How did the STeP EcoLab Mongolia Project start? How did CSCP narrow down on Mongolian cashmere and the issue of herder livelihoods. Could you give us the backdrop?
STeP is funded by the European Commission via the SWITCH Asia Programme. CSCP has a long-standing track record with this programme (we had implemented several projects in the past across Asia); so, we were very open when AVSF—the lead partner of STeP—approached us and asked to work together with us on Mongolian wool and cashmere.
Wool and cashmere were chosen as a sector, as they are (i) a very important industry for Mongolian economy, (ii) offer very interesting opportunities for communicating sustainability (being a noble and natural product), and (iii) the Mongolian industry was facing significant challenges on herding and on processing levels. This made it a natural candidate for the project.
Usually, when one starts something, there is a working hypothesis in place. What premise was the CSCP working on at the onset of the project? Did you have enough data at the beginning to be able to formulate a proper plan? What were the challenges before you even began the project?
The basic premise of the project—actually the premise of the SWITCH Asia programme—is that improving sustainable production is not only necessary, it also pays off, as the demand by European consumers for sustainably sourced, responsible products is high and growing. Therefore, we knew that sustainable cashmere is not only necessary to sustain Mongolia’s unique landscape and culture (overgrazing is a significant challenge in Mongolia), but that is also a business case if done the right way and communicated properly.
For communication, we always strived to achieve broadly recognised and credible sustainability certification, GOTS was always our benchmark there. Not only because the measures required by GOTS are effective, but also as it is the best-known sustainability standard for textiles, at least in Europe. Using such standardised and credible communication would be key. Also, as it gives good guidance to the sector on what needs to be achieved.
Grasping the concrete challenges in cashmere herding and processing was the initial challenge in the project. CSCP, therefore, started with a comprehensive analysis of the processing sector (while AVSF did the same on herding level), this analysis served as the backbone for aligning all future measures.