Corporate Responsibility: Good for Business and the World

“When it comes to corporate responsibility, it’s non-negotiable at this point.” SanMar’s Emily Gigot believes, “We all have to be actively engaged citizens both in terms of our local community and in the global community where we’re doing business.” It’s no longer a question of whether you do it or not, it’s how far along you are on the path.  

Emily got her start in sustainability, and the idea of socially conscious business practices, in an unlikely place: the fashion industry of Los Angeles. As her understanding grew about the common practices in the world of fashion, she asked herself, Is this the best we can do? 

“Toward the end of my time in LA, I started to feel a little bit disenchanted,” she says, “The idea that apparel had the opportunity to do better was starting to emerge, but there weren’t a lot of solutions. I call it my quarter-life crisis.”

Emily went on to teach and work for a volunteer tourism company in Asia, where she realized she had a vested interest in sustainability. When she returned to the states, she got her MBA in sustainable business—and thus began her path to revolutionizing the apparel industry. “I realized, ‘Oh, wow, since I’ve been gone, we’ve kind of turned the corner, and there’s a real opportunity to continue to do the work I enjoy,’” Emily says. 

Emily believes that business has a huge opportunity to make a difference, and other players like the government and NGOs can’t do it alone. Business has the opportunity to be impactful because it is built to be as efficient as possible, in order to strive for profit. According to Emily, “If you can tie positive impact to [profit] and have positive impact as a metric for success, there’s no telling what we can get done. I really believe that business as a driver for good is a really powerful force.” 

Emily joined SanMar in 2016, but she says the company’s role in socially responsible practices began long before her role was created. “SanMar has always been ethical in their practices,” she says, “They want to do right by their vendors, their customers, and their community. The idea of social responsibility has always been alive here, but it wasn’t called that until recently.”

As sustainability manager, Emily is tasked with ensuring SanMar remains a responsible steward of its community and industry. A large part of her role involves implementing sustainable practices within SanMar’s operations and their supply chain. “We’re working really hard on two fronts,” says Emily. “One is building a collaborative relationship with our sourcing team, so that we can really work as partners with them. And then on the compliance side, our focus is on continuous improvement—understanding that while factory audits are a tool, they’re really only getting a snapshot of a factory at a moment in time. What does the factory look like the other 364 days a year?”

By partnering with the sourcing team and seeing audits as opportunities for change, SanMar is able to step in and offer training, consulting, and improvements in the factories that need it most—thereby improving the apparel world as a whole. “We really try to take a collaborative, supportive approach and ask where we can support long-term sustainable improvement,” says Emily.

But corporate responsibility goes beyond sustainable production. At the crux of SanMar’s corporate mission is its people: employees, vendors, and the larger community. In 2018 alone, the company donated more than $200,000 to more than 135 organizations, many of which were suggested by SanMar employees. 

“If there’s someone who feels really passionately about something, they can bring those things to the company,” says Emily, “We have the freedom and the support of the company to raise money for causes we care about.”

For Emily, one of the most incredible parts of her role is she doesn’t have to force implementation of socially responsible and sustainable practices on the company. In 2018, SanMar recycled 21,979 pounds of electronic waste (electronic devices and products) and saved more than half a million boxes—a 14 percent improvement from the previous year. 

“These programs were already in motion when I joined SanMar,” Emily says, “People saw that there was a way to reduce waste and save energy, and they said: ‘Let’s do it.’” The company has also diverted more than 800 gallons of textiles from landfills through a home office recycling program—and continues to ship 100 percent of its product via carriers with green practices. 

“It’s a really rewarding part of being at SanMar because the organization is so supportive of this type of work,” says Emily, “The reason business as usual fails us is because we so often look at dollars and cents as the metric for success, but if you switch that to positive impact—both on people and the environment—there’s a blue ocean for where we could go from there.”