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Q&A: How Messe Frankfurt’s Textile Trade Shows Support the SDGs

Updated: Sep 6, 2023

By Sourcing Journal


Among the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals is a call for “global partnership.” Trade event organizer Messe Frankfurt, the United Nations Conscious Fashion and Lifestyle Network and the UN Office for Partnerships are exemplifying this concept through a collaboration that raises awareness for the SDGs at international fairs.


Sustainability has been showcased at Messe Frankfurt’s 50-plus Texpertise textile shows for the last 15 years, but this partnership has expanded these efforts. At events, including the recent Texworld NYC show, the SDGs are highlighted through panels, press conferences, podcasts and activations such as booths and photo walls. Since the alliance began in 2019, it has reached more than 21,000 exhibitors, 508,000 show attendees and 6,250 members of the media across eight countries. Social media outreach has also engaged 945,000 followers.

“Using our Texpertise Network over the past few years…we have made the SDGs into something to be experienced directly,” said Olaf Schmidt, vice president textiles and textile technologies at Messe Frankfurt. He added, “We have been supporting the topic of sustainability at our events around the globe for many years and can build on the experience, market expertise and commitment of our colleagues in the subsidiaries.”


Here, Schmidt discusses the impact of Messe Frankfurt’s SDG engagement, how the mindset around sustainability must change and why being green doesn’t necessarily cost more.


Why did Messe Frankfurt’s Texpertise decide to commit to the United Nations’ SDGs and partner with the Conscious Fashion and Lifestyle Network and the UN Office for Partnerships?

Launching multi-stakeholder collaborations, sharing knowledge and sustainability, and prompting the whole fashion and textile sector to make the industry more sustainable at an international level—it is at these decisive points that the collaboration between our Texpertise Network with the UNOP and CFLN is providing valuable incentives. Through our voluntary commitment to the SDGs and our related initiatives, we are reaching the industry’s exhibitors and trade visitors, media professionals, social media multipliers, end consumers and representatives of government equally.


I am deeply convinced that collaboration is key to fostering transformative engagement and accelerating the implementation of the SDGs. Mobilizing expertise, innovation, technology and resources can only be achieved through strong partnerships. This is why Messe Frankfurt’s Texpertise Network became one of the first members of the Conscious Fashion and Lifestyle Network and why we will continue to work closely with the UN Office for Partnerships.


What is the benefit of using the SDGs as a guide for the fashion and textile industry in particular?

Economic success in the global textile sector can only be achieved with a consistent sustainability strategy. The SDGs offer important starting points and orientation for this. They show the way forward, offer scope for cooperation in a spirit of partnership and ultimately form the common value system of a large, future-oriented global community.


Health, security and general welfare are subjects that have shifted more urgently than ever into the main focus of politics and society and in this process have become closely linked with the global challenges addressed in the SDGs at economic, social and ecological levels. A major role in achieving these goals is played by networking with the industry and communication with the various interest groups. The international textile and fashion industry, with its far-reaching influence on the environment and on working conditions, can provide decisive leverage in this process. Since our Texpertise Network reflects the whole of the value-added chain, we regard this as a duty, and at the same time as an opportunity, to promote the Sustainable Development Goals actively at our worldwide textile events, in order to sharpen global awareness of the need for more sustainability, and to meet the manifold challenges of our time.


Out of the 17 SDGs, which three should be at the top of apparel companies’ action plans?

That is a very difficult question. On the one hand, it is the nature of the SDGs that they work primarily in combination with each other. Secondly—and I find this even more important here—it depends very much on the conditions of the respective region or individual company as to which objectives it should tackle first.


However, if I had to select three of the goals for the textile apparel industry, I would go for SDGs 4, 12 and 17.


SDG 4: Education, because it forms the basis for all other ambitions. By providing information and education, we strengthen knowledge and awareness of the links between sustainable action and economic success in the long term.


SDG 12: Responsible Consumption and Production, because it is potentially something that many companies can directly influence and at the same time has a major impact.


SDG 17: Partnerships, because I am convinced that we can only overcome current and future challenges on this path through joint efforts, thereby inspiring and driving each other forward.

What do you believe the industry gets wrong about sustainability? And what is it getting right?

We should make it clearer that it’s not about becoming a perfectly sustainable company overnight, because I am afraid that these expectations discourage many companies from even taking the first step. Sustainability is not a specific goal that can simply be achieved with a certain amount of investment. It is the promise to take a better path and to follow it consistently.


Those who have not yet started should now set themselves an achievable goal and start with the first steps. And those who are already on the way should keep working on it, try to step up their efforts or set themselves further goals. We need to continuously rethink and improve existing processes.


To what extent do you see sustainability shaping buyers’ sourcing decisions? How does it compare to other considerations such as price and quality?

I think this development has already begun. Consumers have become much more critical in their search for sustainable products. Sustainability affects all areas of our lives, and this naturally also includes our shopping behavior.


Unfortunately, the arguments of sustainability and price or quality are often played off against each other. That’s annoying. Because it’s actually the other way around. Not operating sustainably makes products more expensive, not vice versa. And the quality of a product does not automatically deteriorate just because it is produced sustainably.

Texpertise has a global presence. How do sustainable actions and attitudes vary across different regions?

Different aspects of sustainability are particularly relevant depending on the country or region. In one country, environmental aspects play a major role, while in another, for example, the focus is more on working conditions. We need to be careful not only to prioritize our view of the issue, but also to reach international agreement and support on how the issue is viewed and promoted in the respective country.


Panel talks, lectures, presentations and similar topics often deal with topics that are of particular interest to the respective region. The orientation of the sustainable actions depends not only on the region, but also on the respective target groups of the event as well as on current events, be it legal regulations or special initiatives that offer added value for the industry.


In addition, we are currently working hard to strategically develop our sustainability-related content formats and to harmonize individual aspects across events and countries. In this way, we create greater recognition value, orientation and transparency.

Looking ahead, what are your goals for the partnership within the next year?

We are using 2023 as an opportunity to take stock of what we have achieved so far and as a starting point for realigning our role and impact on the topic of sustainability. We have developed a cross-trade fair self-image that will guide us in the textile sector of Messe Frankfurt in terms of the design of our sustainability activities. Based on this, we have defined the first concrete measures for 2023 and 2024 and have already initiated them.


What is in store for Texpertise for the rest of 2023?

We will soon be announcing some exciting and far-reaching news that will contribute to the SDGs as well as to the range of topics and reach of our textile business network.



This Q&A was posted in Sourcing Journal August 22, 2023. Messe Frankfurt is an associate member of SPESA.


SPESA members are encouraged to email news and releases to marie@spesa.org or maggie@spesa.org to be featured under Member Spotlights.


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