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Story | 05/13/2020 10:16:58 | 4 min Read time

Elle UK: Spearheading a mind shift with ‘baby steps’

Publishers and their suppliers are increasingly recognising that future compliance with sustainability targets will be driven by the concerns of consumers and not merely statutory or institutional regulations. Here we delve deeper into the detail by examining how Elle UK has committed to a continued engagement to drive an accelerated sustainability debate.

This article is an extract from Sustainability in Publishing, a whitepaper created in partnership with FIPP - Connecting Global Media. You can download the full report here


Elle UK dedicated its biggest fashion edition of 2018, the September issue, to sustainability, something that would have been unthinkable just a couple of years ago. But, says Editor-in-Chief Anne-Marie Curtis, the magazine has been witnessing a marked shift in customers’ buying patterns and an awareness that sustainability is at the heart of this change. “Consumers are asking more and more questions about how and where products are made, and how sustainable they are… Look at younger consumers. They are asking so many questions before they make a purchase. They need to know where it is from, what the provenance is, how it was made and who it was made by?”

Then came a personal ‘eureka moment’ when Curtis met Marie-Claire Daveu, Chief Sustainability Officer and Head of Institutional Affairs at Kering, the global luxury group managing fashion houses such as Gucci, Saint Laurent and Balenciaga. Daveu impressed upon Curtis the holistic approach brands will need to commit to, to bring about changes that will benefit sustainability. “Without these changes,” says Curtis, “there will be nothing around to make fashion within 20 years from now… I decided to devote our biggest fashion issue to sustainability.”

“Without these changes, there will be nothing around to make fashion within 20 years from now… I decided to devote our biggest fashion issue to sustainability.”
–Anne-Marie Curtis, Editor-in-Chief, Elle UK

Apart from the cover, the September edition of Elle was printed on 100 per cent recycled paper. The production used 40 per cent less water and 25 per cent less energy to produce than previous issues of Elle. Yet, says Curtis, those points, no matter how important, are minute if you take into consideration that “this edition was the biggest message yet to the industry and to our audience that we are starting a sustainability journey together”.

A reader survey confirmed Elle readers’ growing awareness of sustainability issues. It also highlighted the need to educate and inform readers. “There is so much information out there and people need guidance,” says Curtis. “We started by taking baby steps. If everyone makes small changes, incrementally, then ultimately those changes will have a big effect.”

To give Elle’s ‘sustainability journey’ a practical kick-start, it published an A-Z manual of what could bring about meaningful changes in readers’ day-to-day lives. Each idea was aimed at introducing sustainable ethical behaviour into one’s lifestyle. The editorial experience of producing this magazine made a significant impact on staff, says Curtis. “This might only have been one issue but Elle’s staff members have learnt a lot. Once you are educated, you start a natural process to do things in a different way. As soon as one’s mindset shifts, it becomes easier to make the right choices.”

Realising that one-off engagement with readers will not bring about permanent change, Elle has committed to a continued engagement to drive an accelerated sustainability debate. This started in the January 2019 issue, with an investigation into the booming fashion rental market, which is estimated to be worth a potential GBP£923 million (US$1.1 billion) in the UK, and which is being hailed as a sustainable alternative to fast fashion. This was followed up in the February issue with the first Elle Sustainability Challenge, which saw four writers tasked with making different changes to their lives – from eating more ethically to eliminating all non-recyclable waste.

Elle UK's 'Fashion and the planet' survey

The September 2018 issue of ELLE asked more than a thousand readers – aged between 20 and 40 – what sustainability meant to them. The results were telling.

  • 80% of readers were more likely to buy brands that care about their workers and give them a fair wage.
  • 70% Said climate change is their biggest environmental concern.
  • 62% were more likely to buy from brands that value sustainability.


Author: Jon Watkins. Created in partnership with FIPP - Connecting Global Media. 

Read our white paper Sustainability in Publishing

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