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Sustainability in Enterprise - White Rose

Sustainable fashion charity retailer White Rose are on track to reduce their carbon footprint by 69% after receiving support from NTU's Sustainability in Enterprise project.

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White Rose is pioneering sustainable fashion in the UK, with every item sold helping to raise money for the Aegis Trust, a charity working to prevent genocide and mass atrocities around the world.

The fashion industry is one of the biggest contributors to climate change, responsible for between 2-8% of global carbon emissions, as well as waste and pollution. It’s estimated that less than 1% of all clothing worldwide is recycled. In the UK alone, around 300,000 tonnes of used clothes end up in landfill or incinerators every year.

White Rose is helping to change that by keeping fashion circular. The sustainable retailer was founded as a social enterprise by NTU alumni, Grace Walker and Angela Ford in 2009, inspired by their experience with Aegis Students, the charity’s global student movement.

Today, White Rose has a distribution centre and 12 high street stores selling handpicked, high quality, recycled fashion, in Nottingham, Sheffield and Newark. It launched an online store during the pandemic, and also has two outlet stores. Any clothing that can’t be sold goes to fabric collection merchants for reuse, so everything that is donated gets repurposed in some way. NTU students are still very much involved as volunteers and part-time staff, as well as NTU alumni in the Leadership team, all keen to help make fashion more sustainable.

Now White Rose wants to go even further to champion sustainability. The charity retailer has been working closely with NTU’s qualified and experienced Sustainability Consultants to calculate their carbon impact and put an action plan in place to reduce emissions. The support is provided as part of the Sustainability in Enterprise project, which is part-funded from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and aims to support small to medium-sized businesses (SMEs) within the Greater Nottingham SUDS area.

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We spoke to Head of People, Amy Zibek and HR Assistant, Zoe Binding to find out how they and White Rose have benefited from the support on offer.

"As a sustainable fashion retailer, we prevent hundreds of tonnes of clothing and footwear being wasted every year, so we wanted to improve sustainability in the ‘back of house’ areas of White Rose too and align them with our sustainable business model.

"We’re passionate about sustainability, but as an HR team, we’re people professionals, not sustainability specialists. We knew there was room for improvement, but we didn’t really know where to start. Working with NTU has filled in key gaps in our knowledge and given us practical recommendations for moving forward."

The consultancy identified that White Rose’s two biggest carbon generators are electricity and transport. NTU’s Sustainability Consultant, Robyn Thompson explained:

"I’ve helped White Rose create their first ever carbon footprint, so they can see the carbon impact of their business. With their growing number of stores, White Rose has lots of different buildings, landlords and utilities providers to manage. As part of the consultancy, I guided Amy and Zoe on what data they need to gather now and in the future, helped estimate areas with no available data with industry estimates, and supported with terminology awareness such as Scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions.

"Now they can improve year-on-year and share the results with stakeholders. As a sustainable business, this in-depth understanding of their carbon impact will add real credibility to what White Rose already does so well."

Amy and Zoe have shared the consultancy findings with White Rose’s senior leadership team and have already put a lot of the recommendations in place.

"We’ve looked into everything Robyn recommended and having put together an action plan, we’re focusing on implementing the quick wins first – the things that don’t take up a lot of time or implementation costs – as we’re in Covid recovery mode this year."

What we’re doing now

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"Everything we do in our buildings has to be agreed with the landlords we rent them from. We’re working in partnership with them to share the financial benefits of investing in longer- term energy efficiency measures.

"Electrifying our fleet of distribution vehicles is the big one for us and the consultancy has given us a clear business case to move forward as soon as we have the financial ability to invest. We’re also keen to implement a cycle-to-work scheme as part of our staff benefits package, which will happen soon, with links to NTU’s Bike Hire Scheme for students.

"On a people front, we’re putting the foundations in place to introduce a sustainability champion role into the business. We’ve also applied for NTU grant funding to help us recruit a recent graduate to help support sustainability at White Rose. Along with cost, lack of resources can be a key barrier for SMEs like us when it comes to sustainability, so both of these steps will make a big difference. We’re also moving towards becoming fully paperless central functions in the finance and people teams."

The impact

White Rose have committed making changes that will reduce their carbon footprint by 69%, with the potential to go even further. They'll also save almost £10k per year.

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Through the consultancy, White Rose now has a clear picture of its baseline carbon emissions, together with recommendations for reducing its carbon footprint by up to 80.49%.

The recommendations that White Rose has already committed to will see the business cut its carbon footprint by 69%. By implementing key recommendations such as switching to certified green energy tariffs, installing LED lighting, running an energy-based employee engagement campaign, and implementing manual heating controls.

Their commitment equates to £9,947.89 in productivity savings, helping to support White Rose’s post-pandemic recovery and future growth.

Amy sums up what NTU’s support has meant:

"It could have been easy to put sustainability on the back burner because we’re really busy, but Robyn made it simple and has saved us so much time. She was really supportive, and the consultancy has given us an invaluable source of comprehensive information we can use now and in the future. It’s given us a clearly defined pipeline of plans and the data we needed to implement change. As well as being the prompt we needed to move ahead more quickly.

"Robyn’s recommendations included some ideas we were already considering but weren’t sure about. NTU’s support has given us the reassurance of knowing we’re taking the right steps, while also sharing recommendations we hadn’t thought of.

"Next, with NTU’s support, we’re keen to explore how our sustainable business model helps to offset our carbon emissions and measure our positive sustainability impact. By championing sustainable fashion, we could already be on our way to net zero as a business."

White Rose’s highly successful approach to elevating second-hand clothing into stylish preloved fashion has seen the business double its stores in the last two years, with more planned this year. As well as being sustainable, recycled fashion also makes good business sense. According to a global report by Thredup and GlobalData, the second- hand clothing market is expected to be twice the size of fast fashion by 2030.

Zoe concludes: "Sustainability has an impact on humanity around the world, it’s not just about activism. There needs to be more education around the small and large changes we can all make to have an impact. The consultancy has given us a checklist of sustainable items to implement when we open a new store, as well as to retrofit in our existing stores where possible.

"Buying recycled fashion from charity shops like ours is one way people can help to tackle climate change and waste, while also supporting good causes like the Aegis Trust. There really is no better way to shop."

Find out more about White Rose including where to shop and how to volunteer.

How to access the support available

Find out more about the broad range of support that NTU is providing to local businesses: