Sustainability. A Strategy for Survival
The human race is resilient. We feared the devastating power of nuclear, yet the world carried on after Hiroshima. Pandemics, of old and new, affect the global population but its survivors adapt and persevere. Human beings are constantly hard at work. But human activity is complex and what we have come to realise is that the work is not all solutions and wonder. Our endeavours as a species have now led to one of the biggest threats the world has ever faced: climate change.
So, what now? Sustainability was once an ideal, a mere philosophy or way of living for hippies and dreamers. However, in the 21st-century, it is known as a strategy for survival. Composting our food scraps or ditching plastic bags at the grocery store is no longer enough: modern businesses have a vital role to play in creating an impact—from implementing responsible practices to working with ethical partners— within their organisations. As humans, we innovate and move forward to the best of our abilities. No-one is as familiar with this idea as Cecile Corda, the Associate Director of Sustainability at Southeast Asia’s largest online fashion retailer, ZALORA.
Prior to her role at ZALORA, Cecile has spent the last fifteen years of her life championing the sustainability cause. Firstly, having studied chemical engineering, it was Cecile’s time in Switzerland, where she was exposed to the subject of environmental management and was set on this calling. Cecile pursued a path in environmental consulting and the transition from chemical engineering to sustainability felt natural. “I grew up in the French countryside, surrounded by greenery and animals. My father grew his own vegetables and fruits. He always warned us about the quality of the food that we ate and to care for nature,” Cecile reminisces fondly. Her family’s love for the environment shaped her personal values, including wanting a career that best aligns with them. The position at ZALORA in which she started in March 2021 was the perfect fit. Despite building a career in environmental consulting, Cecile was adamant on making an even deeper change: “I wanted to work from the inside… this was a young e-commerce platform with strong ambitions and I want to see the long-term results of the actions I was implementing.
At ZALORA, Cecile is responsible for delivering the platform’s sustainability strategy. A strategy, she explains, is integral to any young company in the modern age. “Fashion has always had a special role in reflecting the changing values of our times and addressing sustainability is taking accountability for our actions.” This accountability by ZALORA takes on a holistic form: reducing the company’s environmental footprint, promoting sustainable consumption, driving ethical sourcing and fostering a responsible workplace and community engagement.
Cecile appreciates the unpredictability of her day-to-day schedule as the job scope proves to be diverse, but she reminds us that it comes with its own set of challenges. “To establish clear and measurable baselines… it’s not an easy thing to do,” she reveals. It is currently common to see sustainability embedded into the mission of a company but proving they are indeed making an impact remains difficult. Modern organisations see the demand their consumers have for transparency but as to how to measure transparency, there has not yet been a regulated set of measures to comply with.
For Cecile Corda, the passion towards creating a better world is what triumphs over these challenges. “One of the key surprises I encountered is the commitment of ZALORA’s employees to improve the company’s sustainability performance,” she tells us. As an e-commerce platform working with over three thousand brands, Cecile claims that all internal stakeholders share the same ‘limitless’ way of thinking when it comes to sustainability which leads to “ambitious projects and subsequent achievements.” And this type of commitment is not only necessary but integral to implementing honest practices and initiatives across the organisation.
This fervent desire to support the building of a healthier world not only exists internally but lives within ZALORA’s target demographic as well. Through customer surveys and direct feedback, the organisation has tracked the same waves of thinking through the Southeast Asia region where consumers are now buying in accordance with their personal values. “We are noticing that the demand for pre-loved and second-hand luxury items has increased,” reveals Cecile. “ZALORA is growing together with this demand through our environmentally-friendly offers: a sustainable ‘edit’, namely our Earth Edit assortment, and we also offer the possibility for our customers to resell on our platform.”
This flexibility is the DNA of a modern company. Consumers are gaining information even more quickly than previous generations and there’s always a need to prepare for any shifts. And how does ZALORA approach this evolving world? Cecile calls it a ‘collective journey’ that they are on with their customers. This is no longer that period in the world where companies dictate to consumers on what to buy — it is the other way around. Fashion retailers are no longer peddlers of trends or cheap buys. The consumers of the modern age are now looking at organisations as guides and as fellow advocates of the causes they believe in. ZALORA recognises this and in order to connect with consumers, they believe in communicating openly and positively with their audience. Cecile says, “E-commerce is unique as it’s really well placed to shape consumer behaviour in unprecedented ways, so by providing necessary information about ethical materials and honest sourcing… we can educate people on becoming more conscious of what they buy and what is available,” and she continues that this approach is “a form of making sustainability more searchable or accessible.”
Delving further into the evolution of the modern world, UNRESERVED asks Cecile Corda and ZALORA’s take on COVID-19 and if the pandemic has slowed their efforts. Her answer is the opposite: “The pandemic showed us that people and our planet are connected. We know that we live in a world of immense change, so sustainability has therefore proven to be increasingly important,” Cecile says. And it is very true that we have seen that our species with our Earth are truly connected. We might not have lived during the times of Hiroshima nor were we present for past pandemics but as the world went into lockdown a couple of years ago, we have lived through our own darkest moments. This was the domino effect of human actions. There could not have been a more flippant wake-up call than COVID-19.
Cecile Corda finds frustration that “issues cannot be solved in a quick manner” but she remains optimistic. She is working hard to build a sustainable future, a healthy world that her two children can prosper in. And this is the kind of vision that has urged humankind forward.
What lies ahead? No one knows. But what we will do is what we have always done… we get to work.