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A sustainable future in view for brands? Our panelists share their thoughts

We had some great conversations at the Innovate for Growth Sustainability Experts Panel + Q&A event a couple of weeks ago on the topics of how brands can innovate around Sustainability, challenges of scaling positive environmental impact, solutions for fashion pollution, and how the businesses our panelists work with are making positive impacts in Sustainability.

Our panelists included thought leaders in Sustainability from a variety of industries, including Sonalie Figueiras, Founder of Green Queen; Kate Okrasinski, Director of Innovation at MAKE Studios; Anita Varshney, VP Strategy & Innovation, SAP Next-Gen; Diana Chen, Sustainability Advisor at The Purpose Business & Host of Creative Mornings HK; Kate Padget-Koh, Co-founder of Fashionable Futures & Artist/Founder at Kate Padget-Koh; and Michelle Lee, Marketing & E-Commerce Director at The R Collective, moderated by the very engaging Lauren Berning, Sustainability & Innovation Consultant and Founder of TBC HK Improv Company. The panel discussion and Q&A gave an interesting snapshot of where we are with Sustainability in HK currently with a well rounded set of perspectives ranging from Service Design Thinking, Media to Consumer Sustainable Fashion and Corporate ESG (Environmental, Social & Governance) when considering Sustainability, and sparked many interesting ideas and potential collaborations for the future.

Here are some of the highlights from the event:

Challenges of Scaling Sustainability
Innovating for Sustainability – Long-termism, Sci-fi and Cathedral Thinking

Hiring for roles in sustainability
Solutions for Fashion Pollution
Sustainability impact goals for panelists’ businesses
How do consumers learn about Sustainability and Sustainable Brands?

The audience also shared their thoughts on the current state of sustainability in Hong Kong, ‘greenwashing’ from brands, as well as the obstacles for consumers to adopt an eco-friendly lifestyle.


Some interesting takeaways from the panel discussion:

  • This ethos of “sustainability” influences businesses in a holistic way, from product innovation to hiring the right talent that believe in what you do.

  • The world is shifting towards “Long-termism” and we need to wake up to band-aid solutions that eventually create bigger problems. When it comes to product innovation, Patagonia is a leading figure in “Cathedral thinking”, where an organisation looks so far ahead and aims to build legacies and longevity. Patagonia does this by considering what will happen 100 year from now and think backwards from that. (via Rosann Ling)

  • Fashion is one of the greatest source of pollution. The R Collective rescues luxury material and recycle them into new collections with the goals of reducing textile waste and pollution.

    Christina Dean, Founder & CEO of The R Collective, also founded Redress, an NGO that educates the fashion designers and consumers to change mindsets and practices to stop the creation of textile waste now and in the future. They partner with well known high street brands to create second hand clothing take back systems, and run fashion shows featuring sustainable collections that generate and showcase value in repurposing textiles waste in an aesthetically appealing way.


  • The R Collective partners with independent designers as well as fashion brands to rescue leftover luxury material, designing for longevity and durability. This is a great example of how brands can collaborate with artisans to scale positive impact by creating sustainable products that also have aesthetic appeal for consumers.

    By reimagining textiles waste and capitalising circular fashion, they are able to reduce the carbon footprint of an up cycled jacket by 60%.

  • Media is important for people to find out about what your brand is doing and learn about why and how to live sustainably. Green Queen, an eco-wellness platform founded by one of our panelists Sonalie Figueiras, does this by sharing resources, interviewing entrepreneurs in this field, publish eco-wellness/sustainability news, events, podcast and video content to distribute information and educate so consumers in Asia feel informed, inspired and know what they can do.

  • 82% of the micro-plastic pollution in our oceans come from nylon, polyester or other synthetic products, such as yoga pants made from recycled bottles.

  • On the subject of innovation in Sustainable Fashion – Kate Padget Koh believes there are a lot of innovation out there when it comes to new fashion technologies to create sustainable fabric e.g. Mushroom, Eco silks. However, the new luxury is going to be eco luxury where the value is no longer about looking for the most rare skin as fabric but rather being able to keep those skins on this planet without using them.


  • For sustainable growth, we need to re-engineer the way we perceive luxury services. Rather than products, service is about interactions (serving a cookie on a paper tray is not the definition of luxury. But having a strong customer relationship, listening to your audience and responding to those needs in innovative ways is) MAKE Studios: Design-led Innovation
  • Questions which brands will need to consider when planning to make positive sustainable impact at scale include:
  1. Is the consumer demanding this fully?
  2. Can they get to it at scale?
  3. There is still a gap in consumers knowledge about the why’s and how’s of Sustainable Fashion – most have subconsciously learnt to buy cheap clothes without considering its impact on the environment. Brands like H&M, Adidas & Zara making a commitment to manufacturing Sustainable Fashion is a good start and accelerates industry wide changes.
  4. How fast can you get these innovations to the market at a viable price point?
  5. How do you drive people to buy more when you are trying to encourage them to buy less?

Some amazing reads came up during the panel (via Anita Varshney) :

πŸ”Ž Book – Let My People Go Surfing : The Education of a Reluctant Businessman – Including 10 More Years of Business as Usual
πŸ”Ž Book – Science Fiction: A Starship for Enterprise Innovation
πŸ”Ž Cathedral Thinking
πŸ”Ž Why Long-term Thinking is your Best Short-term Strategy ?
πŸ”Ž Why waste is a fundamental design flaw ?

A big thank you to all of our panelists and attendees for joining the event. If you would like to receive updates in your inbox on the latest Innovate for Growth events, podcast and articles, please subscribe to our newsletter below.

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