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Last month, TPI Executive Director, Darian Stibbe, was invited to observe the first meeting of a new industry sustainability initiative. In this first of a series of blogs, he describes his experience.

I was honoured to be invited as an Independent Observer to join the inaugural members meeting of the Watch and Jewellery Initiative 2030 (WJI) in Paris in November. While I’ve worked with many industry sustainability initiatives, from mining to agriculture, this was the first related to luxury goods, and I was suitably impressed by the powerhouse of ‘Maisons’ and brands including Kering and Cartier (founder members), Chanel, Pandora and Gucci along with many suppliers. My first observation is that, to no one’s surprise, everyone was exceptionally well dressed.

The collective mission of the initiative is to create a fully sustainable watch and jewellery industry that is resilient to climate change, preserves resources and fosters inclusiveness. It is driven by a common conviction that the global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and aspirations for a sustainable industry can only be achieved through collaboration – both horizontally among the Maisons and brands, and vertically across the supply chains. By bringing together a core group of progressive companies and fostering collective action, the WJI aims to support a transformation in industry practice.

I spent the day watching and listening to the presentations and discussions by the forty or so members present and was greatly impressed by the level of commitment and desire to change. At the end of the day, I shared a few reflections of what I had seen and how it related to best practice in multi-stakeholder collaboration. Here are some of my reflections from the day and since:

Prepare for success – Iris Van der Veken, WJI Executive Director, has put together a formidable secretariat team. Working closely with the founding members, with lawyers, and with governance experts they have invested considerable time, energy and thinking in establishing the core building blocks of the initiative from a clear vision to sensible initiative governance structures and everything in between.

Engage with everyone, especially your critics – while WJI is an industry initiative, it has already engaged extensively with NGOs and academia and plans to include civil society within its governance. This is essential, not only to ensure legitimacy but to bring in the deep knowledge from outside industry, ensure all voices – including those of the most vulnerable – are heard, and to guarantee a diversity of views.

You need both ambition and pragmatism – the meeting was visionary, creative and high energy leading to a great collective enthusiasm to drive forward an ambitious agenda. However, I was pleased to observe that alongside the ambition was a healthy dose of pragmatism. In particular, there was strong awareness of the ‘Monday Morning Challenge’ whereby the excitement drains quickly away when sitting at your desk on the Monday after, overwhelmed by an inbox overflowing with emails and a realisation you still have to deliver the day job.

You need your organisation fully behind you – buy-in and championing from company leadership is essential. In the first place, initiatives such as WJI require significant resources to implement, both financially and in terms of assigning sufficient time of the staff tasked to deliver. And even more importantly, changing industry sector practice means first changing your own organisation’s practice and often culture – impossible without the full buy-in of the CEO and Board.

Invest for the long term but build in quick wins – an ambition for industry transformation is a long-term endeavour that will take years, even decades. In order to keep up momentum and engagement, and to demonstrate progress, you need to build some quick wins into your portfolio of activities. Again, I was pleased to see this is exactly the approach being taken with one-year commitments including mapping of impacts on biodiversity and water across the use of key raw materials.

Make sure that two plus two = five – collaboration takes a great deal of time and effort and should only be used where it creates significant additional value. It was pleasing to observe in the discussions a real focus on this concept of added value – what members could achieve together that simply wouldn’t be possible alone, whether through combining financial resources or deep sector influence.

Industry sector-wide action needs to be incredibly careful about anti-trust regulation – while industry sustainability initiatives are essential to raise sector practice, several have fallen foul of – in my view, antiquated – anti-trust laws that are designed to stop competitors working together, even if that results in public good (see ‘In Fashion Industry, a Fine Line Between Collaboration and Collusion’). It was clear the WJI takes this issue incredibly seriously, with very clear boundaries and rules set – and an expert observer specifically charged to ensure conversations never veered close to those boundaries (and indeed, they never did).

So, all in all, a very strong start to WJI’s journey. Nevertheless, the road ahead will be rocky. Collaboration isn’t plain sailing – obstacles and setbacks will inevitably be encountered along the way. There will be tensions to be resolved (for example, how can you simultaneously have a ‘safe space’ for companies to openly discuss problems, while simultaneously wanting to invite in (sometimes critical) NGOs?); some companies will not be able to sustain their commitment and fall away, while others will join with their own expectations; there will be inevitable frictions caused by organisational cultural differences or through mis-aligned interests; some of the ambitious collective actions will fail to deliver. But understanding this upfront, building a strong, trusting relationship, spirit and communication among members to be able to anticipate and deal with challenges, will help to ensure the success of the initiative.

I am anticipating its progress will be a fascinating one to follow. In my role as observer, I will continue to capture my thoughts and impressions as I witness this live partnership growing and developing.

Darian Stibbe is TPI’s Executive Director

Photo: Pavel Losevsky

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