Earlier this year we got the chance to speak with Paolo Bray, director of WSO. He told us about how he set up Friend of the Earth and Friend of the sea, giving us all the insights. As well as discussing how he sees the future of fashion!
You have done some amazing work setting up Friend of the Earth and Friend of the sea, can you please tell us how you started working with these projects?
In the early nineties, at a time when sustainability was not yet a frequent word in our everyday vocabulary, I joined the Dolphin-Safe Tuna project, the pioneer eco-label for sustainable seafood. Most people may not be aware, but this program helped save millions of dolphins from dying in tuna fishing nets by motivating fisheries – and the seafood industry in general – to reduce their impact on the marine environment.
This experience made me realize how certifications could be an essential tool to achieve tangible conservation results. This is why, in 2008, I decided to launch Friend of the Sea, currently the major certification program for products from sustainable fisheries, aquaculture, and other products and services which respect the marine habitat. Later in 2018, we launched the Friend of the Earth certification of sustainable agriculture and farming products.
We have come a long way since then. Today, over 1.000 companies in more than 70 countries rely on Friend of the Sea and Friend of the Earth certifications. This success has helped us push forward conservation projects to protect endangered species. It’s a virtuous circle.
However, there’s still much to be done. For this reason, we’re trying to expand the movement towards economic sectors that urgently need to become more sustainable. Fashion is one of them.
What influences the work you do?
Sustainable development means meeting the needs of the present without compromising the resources available for future generations. This is what the World Sustainability Organization aims to achieve. We need to think about sustainability in a transversal way. Long-term growth in any country passes through sustainable development to protect the planet’s ecosystems, species, and resources.
Plenty of information is now available on how to implement sustainable practices. The World Sustainability Organization and our programs Friend of the Sea and Friend of the Earth’s mission is to help and support this process. It is never a straightforward process, but it is necessary and the only one that can make sense over the years.
I’m convinced we can achieve sustainable development in a joint effort and collaboration between Governments, companies, NGOs, and research institutes.
What led you to branch out into the fashion industry and create WSO Model academy and agency?
Fashion has a fundamental role in human life. Hence, the fashion industry is one of the most important globally, both from an economic and social point of view. Unfortunately, it’s also one of the most polluting. Consider fast fashion: on average, the new generations use the garments half the time before eliminating them, compared to the previous generation. This has led to an uncontrolled increase in production and waste, which often ends up dispersed in the environment. Only 1% of clothing comes from recycled textile material, while the production of natural and synthetic fibers has a growing impact on the environment.
All of this led us to launch Friend of the Earth’s sustainable fashion certification program. The goal is to stimulate and encourage change towards a fashion industry that is more respectful of the environment and workers.
The case for creating WSO Model Agency and Academy is even more interesting, as we rarely speak about how models are treated. Models lack many of the protections reserved for full-time employees and are particularly vulnerable to exploitation. If they get involved by unscrupulous agencies, they will never know exactly how much money they will receive for a job.
Models are not prepared for potentially hazardous work environments. In 2012, a Model Alliance study found that 29.7% of female models had experienced inappropriate contact at work, and 28% had experienced sexual harassment at work. Sometimes the injustices are less evident but equally discriminating and impacting. Only 30% of the models who walk the catwalks and in advertising campaigns are not white. Plus-sized models account for less than 1% of the total.
The mission of WSO Models is to offer a platform where models can be treated equally as people, respecting their rights and highlighting them for what they are, their life stories, and their commitment to supporting the community or conservation projects.
How will you work more with the fashion industry going forward?
Friend of the Earth is backed by many years of experience in the certification of sustainable products. We developed the requirements for clothing and sustainable fashion products leveraging on this expertise. This way, we provide consumers with a tool to identify verified sustainable products, highlighting producers committed to change.
One of Friend of the Earth’s priorities is to stimulate the recycling of raw materials, encouraging a more circular fashion industry. Raw materials from vegetable or animal origin must come at least 50% from recycling, comply with the Friend of the Earth standard for sustainable agriculture and breeding, and respect animal welfare.
The synthetic fibers must come from 100% recycled sources and be obtained without the aid of chemicals that are dangerous for the environment.
Other certification requirements aim to reduce the impact of the various processing stages, both in terms of emissions and water and energy consumption. Last but not least, the company must comply with the legislation on the fair treatment of workers.
The certification standard was recently launched, and we already have eight fashion brands certified or in the audit phase around the world. I consider this an important breakthrough for a newly created label. Interest is growing, especially after this dramatic phase of the pandemic, as more and more companies and consumers are aware of the need to produce and consume more sustainably. Being our headquarters in Milan, while operating internationally, we hope to awaken the interest of the big fashion brands, which can, in turn, influence many of their suppliers.
Last but not least, the certification also contributes to WSO’s conservation programs for the protection of endangered species and habitats
How do you see the future of fashion?
Fashion brands are becoming increasingly aware of the urgency to embrace sustainability and their responsibility considering their global impact. There are numerous initiatives for more sustainable fashion production from an environmental and social point of view. This is good news. However, there’s still much to be done, and we’re facing a turning point.
The clothes we wear tell a lot about who we are and how we live. Therefore, we must reconsider, as consumers and producers, our habits and choices. We must undoubtedly curb the impulse to make an uncontrolled purchase, but to do this, we also need an ethical commitment from producers and brands in particular.
The brands themselves must promote and encourage the recycling of clothes at the end of their use. Furthermore, low-cost products are undoubtedly helpful to make ends meet for many families. Still, the lower cost must not be obtained at the expense of respecting the environment and workers.
What do you hope to inspire in others with your work?
I’m an optimist. I believe we can achieve more sustainable economic development by changing attitudes and balancing the use of resources we need for a fulfilling life without over-exploiting them.
I look forward to more companies and consumers joining this movement and broadening the positive impact of sustainability on our everyday life. From the food we eat to the clothes we wear, so we can reduce our impact on the environment.
Could you give us three tips for living a more sustainable life?
Our everyday choices determine who we are and the impact we have on the planet.
Try to consume responsibly. Prefer sustainably certified products. Refuse to consume products that hurt the environment or can be responsible for the killing of endangered species.