While I do believe that Depop is on the right track with some of its moves towards becoming more sustainable, I think that the company is pretty deceiving in terms of how much it truly supports ethical and sustainable shopping. It was a pleasant surprise to find that Depop has a sustainability plan for the next coming years and that the company is aware of important international sustainability goals like the UN SDGs. However, the company was not as transparent as I’d like in terms of how it plans to actually achieve these goals. Overall, the biggest problem with Depop is most certainly the lack of regulation on the app that allows for never-worn fast fashion items to be resold solely for making a profit. That being said, there are some ways that a Depop user can avoid this. The easiest way to tell if an item has been bought in bulk is to check how many sizes the seller has in their inventory. Oftentimes, if the seller has multiple sizes of brand new items, it is a sign that they are purchasing items from another store in bulk. I also think that Depop could take more action to limit the waste that it inadvertently creates as a large online retailer. For example, Depop gives sellers the option of having their shipping costs covered by the company in exchange for a small deduction from their overall profits. When you sell an item, Depop sends you a shipping label, and you’re free to use whatever packaging you desire. It would be much more impactful if Depop also offered its own sustainable or compostable packaging to sellers—this move would certainly be an additional expense to the company, but it would provide a direct solution to the problem of waste generation that Depop currently faces. Another potential improvement that Depop could make in terms of the emissions that are generated from shipping items around the world is a limitation on the shipping radius for different sellers. While this move could cause a slight annoyance to some customers, it seems very counterintuitive to purchase a pre-used piece of clothing for sustainable reasons only to have it be shipped to you from a distant country.
Depop is an app that facilitates the selling of clothing, jewelry, shoes, and other accessories by connecting buyers and sellers from around the world. The products sold on Depop are made from a wide range of materials, including cotton, nylon, polyester, spandex, leather, wool, and linen, although Depop itself is not responsible for sourcing these materials. Nevertheless, the use of cotton in the textile industry has been shown to be extremely harmful to the planet, given that its production demands both large amounts of energy and water usage. For reference, a single cotton tee shirt can take up to 3000 liters of water to create—about enough water to fill up your average 6-person hot tub. Depop claims that it “preserves the environment” by limiting demand for the production of new goods and by “keeping clothes that already exist passing from person to person”. In other words, it seems as though Depop’s claims to sustainability are centered around the premise that the company encourages a circular economy. I find that this message is somewhat misleading, considering that while there are many people who use the app to sell their pre-used items, there are also countless sellers who use Depop solely for the purpose of reselling items that they bought in bulk from unethical and unsustainable fast fashion brands.
In their sustainability plan for 2021-2022, Depop claims that they will begin showing “systematic preference for circular and responsibly made garments” in their collaborations from now on, but this fails to address the problem of sellers purchasing items from companies like Urban Outfitters, and immediately turning around and selling them on the app. Because Depop is a shopping app, it also faces the problem of racking up huge carbon emissions from the shipment of items all over the world. To address this, Depop has chosen to offset 100% of its greenhouse gas emissions generated by its shipping processes by purchasing verified carbon credits, which the company has displayed on its website. This decision is the major component of Depop’s plan to become carbon neutral by the end of 2021. Because users on Depop use a wide range of shipping services, the company bases its carbon emission estimates off of its user geolocation data and also accounts for the fact that most items don’t travel linearly from place to place. Depop also has partnered with South Pole, a corporation that provides businesses with climate solutions, to offset its carbon emissions from 2020 by funding two climate action projects. The first of these initiatives is the Kariba Forest Protection Project, which promotes the prevention of deforestation and land degradation in Zimbabwe. The second initiative is the Dora-II Geothermal Project, which aims to “reduce Turkey’s reliance on imported fossil fuels through the financing of a geothermal power plant” in the Aegean region. There is some disagreement as to whether or not carbon offsets are an ethical and meaningful approach to achieving carbon neutrality. The biggest critique of carbon offsets is that they allow wealthy corporations and individuals who historically have the biggest carbon footprints to pay their way out of shifting to more sustainable and climate-conscious practices. This line of thinking is pretty applicable to Depop, given that there are certainly internal areas that the company could focus on making more sustainable prior to funding sustainability initiatives elsewhere in the world.
Simon Beckerman began Depop in 2011, inspired by the knowledge that a new generation of people would increasingly be using their cell-phones to make purchases and everyday transactions. Depop often likes to claim that it is an ethical and sustainable company that is reinventing the way people purchase clothes, treat the planet, and interact with one another; the company has even outlined goals to address the UN Sustainable Development Goals throughout 2021-2022. While the goals listed in their sustainability plan are admirable and on the right track, some of them remain quite vague and could benefit from more concrete and quantifiable terms. For instance, their plan includes a goal to “formally embed sustainability and diversity” in “key departments’ objectives where relevant”. There is no further elaboration that speaks to how this goal will be put into practice, or as to when sustainability is “relevant” to an objective. The company also has a goal to increase racial and ethnic diversity across its organization, especially within leadership roles and executive teams, but it is unclear how large this increase will be. Furthermore, there are certainly issues that arise with whether Depop truly supports the ethical treatment of workers. Because Depop allows for completely unused fast-fashion items to be sold in bulk on the app it inadvertently promotes these corporation’s unethical treatment of laborers. In other words, Depop isn’t technically adding to the problem of fast fashion and consumerist culture itself, but it isn’t taking a firm stance against them either. In my opinion, this lack of action undercuts some of the broader ethical and sustainability goals that the company has set for itself. Take for instance, Urban Outfitters, an extremely popular brand on Depop. Urban Outfitters claims that it does not support child labor or slave labor, but has effectively no evidence to support this claim. Furthermore, it received “the lowest score possible on a survey conducted by the Responsible Sourcing Network that measured action taken by brands to ensure cotton originating from Uzbekistan was not used in its products”.