In the process of gathering speakers for our virtual speakers summit "The Future of Workspaces", we leapt at the opportunity to not only curate a diverse panel that could engage with this topic from a variety of backgrounds, but get a collection of people in a room who represent work we truly admire. One of these people is Marlot Kiveron, former Sustainability Manager for Ace & Tate and the current Sustainability Lead for Otrium —the fashion outlet marketplace on a mission to ensure that every piece of clothing produced is worn.
In the interview below we had the opportunity to explore Marlot's expertise in integrating circularity into supply chains, her views on corporate responsibility, and the exciting new challenge of bringing her drive, passion and experience for sustainability into the fashion industry.
What trends, ideas and innovations do you think will define “the future of work”?
MK: I think the idea of flexibility and trust will define “the future of work”.
Flexibility in the sense that I don’t expect people to go back to the office 100%. A combination of working remotely and when working in the office having flexible working spaces - no own desk.
Trust is key in order to provide this flexible way of working going forward. Trusting your people that they deliver even though as an employer you’re not able to find them at the same desk every day.
Personally, I am really looking forward to being able to go back to the office again. As a sustainability manager your job of engaging and informing the rest of the team all the time goes way easier when you’re able to meet in person. The informal part of working together gives me a lot of energy.
A red thread that seems to run through your career is putting action, passion and meaning behind the term “Corporate Social Responsibility.” In a Medium post you mention how since this idea was first introduced in the 1960s, it has gone through a full evolution, from company’s donating to charity to making fundamental strategy decisions that drive meaningful change.
What forces of change are encouraging this evolution of corporate responsibility, and what do you think will be the next step in this evolution?
MK: I strongly believe you can only drive real change if you’re working on the core of a company - the product or service it provides. The reason for being.
In the past, a CSR manager was often working on everything besides the core of a company. The impact could not interfere with the course of the company and this results in no real change.
Nowadays, you see two types of CSR managers. One is stuck in the vehicle of governance and reporting based on covering risks for the company. This is understandable, as more and more certificates, frameworks and reporting mechanisms arise in the field of sustainability.
The other is focusing on opportunities and changing the core of the company to do better or even good. Working on driving change through team-wide goals, adding stakeholder value and hopefully communicating transparently about the process of getting there.
I expect the next step in this evolution will be roles within a company that focus on sustainability within an area of expertise such as sustainability buyer. Combining knowledge and a certain way of working in different teams rather than one person in the management team. Luckily, the younger generation is looking for purpose in their careers which will boost the transition of companies making a positive impact.
We’ve always admired Ace & Tate transparency in the field of sustainability. Your attitude was never one of achievement, it was very much one of “we’re working on it.” When it comes to the world of the circular economy and running a circular business, there are so many challenges to overcome, it’s sometimes difficult even deciding where to start.
How do you personally embrace these complex problems, and what keeps you hopeful and proactive in a field where there will always be more to do?
MK: Prioritising is very important in the field of sustainability or circularity. The long list will never be ‘done’ and therefore it’s key to focus on the right improvement projects. This can be complex, as no one knows what innovations tomorrow will bring and this makes it difficult to make a business case from time to time.
For me the following five questions really help me to prioritise:
Does this “project” improve the impact of the core of the business?
Does this “project” bring innovation?
Does this “project” add value for the key stakeholders?
What is the influence of the company on this “project”?
Can we quantify the outcome of this “project”?
Breaking up complex problems in smaller pieces makes it more digestible. Complex problems also invite creativity and a different way of thinking. This is what I love most about this role.
What were some of the challenges you faced during your work of integrating circularity into supply chains?
MK: The most interesting challenge in supply chains in general is they are fragmented, global and therefore not transparent. If you want to integrate circularity into a supply chain it’s important to understand the supply chain and systematically change it.
Ideally, in all stages of the lifecycle upstream- , user - and downstream phase. That’s why there lies an enormous opportunity for direct-to-consumer brands. These companies shorten the supply chain by cutting out middlemen and are in direct contact with their consumers (user- and downstream phase).
Ace & Tate is a direct-to-consumer brand and it was still very difficult to get all partners and suppliers together and work on a systemic solution together. Especially in an industry where no one is asking for certain sustainability measures like electricity usage and source of energy, patience and explanation are key.
At Ace & Tate we started with a baseline in 2018 and improved the data gathering ever since. I learnt the partners and suppliers needed to get used to the idea of sharing environmental and social information. At a later stage it became a more natural topic of conversation and we could make big improvements together. Such as the reversed logistics and recycling of lenses.
NORNORM works with the ambition that every item produced is actually used and enjoyed, rather than discarded or wasted. We see similar approaches in the fashion industry. What excites you most about this opportunity, and what are your hopes for a more sustainable future for the fashion industry?
MK: The most exciting part of this opportunity is the complexity. Personally, my ambition is to play a role in closing the gap between making impact as a business and being profitable. The fashion industry is the second most polluting industry and has apart from the issues in the supply chains an issue that lies in consumption behaviour. Working on extending the life cycle with fashion brands and the end-consumer is full of opportunities.