Speaker Series  

Speaker Series with Cara Smyth, Founder of Fashion Makes Change

March 4, 2021

Cara Smyth is the founder of Fashion Makes Change, Gabelli Business School Fellow, and leader of Accenture’s Responsible Retail data-driven ESG practice. She is a fashion industry veteran on a mission to build resilient communities and reverse the climate crisis. Through the power of collective action, she is transforming the fashion ecosystem and developing one-stop-shop solutions to the world’s most pressing problems. Lesley Palmer, Head of Community Relations, virtually sits down with Cara to talk about how fashion, business, non-profit, and academia can come together to address the climate crisis on the road to net-zero.

 

Transcript

 

John Buchanan:

Hi everyone and welcome to this month's Office Hours Speaker Series. Tonight's program is sponsored by Mizuho's Women's Initiatives Network in honor of Women's History Month. The network, which recently installed this year as co-leads Kinnary Armstrong and Casey Waltz, has put together a great lineup of events throughout March, starting with tonight's discussion. We have another very impressive guest tonight. Cara Smyth is a Gabelli Fellow and chairman of Fashion Makes Change, an industry initiative in collaboration with Rockefeller philanthropy advisors. Cara's work focuses on the intersection of the fashion industry and sustainability issues. The fashion industry is big. It is a $2.5 trillion global industry that, according to the World Bank, is responsible for 10% of the planet's annual global carbon emissions. So, changing to a more sustainable business model could have substantial positive impact on our lives and the planet. Together with fashion industry CEOs, Cara is combating climate change and elevating ESG on multiple fronts. As founder of the Responsible Business Coalition at Fordham University and the Global Lead of Accenture's Resilient, Responsible Retail practice, she applies a data-driven ESG lens to build new opportunities that capitalize on the demand for end-to-end responsible business transformation.

 

Cara was previously the Vice President of Glasgow, Caledonia New York College and Founding Director of the Fair Fashion Center, and she held senior executive positions at well-known brands like Jill Sander and Burberry. She is an RSA Fellow, a Tribeca Disruptor, and serves on the Global Sector Advisory Council for the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board known by its acronym, SASB. We need innovators like Cara who understand how industry and ESG align because solving for this helps everyone, including Mizuho, determine the best ways forward for ourselves and our clients. Our moderator this evening will be Head of Community Relations, Lesley Palmer. Lesley, who along with Sarah Cains is a former co-chair of WIN, and now serves as an advisor to the Women's Network. Anyone and everyone who knows Lesley knows she has been a staunch advocate promoting ESG initiatives within the bank. I'm really looking forward to a passionate and informative discussion over to you, Lesley.

 

Lesley Palmer:

Thank you, John. Cara, we are truly honored that you're with us tonight to celebrate Women's History Month and help Mizuho kick off our events. We'd like to start by learning a bit more about you. You've dedicated your career to the fashion industry and are now focused on it through the lens of ESG and sustainability. Can you share some of the key moments along your career path and really when and why sustainability became your priority?

 

Cara Smyth:

Yes, yes. And thank you so much to you John and the team for having me. It's a pleasure to be with you. So I guess I would say I'm a bit of an unlikely sustainability warrior because as John mentioned, I grew up in fashion growing income and image, I would say, for a lot of the companies that I worked for. And about eight years or so ago, there was a factory collapse in Bangladesh that killed 1200 apparel workers in Rana Plaza. And I would say that was my own turning point and probably a turning point for a lot of the folks in the industry. I think that probably... I'm 50 years old. When I was growing up in the business, we used to sort of send out disassembled parts, they would come back assembled and probably only the outdoor brands realized we were creating environmental damage.

 

There were bigger social issues then probably folks realized in the industry at that time, and then came Google and social media and visibility and technology. And now we all have the ability to sort of see and have a visual of what's going on in different places in the world and have that information and data. And I think that created a big shift. So at that time I started to talk to some of the CEOs that I knew in the business that I had grown up with, kind of, about where are we on sustainability? And conversation has shifted a lot, but back then it was somebody down the hole doing our corporate social responsibility or, oh, there's somebody over in supply chain that has sort of the sustainability beat. And I think it's been very interesting because along the way it was here's good citizenry on one side and over here, we run the business and that's now meshed and changed.

 

And I would say probably key to my strange transformation from an industry person to a sustainability person is that we recognized if you don't hit profitability and sustainability sort of in the cross hairs, it's never going to scale and will always stay separate from the business. And so that realization of, it's got to be considered valuation. It's got to be reducing operating and cost inefficiencies that also drive reductions in impacts and so on. That was kind of the only way I would say, is realizing that it had to be to business benefit before sustainability benefit.

 

Lesley Palmer:

Well, I've mentioned some of the issues and the scale of the industry. We have a slide that we're going to put out that hit some of the key numbers, but what do you see as the industry's most critical sustainability challenges going forward?

 

Cara Smyth:

Yeah, it's really interesting. When I was starting, I think realizing sort of fashions numbers, which are kind of famous now, this idea of 10% carbon emissions globally, 20% industrial wastewater. We have about 75% women in our supply chain. The majority of whom are diverse. You look at that opportunity and say what has to happen. And I think what's quite interesting now is across business, we all kind of have the same common landscape on what are the key sustainability goals and whether that be fashion or beyond everybody has greenhouse gas targets. Everybody has raw materials targets or supply chain targets or converting to renewable energy, inclusion and diversity. We get into the “S” of environmental, social and governance. So I think those common goals are all there. I would say the big ones that we're really focusing on right now is regenerative agriculture, renewable energy, inclusion and diversity, and women's education in particular are the ones that are critical to reduce the greenhouse gases across the scope.

 

Lesley Palmer:

I understand the scale of the challenges. I'm guessing that most consumers still don't think a lot about the process that was involved in creating that article of clothing that appeared on a store shelf or in the box that ended up on their doorstep. But it suggests that every piece of clothing has some kind of environmental and possibly social impact. So as an advocate for system change across the industry, what are some of the key goals and obstacles for addressing these challenges? What's the stage now in transitioning, given this enormity of the scale?

 

Cara Smyth:

It's funny. When I started, I had a couple of key stops along the way. And one of the first... I was lucky to be invited to an event at the United Nations and the Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon was calling on businesses and CEOs in particular to start to support what is now the sustainable development goals. And I remember sitting in the meeting thinking if I was still in my CEO seat, seeing goals like underwater life, on land life, partnerships for the peace responsible consumption, as much as I would be a willing participant, I wouldn't really understand what to do. And then if you talk about the nonprofit community, they too speak another language. The nonprofits... Maybe there are nonprofits that are focused on key issue areas, whether it be chemicals or labor rights and so on, but they speak their own language related to that issue.

 

And then you have the financial folks that are talking about data-driven environmental, social, and governance, and quantitative and qualitative metrics. And then we have the science folks that are talking about science-based targets and planetary boundaries. So I thought to myself, if I was still in that old seat, and I had to look at all of those stakeholder groups speaking four or five different languages, none of them that aligned with my business units or the way that I was running a company. Even with the best intentions, I would need facilitation. One of the funny CEOs we work with actually always says, “Cara, I don't have a VP of Greenhouse Gases. I didn't know I was making them. I don't know how to get rid of them, and we don't even have the internal expertise to understand who to align with actually. How would we even get help if we don't have biologists and chemists and all of these things on staff?”

 

So I think one of the big obstacles is this, can we all take a hop into the middle, which is a terrific place for innovation? Another one of the big obstacles I would say is also strangely enough, the CEOs have started to meet over many years, but the nonprofits maybe were not. So through our work we began convening CEOs, as John mentioned through Fordham's Responsible Business Coalition. We work with 46 CEOs on a regular basis. They meet twice every year, they represent 275 brands and about $400 billion in business. And they kept saying, but the nonprofits are not convening. Why are we, who are normally competitive, even though in the name of environmental, social, and governance, we don't compete.

 

Where are the non-profits? So we started to convene them as well. And that's a separate group called Fashion Conveners. And so I think that's allowed us to create a collective action agenda. What are the key topics that the industry should be working on? How are we driving towards that systemic change? And that's allowed sort of a path. It's allowed us to carve a practical path towards profitability and sustainability and offering those data-driven ESG KPIs that everybody's interested in.

 

Lesley Palmer:

You're leading now an ambitious industry-wide initiative called Fashion Makes Change. I have the description, a transformational ecosystem of brands, nonprofits, and consumers working together to drive progress. What is its mission and what are the key components of Fashion Make Change into relation to what you just outlined?

 

Cara Smyth:

So I think this idea of all of these different stakeholder groups needing to kind of step in the middle and work together is exactly what Fashion Makes Change is about. So the industry is doing a lot. Philanthropy is doing a lot. Nonprofits are doing a lot, but what happens if we're actually all in conversation, and that's Fashion Makes Change. So Fashion Makes Change is going to amplify women's education throughout the supply chain, because the brands are already committed to doing this. Brands are educating a million women, 500,000 women. Almost every brand has a commitment to educating, but we are also going to invite consumers to be part of the change. Actually it's launching tomorrow, which is super exciting, and you'll see it in the press. So this is a little one day ahead spoiler alert.

 

All of the big brands will start to engage their consumers and say, would you like to round up your purchase to the nearest dollar to support women's education and supply communities? Two thirds of philanthropy, roughly in America at least comes from the public, not just from foundations. So putting that funding together with the funding from the brands already housed inside Rockefeller philanthropy advisors, as John mentioned, we'll have brands working together with nonprofits in the space that are helping to amplify and educate the women in the supply chain through a curriculum that's been pre-established. The media is involved. So a lot of strange bedfellows, I would say, coming together, and maybe that's sort of an important step for the generation that we're heading into.

 

Lesley Palmer:

You're on the record, and others are saying that the educating of women and girls is critical to addressing sustainability. Can you expand on that and share why you think that?

 

Cara Smyth:

Yes. Yes. So quite interesting and maybe some of the folks on the call will know there's a book called Project Drawdown by Paul Hawken, and that's the hundred best ways to reverse the climate crisis. And number six is actually educating women. And number seven is responsible family planning. So if you put number six and seven together, actually educating women and girls becomes the greatest mitigator of the climate crisis. We also always say, it's the best form of renewable energy. When you invest in women and girls, they build resilient communities. They advance in their careers. They also take care of their families and so on. So women really should always be at the center of the sustainable development conversation, particularly when it has to do with climate as well.

 

Lesley Palmer:

So the notion that they're more educated, higher wages, better economic and health outcomes, results in more resilient social fabric lifted by women.

 

Cara Smyth:

Exactly.

 

Lesley Palmer:

I would think particularly in the countries where you have more of your supply chain locations, right?

 

Cara Smyth:

Yes, for sure. Yeah, because it's been quite interesting, I would say, during the pandemic... It's always funny because when you talk about fashion, there's a lot of protesting around over consumption, over production and the waste to landfill, which is true. At the same time, I think while we're trying to address that, if we saw during the pandemic that stores were closed, citizens and people stopped shopping, the ripple effect in the vulnerable communities that make up the supply chain was profound.

 

We all saw the pictures in the Wall Street Journal and saw one of how many people are walking out of factories and trying to walk back to their communities because the whole system stopped. And so as much as we worry about over consumption and overproduction, we need to be worrying about just and fair transitions. Companies now are saying, I want to onshore, how do we start to have a diversified supply chain? What about automation as we try to reduce waste and so on? So that will create a ripple effect that we need to get ahead of. And I think Fashion Makes Change will allow an upskilling and a preparation and the transitions even towards automated jobs that maybe naturally would fall towards men. And we have to be sure that that doesn't happen so that we're not disproportionately affecting the women, both with climate and with job change.

 

Lesley Palmer:

I think John mentioned this, or you did, that women are responsible for 75% of fashion purchases and 75% to 80% of workers in the supply chain producing apparel are women, although they're not in the management structure. So is that going to be part of the work that this initiative is focused on?

 

Cara Smyth:

It's interesting. I always I guess have my professional hat and I have my citizen or consumer hat. Every time I buy something, I don't want to feel upset about it. We're ordering clothes, we're all buying food, I mean you can take that in any industry. Now, fashion is a great pilot because it's hard wired for change and has given us the ability to look at what about agriculture? What about chemicals? What about energy? What about transportation? What about econ?

 

Lesley Palmer:

Right.

 

Cara Smyth:

It's a terrific setup, but the idea that if 75% of the women are buying the clothes, why aren't we helping sort of our sisters on the opposite side of the world? We should always be donating the money because I'm at fault too. I'm still buying clothes. And to your point before even Patagonia's CEO says every piece that you make creates impact.

 

Cara Smyth:

So I should have the responsibility as a citizen that's purchasing to kind of get engaged. And I guess the opportunity to make that easy. How do you invite people to say, I actually want to be part of the solution, and I think that creates this opportunity. Still a lot of work to be done on glass ceiling and fashion still. Unfortunately, I confess when we started to convene our CEO working group, shortly around that same time, shortly before I was on a Lean In panel. And I said, oh, there's no glass ceiling in fashion, there's women everywhere. And the first time I convened the CEOs, I realized how many men I had in the room and how few women. But, we know better, we're doing better and I think as all of that is evidenced in the press, there's no way but a new path forward here, which will be more diverse and more inclusive as well. And I think we're already seeing more women at the top of various structures and organizations.

 

Lesley Palmer:

Are you seeing that change? There's a report a couple of years ago that McKinsey put out, I think to your point, shattering the glass runway. And it was about gender diversity in the fashion industry and why progress remains slow that the majority of women in the industry hold entry-level positions and there aren't structures to move them into more senior level positions. But what do you think is necessary to make that happen? Having been in that role?

 

Cara Smyth:

I think it's different in if we're talking about manufacturing. Women in manufacturing, I think, is a harder go. Women in the primary portion of the industry and so on, it's different. There are women all over the industry and I could rattle off now five, 10, 15 women CEOs that jump right to mind. So I think probably what's different is education and visibility and the risk, I would, say jury by social media or what my nephews call cancel culture. The risk of getting it wrong today means I may never shop with you again and you will not see me anymore. And I think that's a great benefit of social media. There's a lot of them that I don't like, but that happens to be one creating a spotlight and shining lights on how are companies made up. How are your boards made up? I think we'll push the envelope, thankfully. And 2020 certainly moved us all, I think, in that direction, rightfully so.

 

Lesley Palmer:

Yeah. Well, speaking of 2020, you alluded to the difficult impact of COVID-19 certainly on many industries and how it also has accelerated change. What are the key implications for the apparel industry, do you think? And particularly for your work? Sort of curious if companies have had to deprioritize sustainability or if those who were more focused on it are looking better as a result right now.

 

Cara Smyth:

So I think this is super interesting. I confess I was holding my breath from probably February, I felt like, until around August because we kept hearing, oh, with businesses in the state they're in sustainability, environmental, social is going to go out to sea because it's going to be survival of the fittest. How are we staying on our feet? How are we transitioning into sort of, what is this new acceleration towards digital? And so when all of the new changes in businesses that all the different industries are affronting. And then what started to emerge, step-by-step, not just from the CEOs in the brands that we work with, but I would say there's been kind of a collision of market forces. We see employees saying, I only want to work for purpose driven companies. I want to be doing something sensible with my time while I'm working.

Cara Smyth:

We see consumers saying, I'm more concerned about my health. What's in the chemicals? What chemicals are in my clothing? What chemicals are in the food that I'm eating? And I think big push actually came from the investor side, looking at the data-driven ESG managed companies are more resilient. They prove to have more of a diversified supply chain already. They had a full view of their supply chain. So they had resilience built in and they could kind of take the bounce in a better way. And so now I think this aligned interest between consumers, investors, and employees and companies saying we're more profitable and more resilient. It kind of means if you are not embedding sustainability into your business, you're probably not planning for a sustainable business anyway. That sounds a bit like a bumper sticker I guess, but if you're not embedding environmental, social and governance into every vertical of your business now, you're never going to be able to survive, in my opinion. Because customer loyalty is there, investor interest is there, keeping talent is there. And so there's sort of no other choice, but responsible business now.

 

Lesley Palmer:

Well do you think there’s a large segment of the industry though, that it's just about consumers who are price sensitive for economic reasons?

 

Cara Smyth:

Yeah, and I think that's true. I think there are considerations to, is it more costly to be sustainable? And I think as we drive scale... the key there is there's not enough innovation or availability of sustainable raw materials because there hasn't been demand. But as we start to shift toward recycle, reuse, and all of these new markets, and as we start to look at supporting and how many of the companies are pushing for regenerative agriculture or pushing towards organics and so on, I think the market will move and shift and create more demand, which will help us on price. But, fast fashion is often the culprit. And in many ways they're investing a lot to be more sustainable. And I think as customers, we all have to be mindful. What are you buying? Why are you buying it? How long are you going to keep it? And if you're going to toss it into landfill after two or three times, maybe take a second look at what you're buying and at least how you're disposing of it.

 

Lesley Palmer:

We know that you served on the Global Sector Advisory Council of SASB. SASB standards help businesses track and report financial material and sustainability information for investors. So putting that SASB hat on for a minute, how do you explain how investor driven interest in ESG is influencing change in the industry, say compared to consumer demand? And do you have any examples that you could share? I know you don't like to mention specific brands, but...

 

Cara Smyth:

What I think has been super interesting is a couple of things. So one, I would say brands recognized several years ago that operating efficiencies could make them more profitable and reduce their impact. And the fact that investors are also noticing that and tracking that and looking for that, I don't find surprising. So a couple of examples there. When we were first starting and I was trying to invite the CEOs to come to a meeting, we came upon this idea of, in every man's stress shirt, which I'm sure a lot of the folks probably on the call will be wearing one, even though a lot of us are at home, but anybody that's in a dress shirt will know there's 14 to 18 pieces of packaging and every man's shirt. And if you take away, which is what we did, six to eight pieces of those packaging, how many cents a unit do you save and how much impact have you reduced?

 

And I think the more you start to look at all those operating efficiencies or taking the waste out of the system and providing the environmental, social and governance benefit, then you see SASB come out and they have 77 industry specific criteria asking for environmental, social and governance information sometimes in a quantitative way, sometimes in a qualitative way. But the investors know perfectly well, where are the material business risks? Are you going to have your raw materials? If you think today about a supply chain and say, might there be geopolitical issues? Might there be slave labor? Might there be weather? Might there be a COVID interruption? How are you planning your business through this environmental, social and governance lens? And if that's not a lens you have on your business, there may be material risks built in there that are not emerging.

 

So to me, I have the greatest faith, I would say in business and finance to come together to solve the world's problems. But when you hear a BlackRock or Vanguard or State Street, all of these folks that are stepping forward saying we want data-driven brand aligned, environmental, social, and governance information at a board level, and we want to know what your plans are as you're driving towards net zero, it creates a ripple effect. As regulations push investors and investors push companies, we've got a domino effect of everybody having to say, show progress and monitor progress, create that ability to track and trace. So I think the push from the financial community is one that will drive probably the quickest change of all.

 

Lesley Palmer:

You recently joined Accenture. It's responsible retail, if I get this right, data-driven ESG practice. You have so many ambitious initiatives going on, it's extraordinary. So why at this time in your career, did you decide to join Accenture and how are you building on what you've already accomplished, that responsible business lens to other sectors that Accenture's working with?

 

Cara Smyth:

I think it's kind of built on the last question. This idea of business and finance can drive the change we want to see. And I've had my last years, even though I still always feel in some ways like a retail person, but I've had my life a bit in academia and philanthropy, and those two sectors alone can't move fast enough. So if we're talking about systems change, if we're talking about what is the future that we all want to see, I think businesses need to be facilitated and financial instruments and other things need to be in place as well.

 

So that means you need the data and technology. You need supply chain expertise. You need to be able to help brands and companies in the way that they need to be helped. You need to be thinking about rebranding even and integrated communications, et cetera. And Accenture is a powerhouse. They have a focus on ESG and they are a global army of help for their clients and I would say for all things related to the sustainability and the future of responsible business in general. And so the partnership there feels really really important for scale and speed.

 

Lesley Palmer:

Where do you see yourself going?

 

Cara Smyth:

I think, probably, I often heard it's impossible to be in the structure that we're in, which is kind of a strange ecosystem, back to the strange bedfellows, of can you have academia and nonprofits and philanthropy and consumers and data and advisory working together? Probably two years ago, even I would have said, I don't think that that's a thing that works, but actually now this recognition of we have what the UN calls problems without passports that need to be solved. All of these different actors need to come together, step into the middle, resolve the challenges and kind of bring their talents, their expertise, to the table and say, wow, if you're trying to unravel women's education, who needs to be there? What does the data help? What is the technology going to be able to do there? Who are the strange folks that need to come together or the different organizations, I should say better, that need to come together. So more and more of these new ecosystems of different talents coming together like pieces of a puzzle to resolve the challenges that we all have back to being citizens as well, I think is sort of the future. Powerful partnerships is I think what's coming in this decade. So I hope to be in the midst of those powerful partnerships, wherever they are.

 

Lesley Palmer:

No doubt. What do you say to the people listening to this in terms of what we can each do as individuals, as consumers, or business people?

 

Cara Smyth:

So I think it's a couple of things. As business people, we also have talents and abilities, and the question is where can you apply them to drive a cleaner, greener, kinder, more inclusive and diverse world? I think if we all have those lenses on, no matter what we're doing and what part of a business we're standing, that drives change. I think our dollars old have impact. They say every dollar, it's like impact investing depending on the brands and the retailers and the folks that you align with. So paying attention to what are their values and where are you shopping and who are you supporting, and who are you voting for, I think is critical. It's also always good to look at your trash, which is another thing. What am I throwing away?

 

If you look a little bit at what you're throwing away, can you source those things in some other way? In some other manner that maybe leads to have less waste, less trash. Opt out when you can have all of the different packaging and so on. And the last thing I guess I would say we feel one of the other very interesting partnerships that has been formed is between Fashion Makes Change and Shopify, which is still a bit of the spoiler alert for what will be announced tomorrow in the press. But they have over a million fashion brands on their platform, on their merchant ecosystem, and they are helping us amplify the ability for customers to find Fashion Makes Change everywhere. So I guess my last plea would be round up whenever you can, and whenever you have the opportunity.

 

Lesley Palmer:

Great. So we should be able to see that when we're shopping online, there would be a Fashion Makes Change reference.

 

Cara Smyth:

Correct. On website and in store, so you'll start to see that rollout and there'll be various activations throughout the year. Obviously first priority with all of the women's activities around International Women's Day and Women's Month. And then you'll see us again on Earth Day and on Mother's Day and on Fashion Weeks and so on. So we hope to stay super visible and kind of engage everybody in being part of the solution.

 

Lesley Palmer:

And the initial funds raised are going to go towards these channels you've set up with HERproject and Empower@Work Collaborative, right?

 

Cara Smyth:

Correct.

 

Lesley Palmer:

And, assuming that this continues to build, what is a phase two look like?

Cara Smyth:

So interesting, the phase one is you said is I'm in the collaboration with Empower@Work, which is made up of Gap's P.A.C.E program, BSRs HERproject, the UN ILO and their Better Work program and CARE. So all of the on the ground providers that are able to understand what's the proper educational stack, what's the best way to amplify and accelerate women's education empowerment. Next comes the de-carbonization of the supply chain. Once we're understanding, where is the concentration where brands are working and we understand where we are educating, I think the idea that to engage large scale renewable energy providers, lot of folks in the nonprofit community already working on this, already also trying to mobilize the financial world. How do we create favorable rates of capital? What are the circumstances that would need to be in place to kind of remove financial obstacles for the conversion to renewables? So, that'll be kind of watch this space phase two. And I hope by the end of this calendar year, we'll have more to report on that as well.

 

Lesley Palmer:

Yeah. Well, if you have any messages you want to preload in terms of what you're looking for from financial services, now would be a good opportunity.

 

Cara Smyth:

Yeah. I think there is always this question. What are the obstacles and financing mechanisms that are challenging? So if we want to convert to renewable energy, in country by country, what does that look like? And different countries will have various regulations. Should it be onsite solar should it be virtual power purchase agreements? What has to happen? How do we mobilize and create the conditions, whether it be for factory owners or renewable energy providers to have some, whether it be preferential rates, rates of capital or assistance there for longer payment terms, or are there business opportunities even on the financial side? I would say we could use some advice on that as we go. And it's maybe another opportunity for interesting partnerships to come.

 

Lesley Palmer:

Great. Watch this space.

 

Cara Smyth:

Watch this space, yes.

 

Lesley Palmer:

Absolutely. And one of my colleagues had found an interesting that your brand of activism is very careful to not shame corporations and, it'd be interesting to hear why you think that's the way to go.

 

Cara Smyth:

I think there is place for, some people say stick, some people say carrot, and I do think that being held accountable in the press and all of that also drives change. I think when you're talking to business leaders, it's maybe human nature. If every time I get with somebody who's trying to help me, they're going to shame and blame first, I think you're hesitant to take meetings. I think you're hesitant to speak openly about things. So the idea of saying, I appreciate you need to run a profitable business if you're going to be part of a healthy solution, supporting social and environmental issues, and so how do I facilitate having a very clear understanding of the industry that I'm trying to help?

 

I said at the top, I'm an unlikely sustainability warrior because I grew up in the industry and the learning curve on ESG is terribly steep. There's so many entangled issues there, but I don't think, had I not grown up in the industry to try to say, oh, how am I going to ski the slalom course around what's possible to create kind of faster on-ramps and business solutions and that kind of an industry lens on things, that doesn't really work either. So I think a pro-business approach is the faster approach. And it has been a faster approach for us, let's say.

 

Lesley Palmer:

Right. Well, if you're ultimately about integration of ESG objectives, we want to work in partnership.

 

Cara Smyth:

Yeah, and understand the industry verticals. If you really understand, what's... We always say ESG is a team sport. So there's a role for design. There's a role for supply chain. There's a role for IR. There's a role for communications. So if everybody has sort of a piece and then they can realize that value and push that benefit forward, it's faster. It's a faster approach.

 

Lesley Palmer:

We started at the top about you and maybe it's appropriate to end with you. What keeps you motivated and what are your personal aspirations for the future? Because you dedicate so much energy to this work.

 

Cara Smyth:

I always say I sort of live somewhere in between being thrilled and terrified...

 

Lesley Palmer:

Everyday.

 

Cara Smyth:

Everyday I'm somewhere between thrill and terrified. I think we... I don't want to say crept into this by accident, but we tried to put a super practical business approach that's aligned with the way finance works on to systems change. And I guess I feel very responsible for the people that we work with and the people that I work for. And so, yeah, a long journey ahead, a long one already traveled, but there's a lot of people that are very smart in this space and everything we can do to help knit those thoughts together is what keeps me motivated. There's about 2700 days left before irreversible climate change. Going back to fashion's numbers at the top. And so there's a countdown clock in Union Square, not far from where I live, that's counting the days backwards before irreversible climate change. That tends to focus your attention on what could and should happen and like I said, I guess we've all got a hand and an opportunity and being part of what's to come. So, that keeps me awake at night, but certainly keeps me motivated

 

Lesley Palmer:

The last year has certainly driven that all home for a lot of us. A lot of your message is about the importance of partnership and different sectors pulling together. And you're at the hub of that. Can you speak specifically to what financial services role potentially should be?

 

Cara Smyth:

I think it's, again, you mentioning partnership there and I think partnering with the financial community, and there's a lot of work getting it underway already, whether it'd be at the UNFCCC and other places, a lot of folks are starting to look at if an industry is able to aggregate supply chain actors and they could be supporting energy efficiency and the conversion to renewables. And we think about a factory and mill base, how actually can the financial community help there to provide, whether it be innovative financing mechanisms or how might they help remove logistic and financial barriers that stand in the way towards large scale conversion? So I think wrapping the knowledge and information of the financial community around these efforts, which is already actually pulling out of the gates, I mean, I'm not suggesting that this already isn't happening, but I would say, as we look at our own community, how can we support the nonprofits and drive those improvements and assessments by I guess, yes, creating a financial rap and an understanding on what benefits might we find, what illicitly might there be and what mechanisms the financial community can bring to bear on some of the changes kind of industry by industry that we're trying to create.

 

Lesley Palmer:

Really on behalf of Mizuho, I want to thank you. You've shared an enormously powerful vision with us and I'm sure we all learned a lot. So Cara...

 

Cara Smyth:

It's a great pleasure.

 

Lesley Palmer:

Keep making change.

 

Lesley Palmer:

Yes. Keep making change. I hope there's lots of conversation to come, and thank you again so much to you and to John and everyone for having me. It's a great pleasure.

 

Cara Smyth:

Absolutely.

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