Dear reader,

Welcome to Publyon’s monthly Sustainability Newsletter! In this edition, we cover the results of the European elections, which took place on 6-9 June and whose outcomes will shape the next five years of Brussels policymaking. We will also shed some light on how the election’s result is expected to impact environmental policies under the European Green Deal and what priorities will transform into concrete legislation: will a Green Deal 2.0 be realised, as the Greens call? Will sustainability leave its space to industrial competitiveness?

Dive with us into the world of sustainable fashion with Dr Bernice Pan, Founder and Creative Director of DEPLOY, a sustainable B-Corp certified womenswear brand on a mission to reform fashion.


Before you move on…


When? 10 July 2024 from 14:00 to 15:00 CET

The recent European elections marked a significant rise for conservative and far-right parties, with France’s National Rally securing 31.5% of the vote. In response, President Macron dissolved the National Assembly, triggering snap elections on 30 June and 7 July 2024. This political shift could have profound implications for EU leadership and policies amidst global challenges.

Following the speed of President Macron’s sudden decision, Publyon, in collaboration with Blue Star Strategies, is launching a new webinar to discuss the results, exploring the implications of these elections on domestic political dynamics and their broader consequences at the European level.

The spotlight

The spotlight

The European elections

Between June 6 and 9, millions of Europeans voted in the 2024-2029 legislative cycle elections, amidst significant changes including the war in Ukraine, COVID-19, farmer protests, a migration crisis, and an AI-driven digital revolution. Major election themes shifted from green and sustainable transitions to boosting European competitiveness and ensuring defence and security.

Join us as we unpack three main takeaways from the election results.


Shift towards the right, yet the centre remains stable

The 2024 European Parliament election saw a definitive rightward shift, with far-right parties gaining ground in key Member States like Germany, France, the Netherlands, and Belgium. The European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) and the Identity and Democracy group (ID) both expanded their seats. However, despite this shift, the centrist groups—EPP, S&D, and Renew—maintained a strong majority, and are expected to continue their alliance to pass significant legislation as in previous terms.


Big losses for the Greens and Macron

In the recent European elections, the right-wing parties made substantial gains while the Greens and Liberals faced setbacks. French President Emmanuel Macron’s coalition suffered a major defeat, prompting him to dissolve the national parliament and call for new elections. The Greens saw significant losses, particularly in Germany, where their participation in an unpopular coalition affected their support.


Kingmaker? No, Queenmaker

Giorgia Meloni’s Brothers of Italy has emerged as a crucial player within the far-right spectrum, wielding significant influence as a kingmaker in European politics. Both centre-right and far-right factions are actively seeking Meloni’s support, knowing that her decisions will profoundly impact coalition dynamics and shape EU policy development. This dynamic suggests a potential shift in parliamentary alliances, with the EPP potentially needing support from far-right allies (or certain national delegations from that side of the political spectrum) to advance specific legislative agendas.

Policy update

Policy update

The end of the Green Deal?

With the European elections, a new mandate will soon start, and new political priorities are expected to emerge. Already before the 2024 European elections, political parties and the European Commission started to define their main priorities for the next legislative term.

At the same time, the recent European Council Strategic Agenda sets a clear strategic plan for the next five years and provides a solid framework for more immediate actions in key sectors. The expected focus areas for the next legislative term are: security and defence; resilience and competitiveness; energy; migration; global engagement; and enlargement.


What about the Green Deal? Are green policies not going to be a priority for the next mandate?

The EU Strategic Agenda confirms the narrative that industrial competitiveness has become one of the primary goals of the European Union for the next mandate and that green policies will need to support this aspiration.

According to the Strategic Agenda, the European Union, in its path towards climate neutrality by 2050, “will need to harness the potential” of the green transition to create the markets, industries and high-quality jobs of the future.

In practical terms, this includes scaling up manufacturing capacity for net-zero technologies and products, investing in cross-border infrastructure for energy, water, transport, and communications, and ensuring a just and fair climate transition.

The Strategic Agenda emphasizes building a competitive global position and enhancing energy sovereignty by accelerating the energy transition, increasing electrification, and investing in grids and storage. It aims to create a circular and resource-efficient economy, foster clean technologies, and promote smart mobility.

Additionally, it supports a competitive and sustainable agricultural sector, while smaller emphasis is given to the topic of climate protection, for which the Strategic Agenda states that the European Union “will continue to protect nature and reverse the degradation of ecosystems.”


What does it mean for businesses?

This shift in priorities may lead in the next term to additional effort from the European Union to finance the green transition and implement current green policies over introducing additional legislation into the existing framework.

It is expected that European businesses in sectors such as manufacturing, energy, transport, and circular economy will benefit from increased investments or economic incentives and supportive infrastructure.

The focus on clean and smart mobility and circular economy may encourage innovation and efficiency, potentially reducing operational costs and enhancing competitiveness.

Expert interview

Expert interview

Bernice Pan

Dr Bernice Pan is the Founder and Creative Director of DEPLOY, a sustainable womenswear brand on a mission to reform fashion. DEPLOY is B-Corp certified with one of the world’s highest scores at 149.5. Dr Pan gained her PhD in Design Management & Systems Engineering at Brunel University with her doctoral thesis on Fashion System mass customisation.

Bernice Pan

Can you share with us how DEPLOY has become an example of best practice in the fashion industry, and how particularly you envisioned your brand’s supply chain in order to address the need for more sustainability?

If we want to talk about best practice, we need to first understand why current practices need to change, and what is wrong with them. At the beginning of my career in the late 90s and early 2000s, no one really questioned the “glamour” or the trends: they were all aspects of the business to aspire to.

When I started to work as a fashion designer, I realised that several really important social, environmental, and cultural issues are not dealt with by the industry. In fact, the pace of business is fast and getting faster every day: everyone is just driving for the next show, the next collection and the next campaign. This fast pace leads to the exploitation of both people and the environment, and the creation of huge amounts of waste. 

Therefore, when I started to think about these aspects, and I started to interrogate myself about why the fashion industry works in this way, I also tried to find different ways of doing things. I asked myself: can we treat our production house manufacturers better, instead of only squeezing them? Can we make our processes in design development much more efficient, instead of just trying to make things quickly? These were aspects that both ethically and economically did not make sense to me. This is also what drove me to do a full industry and academic research on the entire industry supply chain to pinpoint inefficiencies and highlight where we can do better. 

That is where DEPLOY best practice is developed, from understanding where all the pain points, bottlenecks, inefficiencies, illogical and unethical practices are along the supply chain, and then from asking ourselves ‘how we do things differently to overcome these problems?’. That’s how we developed our 360° Sustainability Ethos: we looked at all the steps we have to take; from before the supply starts to after the sales transaction happens, not just to be responsible, but to be a better business for all parties involved.


Can you tell us what “Sustainable Fashion” means to you?  

A lot of businesses are trying to get or are getting certified as sustainable. At DEPLOY we are B Corp certified, with one of the highest scores in the world. Indeed, it is a good thing for businesses to become certified. However, taking the example of DEPLOY, our certification process came 15 years after we founded the 360 Sustainability Ethos, so for us, the certification is more of a review process of what we have done in order to improve.

And we are regularly trying to research and innovate to develop even better processes and materials to reduce waste and to implement a thorough and holistic sustainable fashion. So for us, certification is a starting point in the journey towards sustainability, not the end goal

We also see that in the EU the policies under the Green Deal are putting an accent on how certifications, labelling and the Digital Product Passport can support the industry to become more sustainable. But these policies alone are not enough. Overconsumption and overproduction are what harm the planet.

Therefore, we want to and have to find a way to grow in a way in which we can use minimal resources to create maximum flexibility, maximum benefit, maximum excitement and variety. And in the end, you create a zero-waste supply chain, and at DEPLOY we are as close to zero waste as possible.

Our 360° Sustainability Ethos starts from being carbon smart, by conserving our resources and sourcing our (certified) materials sustainably. Then through our design process, we reimagine the way apparel can and should be conceived, produced, used and preserved. Incorporating an ingenious circular model, we employ design and systems thinking to find solutions and simplify processes.

This includes a no-waste supply chain, on-demand manufacturing, inventive upcycling, flexible retailing, custom design and post-sale repair and tailoring services. Through this model, we can extend not only the product’s lifecycle but also the people’s lifecycle.

Ultimately we want to enable a change of behaviours and mindsets where we stop thinking that everything is disposable. Where everything starts with conservation and finishes with removing disposability. What we have done as a business model is to prove that through resource efficiency and sustainability, we can equate to directly profitability.


How would you assess current EU green policies under the European Green Deal? What other legislative initiatives would you think are needed in the EU to improve the sustainability of the fashion industry?

I would say that policies such as the Green Deal are a critical first mandatory step for the industry because (big) businesses will not inconvenience themselves to change. However, public education has to happen hand in hand with legislation.

The problem now is that young people care about the environment, but they are not given the right tools or the full knowledge to decipher and understand what kind of sustainable practice is actually going to make a significant and positive change. Therefore, starting from primary education, schools should have sustainability as a mandatory class. 

In terms of additional legislative measures, I’d say that putting a tax on waste is critical. This tax would need to be applied not only to waste but also to unsold products. That is because the average sell-through of fashion companies is only 50%, and it lowers to 30% when we talk about online shopping. That means that the rest of what is produced is not sold. This can’t be allowed. For me, it is just bad business.

Therefore, if businesses are going to be that inefficient, that has to be taxed. Otherwise, they have no incentive to reduce their volume of production, and businesses continue to produce this much by squeezing the prices to be as low as possible. Prices this low can mean only two things: exploitation of people, and reduction of the quality of the garment, thus making the products disposable.

To provide a counter-example, at DEPLOY, our sell-through rate is over 70%, while our returns are less than 5%. And that’s how we can prove that business profitability and performance are possible while increasing sustainability.


What do you believe are the biggest obstacles to turning the fashion industry into a more sustainable actor? Do you see any changes or improvements to overcome such challenges?

As I mentioned earlier, big businesses will not inconvenience themselves to change, as they have established a model through which they continue to make a profit. On the organisational side, these companies have numerous departments. Among these departments, there is usually either a sustainability unit or an officer, which is not integrated into the work of the other departments.

This is not what we need. We need a holistic sustainability policy embedded into every single department and practice. Otherwise, the impact and scope of these units or officers will continue to be limited, and businesses will continue to cherry-pick “the easy thing” to do first.

On the shareholder’s side, success is still measured and rewarded in conventional ways (bonuses, increase in shareholder value), while other issues such as environmental attributes are still considered externalities. Unfortunately, by behaving like this, these businesses are not being realistic about the sustainability of their operations.

Therefore, I’d say that what’s changing in the industry is both positive and negative. On the positive side, we see that most businesses now, whether voluntarily or not, have sustainability officers or departments. However, these changes are highly fractional, because while businesses are trying to integrate sustainability strategies into their operations, they are continuing to increase their growth and production volumes.

As such, while we have these fractional solutions, the gap between the problem (overproduction and overconsumption) and the solution is only getting bigger. At the same time, we see more and more impact investors and ESG funds being pulled out of investment funds, making all efforts towards sustainability even more difficult and precarious.


Would you say that issues faced by the fashion industry to become more sustainable are due to a shift in priorities from sustainability to the need to boost industrial competitiveness?

I would say that industrial competitiveness and environmental protection are not mutually exclusive, but the current narrative and debates put these two elements in competition. These debates are not well-founded. At DEPLOY we continuously prove that sustainability is profitability, efficiency, competitiveness and improved growth. The reason why we have survived various economic downturns is that we are more efficient;

our sell-through is higher than the industry average, our return rates are the lowest in the sector, and we have grown 30 to 50 per cent year on year. We did all of this by following our 360° Sustainability Ethos, which allowed us also to avoid economic risks at every step of production. This is what all businesses must adopt as well to be competitive and resilient.


What would be your advice to other fashion companies aiming to become more sustainable in the future?

That really depends on the size of the company. However, I must say that all companies should be looking at their resource efficiency, whether human resources or material resources, as it is a business’s biggest overhead. 

What a business can aim to do is to improve itself without squeezing its suppliers for cheaper products. Let us consider for instance the issue of pre-consumer waste. Out of the 100 billion garments produced annually, only 1% is recycled, and 70 per cent ends up in landfills or incinerators within a year. However, pre-consumer waste, which includes materials that never even make it to production, constitutes about 30 per cent of fabric produced.

Our approach has been to reduce this waste dramatically. We have focussed on being a zero-waste company, aiming to cut down that 30 per cent pre-consumer waste to nearly zero. This has significantly increased our margins by approximately 30 per cent, allowing us to pay better wages, improve quality, invest more in marketing, and overall enhance our business model without exploiting our suppliers.

Furthermore, building strong, resilient partnerships with suppliers is crucial. Instead of treating suppliers merely as contract-bound entities, fostering mutual trust and support can yield long-term benefits. During the COVID-19 pandemic, many suppliers faced cancelled orders and non-payments from larger brands.

In contrast, we continued to support our suppliers, which has now resulted in better lead times, prioritised production, and improved payment terms. Our suppliers are more willing to work with us because of the reliable partnership we have built.

For larger companies, these efficiency gains and waste reductions can translate into even greater benefits due to their scale and existing bargaining power. Ultimately, the key is to foster collaboration and support within the supply chain, especially during challenging times, to build a more sustainable and resilient fashion industry.



European elections 2024: outcomes and implications for organisations operating in the EU

You can’t get enough of all the latest news about the European elections? Then our comprehensive blogpost on the results, outcomes and implications of the elections is made for you! We delve into the results of the 2024 European elections and how to interpret them, also in light of their impact on European political groups and future coalition scenarios. 

European elections 2024: outcomes and implications for organisations operating in the EU
Eliza Druta

Eliza Druta

Hi, my name is Eliza and I am curating this newsletter to bring Brussels’ main sustainability insights to your inbox, every month. Do not hesitate to reach out should you need more information on the newsletter’s content or if you have suggestions for our next editions.