmental and ethical values) these regulations represent an immediate challenge or opportunity, depending on your perspective.
This roundtable offered a unique opportunity to assess the shape, scope, and industry-wide progress towards these regulatory initiatives alongside European and French representatives. Among the panellists: Stéphane Popescu from COSE361 consulting firm; Alicia Boyano Larriba, Policy Officer – DG Environment, European Commission; Pascal Dagras, Environmental Display and Ecobalyse Intrapreneur at the French Ministry of Ecological Transition; and Vanessa Montagne, Director, New Sectors at Ecologic (the official eco-organism for leisure and sport accessories sector, who were talking from a governmental and institutional point of view.)
The key takeaway from this conversation: environmental labels and extended producer responsibility (EPR) are important for everyone, and the challenge is to move sustainability strategies on from being declaratory – made up of public commitments that are not substantiated with data – to providing supporting documentation and, ideally, first-party information.
In France, the method forces a justification with data, contracts and certifications before communicating anything, whereas the European rule leaves the possibility of opting not to communicate and, by admission, not disclosing data. In some jurisdictions, there is not yet an official method and timeline yet, using the French method to calculate and define the environmental cost resonates with the EU Product Environmental Footprint (PEF) approach, thus avoiding rebound effects.
From a communications perspective, Rip Curl, which just became a B Corp certified brand, has also been involved in circularity for a long time. Both Lacoste and Rip Curl spoke about the need for a lifecycle impact calculation technology system and mentioned that a tracking method would be also key. Both confirmed that one of the complexities in actually rolling out a system like this is ensuring the compatibility of a Customer relationship management (CRM) tool, a tracking tool, and e-commerce website compatibility, while ensuring that official reporting requirements and brand initiatives are met. This means that both customer-facing and regulatory communications could possibly require additional operational information (for example, biodiversity, eutrophication of waters, microfiber, chemicals). There are imperatives for convergence of methods and regulations to an up-to-date timetable.
New technology solutions are likely to unlock an easier onramp to compliance for brands. One example is Ecobalyse, managed by Pascal Degras, a beta platform designed for ecological impact assessment. It provides tools and resources for evaluating the environmental impact of various projects and initiatives, helping users make informed decisions regarding sustainability and eco-friendliness. This platform is designed to support environmentally decision-making by offering data-driven insights and analysis, using both global information for energy and customers information about production countries. This slots into a fast-growing group of technology platforms all aiming to do very similar things, on a very short timescale.
On the brand side, Steve Duhamel (Environmental Footprint Manager at Lacoste) and Etienne Crozet (Product Compliance Manager at Rip Curl) were on-stage at Surf Summit, revealing their targets and experiences. Lacoste chose the Glimpact tool to communicate the overall environmental impact of products through digital passports, and shared some inputs about their CSR policy and goals for 2025 and 2030. They also intend to reduce 15% impact on every product sold by 2025, as well as to host numerous training programs and continue support for their selected NGOs. Following the core pillars of that strategy? People, planet, and product. They prioritise the well-being and development of their employees, are committed to reducing their environmental impact through sustainable practices, and ensure the production of responsible and high-quality products.
Lacoste’s CSR approach underscores their dedication to social and environmental responsibility across their brand and operations, and is an interesting proof point for a major brand having already adopted, deployed, and disclosed the solutions it’s using to deliver its digital product passports. – making the route from data gathering to consumer disclosure hard for brands to navigate. This is a task that systems like Fairly Made, Clear Fashion, and K3 VIJI were created to address, in line with the new regulations, providing consumer-friendly information and labels that are underpinned by supply chain visibility. Complicating matters further is that the implementation of these regulations and new standards is reshaping, or set to reshape, the roles that deal with data gathering to consumer disclosure, operational methodologies, as well as sourcing and production tools. Additionally, there remains a cultural challenge, as these changes have yet to gain comprehensive understanding across all countries. And there is currently an absence of a translation to English from the French, meaning that there also remains a cultural challenge – as these changes have yet to gain comprehensive understanding across all countries.
But, this is perceived as a business opportunity by some because there is a need to get a global and convergent overview, and a need for digital systems that can be modulated depending on the country. Stéphane Popescu closed the talk by saying: “Sharing data means supporting the interest of the method.”
Data, Digital Assets, and Decarbonisation
In Europe, by 2026 at the latest and (based on company size and turnover) the Sustainable Finance Disclosures Regulation (SFRD) as well as the Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD) will be put into practice, further driving decarbonisation in fashion. For a smart ESG leadership, data traceability, transparency, and metrics management for a digital passport will be mandatory for any brand that wishes to remain in business and sell to the EU block, so by that point, digital based monitoring and the collection of scientific data is going to become a daily habit for the textile industry.
Is navigating the digital revolution for a greener tomorrow doable? Renaud Bettin, Climate Action VP at Sweep, made it clear in his speech that climate is a serious topic and should be addressed by all industries, but it’s one that requires data and clarity. For the milestone to be reached, he said, it will be important to be able to understand the difference between adaptation and illusion when it comes to “zero carbon emission” products. Sweep is a forward-thinking SaaS solution dedicated to revolutionising sustainability and carbon management for businesses, including multifactors like biodiversity, economy, compliance, and sourcing management.
According to Renaud Bettin, a measured approach will be needed for increasing both quality and price if it is going to be accepted by businesses. At the same time, the significance of supply chains in a company’s carbon footprint is to be measured and monitored with a science-based approach. Most of the tech carbon measurement platforms are working with organisations following the international standards (Science-based targets, SDG, CDP, Iso 2701, Greenhouse gas protocol, TCFD) to identify and mitigate emissions throughout the supply chains. Therefore, commitment to innovation, data-driven solutions address emissions at each stage of the supply chain, from sourcing to production and distribution, would become a norm. Collaborating with Beaumanoir group for instance, Sweep brings together financial and sustainability experts, solution providers and coalition partners. There are many solutions platforms to help reduce the carbon impact of companies. According to Renaud Bettin: “Working with specifics and monitored data also reduces the energy bills, finance the equipment fleets and improve the business model”. The tipping point of adaptation could be to understand that carbon is a creative force to be developed.
Techtask for Good
During the Surf Summit, most of the concerns were around transparency, traceability, and greenwashing. Also mentioned was how to simplify the operational steps to adapt to the climate crisis and regulations. There was also the sense that digital solutions could play a major role in creating a better future for sustainability through their technology, and at the exhibition lounge area some digital applications were showing their latest product to link circularity, surf practice optimisation, and network building (like the Hopupu app). Additionally, as CSR was a focus, after three years of work, Surfrider Europe & EuroSIMA finalised a convention based on the NGO’s specifics.
My final thoughts: Surf Summit exists to inspire passion and change in the surf industry and beyond. Tech and generative solutions could support this goal. Meanwhile there is always a space for an IRL meetup, that’s why as a closure the street artist Nils Inne made a live art performance on skateboard supports. The message: stay curious and follow up with authentic involvement using the innovative tools available.