Textile and Clothing (T&C) companies across all industry segments have started to implement sustainable approaches and to align economic, social and environmental responsibilities through their corporate strategy, taking into consideration not only the increase of profits and decrease of costs, but also the sustainable development of the company itself and its environment (Leibowitz, 2019; Bansal and Song, 2017). Although it can be observed, that a growing interest of research in the drivers, barriers and success factors of sustainability in the T&C industry exists, to the best of our knowledge, there is little literature with special reference to European T&C companies with global value chains, which successfully integrated sustainability into their corporate strategy, creating a significant literature gap in that context (Pedersen and Andersen, 2015).
This paper explores a set of institutional, organizational and individual drivers, barriers and success factors for the integration of sustainability into corporate strategy of a European T&C company. It contributes to both theory and practice in relation of integrating sustainability into corporate strategy of a T&C company. The research is grounded on a case study analysis of VAUDE, a European, family-owned outdoor outfitter, that has sustainability deeply integrated into its corporate strategy and has been recognized as an exemplary through awards like “Germany’s Most Sustainable Brand” in 2015 and the European Business Award in “Environmental & Corporate Sustainability” in 2017. The case study analysis, including the conduction of interviews, examination of the sustainability report and website as well as observations in the field, is in accordance with VAUDE’s high sustainable reputation and suggests, that sustainability is deeply integrated into its corporate strategy. Therefore, our results are original and seek to provide a better understanding of the aspects driving and hindering a European T&C company to the integration of sustainability into corporate strategy as well as the success factors related to the integration process.
Our results extend current insights into the highly global and competitive T&C industry and are in alignment with previous research focusing on drivers, barriers and success factors for the integration of sustainability into corporate strategy of a T&C company. We identified a total of: A) six drivers (Consumer Awareness, Competitive Advantage, Sustainability as a Business Case, Corporate Reputation, Top Management, Originality); B) ten barriers (Standards and Regulations, Consumer Behavior, Limited Options and Comparisons, Uncertainties, Infrastructure, Situation in Production Countries, Sustainability as a Business Case, Value Chain Management, Data Handling, Trade-off between Quality and Durability); and C) eleven success factors (Standards and Regulations, Consumer Trust, Cooperation, Organizational Structure, Corporate Vision, Corporate Culture, Training and Communication, Control Mechanisms, Sustainability Management, Top Management, Staff Level). From those, nine aspects were not yet classified in existing literature.
Moreover, we determined one driver (“Sustainability as a Business Case”) and one success factor (“Corporate Vision”) as specific for the T&C industry, whereas existing research only identified them as cross-industrial aspects before. The topics, that were detected in recent literature, but could not be confirmed in our analysis are “Standards and Regulations” and “Public Pressure” as drivers, “Economic Growth”, “Reluctance from well-established Brands” and “Top Management” as barriers as well as “Compensation and Reward System”, “Sustainability Initiatives” and “Leadership Competencies” as success factors. Furthermore, our findings show, that drivers for the integration of sustainability into corporate strategy of T&C companies are dependent on a collective coherence of all three levels of analysis (i.e. institutional, organizational and individual). The determined barriers are of institutional and organizational nature only and the success factors are predominantly found on the institutional level.
Taking into consideration Institutional Theory and Stakeholder Theory as theoretical frameworks explaining why companies deal with sustainability and, more specifically, decide to integrate sustainability into their corporate strategy, our results stand in accordance (Perrini and Tencati, 2006; Matten and Moon, 2008; Rezaee, 2016). Based on our case study results, we could identify an institutional level of analysis for all three topics - drivers, barriers and success factors for the integration of sustainability into corporate strategy in T&C companies. It reveals once more, that in order to earn the legitimacy to survive in the market, a sustainable T&C company is urged to conform to its institutional environment comprising normative, regulatory and cognitive elements. Moreover, our results align with the assumption, that stakeholders can directly and indirectly influence sustainability practices of a company (Sharma and Henriques, 2005). We identified that especially consumers are influential for driving and hindering a T&C company to integrate sustainability into corporate strategy as well as largely influence the success of the integration. Also, our results confirm, that in order to create value with the integration of sustainability into corporate strategy, a T&C company has to address a wider set of stakeholders than conventional business models suggest. The higher than the European average growth rate of the case company shows, that addressing stakeholders like the environment and local communities can not only influence a brand’s reputation positively, lead to more purchases and trust from consumers, but ultimately be highly beneficial for one’s business case.
This paper provides clear case study results and extensive insights into the current status of drivers, barriers and success factors for the integration of sustainability into corporate strategy of a T&C company. VAUDE’s pioneering strategical sustainability approach in Europe and particularly in the global T&C industry offers strong support for our results. The findings present significant suggestions for other T&C companies, that seek to integrate sustainability into their corporate strategy as well as for the T&C industry to create a sustainability friendly environment to drive more T&C companies to become sustainable. It further supports T&C companies to identify potential barriers, how to overcome them and successfully integrate sustainability into their corporate strategy. Our results reveal, that it only works, if sustainability is strongly integrated into one’s corporate strategy and deeply anchored in all departments and daily tasks of a T&C company.