Press Release



(Reissued as received.)

BRUSSELS/PARIS/NAIROBI, 2 June (UNEP) -- From the catwalk to the consumer, the world's leading fashion designers and retail giants could play a major role in saving the planet.

Whether it is the high-end labels of Prada or Versace or the high-street brands of Carrefour, Monoprix and Marks and Spencer, a growing number of professionals in the fashion and retail business are responding to a latent public demand for ethical and green products.

In support of these efforts, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) is working on a new initiative, dubbed "shopping for a better world", which aims to influence the $7 trillion global retail industry.  At the same time, new partnerships with people from the fashion world hope to bring environmental messages to a new and increasingly influential audience.

"Consumers, especially the young, are often confronted with the seemingly contradictory choice of wanting to help the planet and the hedonistic desire to buy the latest 'must-have' brands", said UNEP Executive Director Klaus Toepfer, speaking here in Brussels today at the opening of the European Commission's Green Week.

"But, what can be more modern, more fashionable, than caring about our planet", Mr. Toepfer continued.  "By working with the retail and fashion industry, we can help change attitudes towards consumption, and ultimately people's actions."

The new UNEP activities are the latest element of UNEP's work to advance the positive sides of sustainable consumption and production.  Earlier this year, to encourage more people to embrace so-called sustainable consumerism, UNEP launched a new project that puts an emphasis on marketing "attractive" or "desirable" life-styles as a key way to sell environmentally friendly products.

"UNEP has stepped up its activities with the retail sector, whose role lies in helping to change unsustainable consumption patterns", said Mr. Toepfer.  "We are also starting to work with partners in the fashion industry, in order to show how sustainable life-styles can be fashionable, and 'cool' as young people might say."

One of the first emerging partners in this area is the award-winning web-based global fashion magazine, Lucire.  According to Lucire's founding publisher, Jack Yan, "Fashion magazines should not only communicate the labels and their offerings; they should also give the industry insight into what's hot and what's not."

"In our joint effort with UNEP, Lucire will champion those who understand sustainability, bringing them the consumer demand that they deserve", says Mr. Yan.  "At the same time, we will be able to send a signal back to the fashion industry that this is what today's society desires."

With the wider retail sector, UNEP helped to kick-start its "Shopping for a better world" work when it recently hosted an informal meeting of the retail industry in Paris.  Ten international retailers and associations were represented -- a diverse group involved in food, clothing and other retailing (see below).

As the link between manufacturers and consumers, UNEP believes the retail sector is particularly well placed to help put some aspects of the "cool" green lifestyle initiative into practice.

"On the one hand, the retail sector can influence suppliers to produce in a more sustainable manner -- raising questions of resource and energy use, for example", said Mr. Toepfer.  "On the other hand, the sector is in a unique position to help the public to adopt more environmentally friendly lifestyles and purchasing habits by providing customers with an appropriate choice."

In recent years, a few companies in the retail sector have not only started to green their own operations, but also to become important players in global efforts to make consumption and production patterns more sustainable.  They are taking action:  developing logistical strategies for transport, making life-cycle assessments of packaging, marketing green products, drawing up codes of conduct for suppliers, and demanding innovation in building design and energy systems.

According to Philippe Houze, President of Monoprix, "A survey done by PricewaterhouseCoopers in March 2000 showed that 64 per cent of consumers want to be informed about the production methods of the goods they buy, and that 73 per cent of them would be influenced by social labels in their purchasing decision.

Mr. Houze was writing in the latest edition of UNEP's Industry and Environment magazine that is dedicated to the retail topic.  "Shopping for a better world:  sustainability and retailing" is available at http://www.uneptie.org/media/review/ie_home.htm.

For more information contact: Robert Bisset, UNEP Press Officer/Spokesperson for Europe, tel: 33 1 44377613, mobile: 33 6 22725842, e-mail: robert.bisset@unep.fr; Eric Falt, Spokesperson/Director of UNEP's Division of Communications and Public Information, on tel: 254 2 623292, mobile: 254 (0) 733 682656, e-mail: eric.falt@unep.org; or Nick Nuttall, UNEP Head of Media, on tel: 254 2 623084, mobile: 254 (0) 733 632755, e-mail: nick.nuttall@unep.org

Note to Journalists

For more information about UNEP's work on sustainable consumption, http://www.uneptie.org/sustain/; and production, http://www.uneptie.org/pc/cp.

Some additional resources include UNEP's work with the Life-Cycle Initiative:  http://www.uneptie.org/pc/sustain/lcinitiative/home.htm, and on youth, which focuses on sustainable lifestyles as something desirable and funky to do.  The youthXchange project is a cooperation between UNEP and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO); see http://www.youthxchange.net/

For more information about Lucire magazine, see http://www.lucire.com/

Another emerging partner in the fashion industry is Love the eArth.Fashion -- a Web site with a focus on environmentally friendly design, see http://www.earthfashion.com

Participants at the retail industry meeting in Paris included:  Ahold Corporate Communications, British Retail Consortium, Carrefour, Co-op, EuroCommerce, Ito Yokado, Kesko, Monoprix, Prinault Prinetemps-Redoute and


Note to Editors

At the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg last year, governments urged active work to speed the shift to sustainable consumption and production.

In February, at UNEP's Governing Council meeting, ministers voted to strengthen work on sustainable consumption and production, promote design of sustainable products and services, reinforce voluntary work with business sectors, and increase support for awareness-raising campaigns.

The development of a 10-year framework of programmes on sustainable consumption and production was one of the key outcomes of the World Summit on Sustainable Development.  This activity, and UNEP's role in it, was recently endorsed by the Group of 8 Ministers of Environment at their meeting held in Paris in April 2003.

UNEP News Release Paris 2003/38

Patricia L. Jacobs, Associate Information Officer, UNEP (Division of Communications and Public Information), tel.:  +254-2-623088; fax:  +254-2-623692; e-mail: Patricia.Jacobs@unep.org

UNEP's Web site:  www.unep.org

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For information media. Not an official record.