Shifting mindsets - cultivating more educated consumers
GUESTS FOR CHANGE with Dr. Reiner Hengtsmann
Within the Guests for Change series, thought leaders, pioneers, visionaries, and game-changers are interviewed to give us more insight into the world of sustainability and circularity. We are honoured to have had the opportunity to talk with a revolutionary in the textile industry, Dr Reiner Hengtsmann.
Reiner has an impressive and expansive history in the textile industry. With a background in business and a PhD in chemistry, his passion for environmental affairs started from a young age.
He began his career as the director of an environmental analysis laboratory. From here, he became the Global Director for Sustainability and Compliance at PUMA. At PUMA, he was instrumental in developing the first Environmental Profit and Loss system, which allows businesses to place an actual price on their true environmental footprint. Afterwards, he served as the Senior Head of Global Sustainability at Hugo Boss and since then has started his own international boutique consultancy firm, go4more.global, to assist businesses to operate within the intersection of convenience and conscience, implementing sustainability across all sectors.
we need to feel before we understand.
We need to understand before we act.
Creating a better world has always been Reiner’s goal, and is something that he continually strives for. His commitment towards this was such that he even moved his family to Asia for 12 years so that he could live and work within the supply chain - with the view to get as close as possible to it - to enable as much of an impact as possible.
Reiner says that it was while working within the supply chains, he felt an intrinsic pull to do something. He shares, “Really going down the supply chain and seeing the gaps, seeing what needs to be done. This actually triggered, yes, let’s do something.”
“Really going down the supply chain and seeing the gaps, seeing what needs to be done. This actually triggered, yes, let’s do something.”
Image via Rio Lecatompessy on Unsplash
During his time in Asia, Reiner observed that there are striking and visible differences between the Global North and Global South. He noted that those in poorer countries often have more pressing priorities to attend to than thinking of the longevity or quality of their purchases. They are circumstantially forced to think of things that pertain more to their day-to-day survival - such as providing the next meal for their families.
As such, provisioning for the future can become a luxury. This offers a “fast fashion” opportunity to mass-produce garments cheaper, as there is a large number of people seeking work who accept the meagre wage on offer. At this point, oftentimes, it becomes the case of having an income or not, regardless of how low it is. From this, the demand from Western countries for such goods is fuelled - which has created an unsustainable, and environmentally destructive cycle.
In a sense, one could argue that these countries are paying the environmental price and feeding the fast-fashion addiction for consumers in higher-income countries. And this is something that needs to change.
Despite these prominent global and societal issues, especially in discrepancies between the global north and the global south, Reiner feels that there is a deep and unsatisfied need for a more educated consumer. This need for more consumer awareness is a problem not solely located in one country.
"The attitude of fast fashion directly correlates with your mindset and educational background - if you have the right mindset then it becomes ingrained in you. But without awareness, it doesn’t get us ready for the future."
Image via Ashutosh Sonwani via Pexels
He says, "The attitude of fast fashion directly correlates with your mindset and educational background - if you have the right mindset then it becomes ingrained in you. But without awareness, it doesn’t get us ready for the future."
An example of this was when PUMA developed the world’s first compostable shoe. At the point when the innovation took place, Reiner claims that society was not ready, saying that consumers were thinking: “A compostable shoe? Might it fall off my feet when it’s raining?” However, now with compostable shoes being readily available, and many clothing brands making use of more sustainable materials - it suggests that consumers are beginning to think in more circular ways. Following this, Reiner says he is optimistic and that there is the potential to fill this education gap - having seen more and more people in his experience in Vietnam becoming more learned each time he visits.
When you ask someone on the street what their definition of sustainability is, you may receive multiple, differing answers. Some may not even be aware of what it means. As such, it makes it confusing for people to practise sustainability and implement it into their day to day lives. However, one of the most circular systems in place in the world today is that of the food system. Within this system, there is the ability to make real change.
Reiner has seen examples that illustrate the power of circular systems when taken into the hands of the public. In Ethiopia and Pakistan, for instance, he witnessed farmers protesting against certain industries polluting environments which directly impacted their livelihoods. These farmers took a stand, which triggered governments to put rules and regulations in place, even shutting down some factories. These provide a showcase of just how consumers can influence laws, regulations and policies.
These farmers took a stand, which triggered governments to put rules and regulations in place, even shutting down some factories. These provide a showcase of just how consumers can influence laws, regulations and policies.
Image via Tim Mossholder via Unsplash
We often believe that we do not have any power as individuals but this is not the case. Collectively, we have an immense amount of influence. If people in countries with less infrastructure can stand up to their governments to implement real change, imagine the potential that individuals with the right mindset in higher-income countries can have to bring about change.
To discover how we can make more of a difference, both collectively and individually, read the next part of our conversation with Reiner here.