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Crescendo. That’s how most experts are characterizing the growing support among most consumers and businesses for advancing “sustainability” commitments, systems, products, solutions and causes across a range of fields, as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. “Sustainability has become a business necessity, not just a differentiator,” pointed out Forrester’s Olivia Berdak, vice president, research director last August. She added, “It is no longer a question of whether it is ‘necessary or not’ to launch sustainable business practices, but rather how long it will take before consumers, shareholders, or governments punish businesses that don’t.”

Berdak is not alone. A new and extensive report from Capgemini Research shows:

- Nearly 80 percent of consumers want to be able to make a difference in saving the planet for future generations.
- 77 percent are concerned about the humane and fair treatment of workers.
- 72 percent are personally concerned about their environmental footprint.
- 66 percent choose to purchase products or services based on their “environmental friendliness.”

The optical and vision care fields are no exception. A pioneering group of mostly independent frame companies ushered in products made in sustainable ways from new and recycled materials starting some 8 to 10 years ago. (Vision Monday highlighted many of these in our November 2020 report, Sustainability Gains Traction The pandemic of 2020, with its social, health care and cultural upheaval, has amplified and sped up more change.

Eyecare professionals, even as the pandemic and office closures just got underway in March, noted the interest among their patients and customers on the topic. According to a 20/20 Magazine Marketpulse survey of independents at the time, 19 percent of 350 ECP respondents were asked about their own priorities toward employing environmentally friendly practices to make their own location “green,” said they felt it was “very important,” while 49 percent said it was “somewhat important.”

Fourteen percent of the ECPS said they felt their customers/patients considered it was “very important” and another 48 percent felt it was “somewhat important.” At the time, 15 percent of them said that customers requested products that were made sustainably.

Some larger optical industry retailers are now actively also exploring their involvement in earnest. National Vision’s Jared Brandman, general counsel, told VM, “National Vision began the process of developing a formal Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) strategy last year, and although we’re still in the initial stages of formalizing our corporate responsibility commitments, we know that supply chain—including direct procurement of materials and finished products, as well as our own merchandising, product and service design and innovation—will be an ongoing focus area.”

He added, “We’re examining our touchpoints across our entire value chain.” National Vision operates 1,200 retail stores, among them America’s Best Contacts & Eyeglasses, Eyeglass World, Vision Centers inside select Walmart stores, and Vista Opticals inside select Fred Meyer stores.

National Vision’s Megan Malony, senior vice president, merchandising/managed care, told VM, “I’m excited because in the past year, many more options are coming on the table in the space where we are, so we finally able to evaluate what’s out there and what’s right for us, what fits the consumers that we serve. We’re believers, it’s a good story and it will be expected by our customers and patients. It’s the responsible way to go.”

At another large ECP group, MyEyeDr., with more than 600 offices across the U.S., Christina Perraud, vice president, planning and purchasing, said, “We have seen an increasing amount of sustainable options/capsule collections with many of the brands in our portfolio. Most recently we incorporated Dragon’s plant-based resin frames made from castor-beans, a much cleaner and more renewable alternative to traditionally-made plastics. We have also added Dragon’s upcycled collection, where every frame is made from five recycled water bottles.”

She noted, “Yes, now more than ever, patients are exploring more sustainable options and want to know where and how their products are being sourced. I think this will be a trend that continues to accelerate in the near future. I believe we will continue to grow this category more and more.

“Ideally our expansion would be through additional inclusion of styles in brands already in our portfolio—a trend we have seen continue to grow at each market week (i.e. the Dragon releases mentioned below). There is a real opportunity to expand sustainable options under some of the great brand names already out there. This then allows the patient to feel like they are making a sustainable purchase without having to compromise quality or style.”

Perraud said that exploring sustainability will be a priority. “It’s important to continue these initiatives even outside of the frame offering. I’d like to challenge suppliers on ways to improve packaging and eliminate waste as well. Whether it be recyclable contact lens packaging, decreasing the amount of plastic/cardboard used to wrap frames, or eliminating the use of paper inserts inside frame cases—all of these things tend to be components that are tossed as soon as the frames are put on display. As an industry, I’d love to see a focus on the reduction of these single-use items.”

In the frame arena, Eastman has been ramping up its partnerships. (See page 38) Eastman’s Glenn Goldman, commercial director, Eastman Specialty Plastics, said, “The awareness of societal issues is greater than it has been in the past, People are recognizing the need to speed up doing things and taking steps now that they are ready to go. In our case, we can offer people solutions today and we can do this at scale. We are seeing interest among high end players as well as the mass and value sectors to take concrete steps to meet sustainability goals.”

An independent and growing number of eyewear companies are among the ever increasing roster who are upping their commitments.

L’Amy America, is one. The company started with its Ben Sherman collection as a brand embracing sustainability throughout. This year, the company will introduce even more from their portfolio into the sustainability realm. Said Stephen Rappoport, president of L’Amy America, “We’re developing products with a coherent earth friendly narrative across all our brands for 2021 where our first foray into sustainability was in our fashion division with the launch of our British heritage brand Ben Sherman.

“Having a sustainability story is becoming more and more important not only to our retail partners but to the end consumer where interest and demand is increasing, especially among millennials. Next, we’re taking this narrative to our new Nicole Miller Resort collection with the launch of our planet friendly sunglass collection followed by Ann Taylor ophthalmic and finishing the year with Sperry.”

De Rigo, internationally and in North America, is another player which is augmenting its sustainability commitments. Alessandro Baronti, who heads De Rigo U.S., said, “De Rigo has embarked upon a pathway to sustainable development, with the aim of making environmental responsibility an ever more integral part of our business model.

“All of our packaging is made from recyclable, compostable or, in any case, reusable materials and is produced by FSC-certified (Forest Stewardship Council) suppliers that use raw materials from sustainably-managed forests. As of 2019, we have been working alongside Save the Planet Onlus to safeguard the environment in the fight against climate change, pledging to offset our Co2 emissions,” Baronti said.

He added, “We are committed to developing eyewear that is progressively more sustainable. Our collections are increasingly featuring the use of eco-friendly biodegradable and recyclable bio-acetates.

“Many of our brands now include collections or styles that are eco-friendly (with a focus to continue increasing the number of eco styles in the future). These include Police x Lewis Hamilton, where the full collection is eco-friendly, Chopard’s new capsule collection, Carolina Herrera New York with several new eco-friendly styles, Tumi—which is launching in May/June—and others to come.”

At Modo, a pioneer in the space via its Eco collection and initiatives, Rebecca Giefer, CEO of Modo Americas, reported the company is augmenting that with the debut this year of the new Eco Ocean series, employing recycled and repurposed ocean plastics into a product collection in cooperation with Waste Free Oceans. As Giefer stated, “Companies need to stand for something. Companies need to make a difference.”