Optician talks to Eyespace Eyewear’s Emily Andrews, product director and chief sustainability officer, on how it has adapted its products and supply chains to ensure the environment and people come first.

Can you talk us through how your sustainability journey began and what the driving forces are behind this at Eyespace?

Eyespace has been at the forefront of environmentally-conscious business practices for a number of years now. Our journey into sustainability started over three years ago and was triggered by an uneasy and increasing awareness of the extreme volumes of plastic waste that is polluting our oceans and waterways. This led to a re-focus within the business and the Board of Directors committing to tackling Eyespace’s environmental impacts head-on.

We are so passionate about sharing lessons learnt on sustainability practice and eyewear production that our CEO Jayne Abel helped establish (and now chairs) the Optical Supplier Association’s (OSA) Sustainability Committee.

We believe that companies need to be the gatekeepers in terms of raw material selections, so auditing, certification and exhaustive research and development lies at the heart of our decision-making processes. This is how we ensure that every eco-friendly product we put to market is genuinely sustainable and safeguarded by accountability.

Are all Eyespace eyewear products now certified with sustainable material, end-to-end supply chain processes, and ethical worker protections?

Backed by the introduction of a sustainability charter, we have bold, measurable SEE (sustainable, ethical and environmental) principles and targets for 2030 that are focused on reducing our impact on the climate and our consumption of natural resources. It’s no longer enough for companies to pay lip-service to insubstantial sustainability commitments so our products hold certifications for all sustainable materials, including evidence of biodegradability (BS EN ISO 14855-1:2012 and ISO 15985:2014) and declarations for any specific claims. Eyespace is one of the first frame suppliers to switch to 100% biodegradable frame bags and we are rapidly widening the use of biodegradable demo lenses.

We are also one of a small number of British optical suppliers to have invested in ISO14001 certification on top of ISO9001, which outlines and propels our environmental management systems. Our manufacturers are required to contractually agree to a strict code of conduct and are subjected to internal and external audits. The majority of our suppliers are compliant with ISO9001 and/or comply with ISO14001, ISO45001, ISO13485 and ISO27001. Where it is possible, they also commit to using clean energy and/or renewable energy, including solar, wind or hydro power. We are also proud to be a SEDEX member and voluntarily produce a Modern Slavery Statement annually.

What inspired your upcoming eco-collections to be launched at 100% Optical?

One of Eyespace’s most exciting launches to date, this spring, we are advancing use of fashion’s favourite material innovation, ECONYL® within the Aspinal of London optical collection. The luxury British leather accessories brand already offers a comprehensive library of consciously developed frame designs that incorporate premium wood pulp bio-acetates and sustainably sourced genuine leather accents (the Aspinal sustainable designs can be easily identified by the bee logo which is inlaid into the tips) and ECONYL® elevates their offering further, seeing waste nylon reclaimed and regenerated from fishing and ghost nets, as well as carpet and clothing off-cuts. We are proud to be one of the first UK suppliers selected to bring eyewear manufactured in ECONYL® to market on British brands.

Made in Italy and composed of 100% recycled content, ECONYL® can be remoulded and infinitely recycled without losing quality, creating a closed-loop regeneration process that reduces the impacts of global warming associated with nylon production by up to 90%. In 2020, ECONYL®’s collection of 75,000 tonnes of ghost-nets saved production of 525,000 barrels of crude oil and negated 488,250 tonnes of CO2 emissions.

Every day, the ocean is plagued with 8m pieces of plastic and recycling them is an essential measure. In recognition of this, our Basebox and Rock Star eyewear brands are also introducing comprehensive capsule collections utilising reclaimed sea-bottle plastic to customers at 100% Optical, including Slimology.

What cost and carbon impacts has Eyespace achieved through a sustainable-focused approach?

Committed to becoming a carbon-neutral organisation by 2028, we are increasingly undertaking planting initiatives to help global carbon-absorption efforts, as well as offsetting general business activities. Our Eco-Conscious Collection has supported large-scale replanting efforts in the Amazon and Australia and now supports seagrass eco-system planting, which is proven to be 35 times more effective at absorbing and storing CO2 than rainforests.

We have transitioned our logistics services to consolidate shipments and, whenever possible, transport goods via sea freight, greatly reducing CO2 emissions. Domestically, we are making purchase decisions that support local suppliers and are working with electric-powered courier services, while our warehouse team uses eco-friendly packaging materials, and recycle and re-purpose all cardboard waste.

Other initiatives crucial to minimising our footprint include transitioning case designs to incorporate recycled materials, such as rPET and FSC® card, and switching to folding designs, which reduce weight, cargo and warehousing space. We have removed laminations and non-recyclable finishes from our POS, while the supporting assets and all packaging for the Eco-Conscious Collection are entirely plastic-free and composed of FSC® accredited cards.

After conquering your supply chain and making improvements to delivery and facility operations, what does Eyespace plan to target next?

We are progressing rapidly on ambitious targets to transition 50% of the Eyespace portfolio (of over 1000 SKUs) to sustainable product within the next three years, and as part of this every product range in the coming six months will include sustainable products.

Last year, we embarked on deepening our commitment to education and sustainability through CPD accreditation focused on eco-innovation in frame technology, whilst also establishing a team of ‘Sustainability Champions’ within the business that are continually seeking opportunities to leverage our expertise.

In the next year, we will be focusing our energies on taking our customers on the journey with us, imparting our sustainability learnings to our global customer base through a series of virtual Green Summits; a thought-provoking live webinar introducing the sustainability concepts which are enriching the optical industry today. Our CEO, Jayne Abel, is working tirelessly to generate even greater awareness throughout the industry for sustainable practice via the OSA Sustainability Committee, and in partnership with the Association of British Dispensing Opticians.

What advice would you give to other optical suppliers interested in improving their sustainability?

Sustainability is the future within optics, so if you haven’t already, begin your ‘green’ journey without delay. The OSA will be launching a Green Charter this year and we would encourage every supplier in the industry to sign-up to, as small individual changes make big collective difference. We encourage all practitioners to tackle their suppliers not changing the status quo by putting pressure on them to remove single-use plastics and to switch to 100% recycled or biodegradable alternatives, including demo lenses.

It takes dedication, commitment, and follow-through to make sustainability succeed in business, but if every individual ups their investment in a greener future, the result will be a win-win for all of us.

  • Eyespace’s next virtual Green Summit will be held in May; anyone that would like to attend is invited to contact their Area Sales Manager to register their details.