Executive Q&A A Conversation with David Hayer, President, Gap Foundation, and Senior Vice President, Global Sustainability, Gap Inc.
Why is sustainability so important to Gap Inc.?
We were founded in 1969 by Don and Doris Fisher, a husband and wife team who believed in giving back to the community, the people who make our products and the environment. To them, success has always been about so much more than selling clothes.Sustainability is becoming mainstream. Gap Inc. is in a unique position to influence the industry, government and our customers by leading the way with best practices.
What is the biggest change in our sustainability work since our last report was published covering 2013 through 2014?
Today, we know more about what works and what doesn’t. We are doubling down on models that truly show value, like the ILO’s Better Work program, which now covers a majority of the facilities we source from in Bangladesh. It’s less about testing an approach, and more about building programs that scale. Our global portfolio of brands positions us well to accelerate impact worldwide. Some of our brands, like Gap and Athleta, have set ambitious goals on sustainable cotton and synthetic fibers. As our understanding grows, we are infusing better environmental practices into every part of the business.
What do you see as the biggest challenges to our work?
There are five key levers that I feel need to be addressed to propel the apparel industry forward: building effective partnerships, reducing fragmentation, converging on what works, integrating accountability, and recruiting and developing top talent. Each of these components is important to improve working conditions and reduce environmental impacts.
How do you define effective partnerships, and how do we select our partners?
As a company, we're estimated to represent a small but significant fraction of the apparel industry, which is humbling. We need help to continue to drive lasting impact. We need external collaborations and multi-stakeholder initiatives—it’s NGOs, manufacturers, government, labor groups and consumers. Today, we vet partners based on shared vision and work style, supplemental capability and a true commitment to long-term impact.
Today, we vet partners based on shared vision and work style, supplemental capability and a true commitment to long-term impact.
Over the past seven years, Gap Inc. has strategically reduced its number of sourcing facilities by over 25%.
Why is streamlining sourcing relationships and efforts an important part of our strategy?
The high degree of fragmentation across the industry is a significant challenge to improving sustainability. Over the past seven years, Gap Inc. has strategically reduced its number of sourcing facilities by over 25%. Prioritizing resources and ensuring that brands and suppliers collaborate more closely on social and environmental performance has been critical to our evolution. We need tougher expectations across the industry. As we raise our standards and source solely from higher-performing vendors, we necessarily reduce the amount of relationships we maintain. When it comes to sustainability, we’re focused on efficacy and efficiency. We’re pursuing the most innovative work with like-minded apparel companies, multilateral institutions, governments, labor organizations, environmental groups and other key stakeholders. That collaboration stands to change the way we assess our facilities and build capacity; it will help us save water and diminish chemical usage. Competition is a healthy part of any business, but this is one place where we need to converge within the industry.
You mentioned integrating accountability as a key lever, how is that going?
Sustainability must continue to become a seamless part of how we run our company. The days of it being a small program off to the side of the core business are long over. We are evolving the work to increasingly be a part of what we do regularly. We’ve made progress, but fully integrating sustainability across our business will unlock the biggest opportunities. Tactically, it’s about education, empowerment and accountability. We want to enable the people who are making real decisions, asking real questions and having real debates about our products to understand how to push forward what is right for people, the planet and our company.This work requires recruiting the best talent possible, from experienced and diverse backgrounds. It requires the most qualified and creative professionals dedicated to creating innovative supply chain solutions. We need to invest in them and support their development. We’ve made good progress, but we still have room to grow.
We all want the same thing: to build a better future for ourselves and our families.
Where do you see the future of reporting for Gap Inc.?
We have a responsibility, to be accountable and maintain high levels of transparency. To do so, we will identify opportunities to publish our program impact in ways that are more accessible and more frequent, including reporting on our sustainability metrics and progress at least annually.
What keeps you fired up about your work?
I can’t believe I get to wake up and do this job every day. I’ve met hundreds of mothers in our cut-and-sew facilities across the globe; I’ve met dozens of young men and women beginning their first jobs in our stores in urban centers across the US. We all want the same thing: to build a better future for ourselves and our families. I’m fired up to help each one of them. To me, leading sustainability at Gap Inc. is really about equality—equal treatment, equal opportunity and the ability for everyone to enjoy a healthy environment. We have a tremendous opportunity to connect the dots on our progress and our challenges. We must translate the activity we’re seeing across the industry into better results. As we continue to weave sustainability into all we do, I’m confident that Gap Inc., is taking the right steps toward the future we all want to see.