Is decarbonising the fashion industry enough?
The fashion industry, both luxury and fast fashion, has long been in the spotlight for its ethical business practices, from modern slavery to destroying unsold merchandise. With the urgent need to address the climate crisis, increasingly that emphasis is on the contribution of garment and accessory production to greenhouse emissions and the environmental impact of production and use of clothes. Carbon neutrality has in fact become a common checkpoint for fashion brands wanting to be more sustainable, largely from offsets or funding reforestation.
Recently 52 fashion brands signed the Fashion Pact, a series of the global commitments. This pact is built around three main pillars: climate, oceans and biodiversity. It aims to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, address the use of single-use plastics, innovate on microfiber pollution created by washing synthetic materials and increase use of fibres that do not impact biodiversity and ecosystems. The companies who have signed and committed to the pact, are expected to meet targets and become net zero.
This industry wide movement needs to be more than just another fashion trend as it is already led by some of the biggest brands in the world. It is a positive and welcome step in the right direction and helps raise the profile of the massive challenges we face globally in managing and adapting to the risks posed by climate change. This is what some of the brands are doing to offset their carbon emissions:
- Another Tomorrow, for example, is a brand working with Climate NeutralBrand Emissions Estimator (BEE) and is offsetting 120 per cent of its carbon footprint to account for any inaccuracies in the BEE system.
- Gabriela Hearst had its first carbon neutral NYC fashion week show back in 2020 for which the designer worked with her production company to examine every necessary aspect of its production, design and installation process, in an effort to reduce the resulting carbon footprint to its very minimum.
- Reformation’s efforts will focus on replacing conventional silk and cashmere with lower impact alternatives, and switching to lower emission transportation methods and fuels.
- Nicholas Kirkwood will offset a footprint of 683 tonnes of carbon emissions, and reduce those figures by replacing fossil fuel-derived materials in its products with natural or bio-based materials and using recycled plastic where unavoidable.
- In 2019, global luxury brand Gucci announced it had become carbon neutral using a combination of renewable energy, changes to its design and manufacturing processes, energy efficiency measures, and investments into carbon offset programs.
- Allbirds plans to cut its carbon footprint by installing solar panels at new factories and reducing transportation emissions by air freight.
- Mulberry is continuing its commitment to becoming net-zero by 2035 with the launch of its first carbon-neutral collection, the ‘Lily Zero’. The ‘Lily Zero’ comprises 12 styles, which are fully carbon-neutral from field to shop floor, crafted in Mulberry’s carbon-neutral Somerset factories using carbon-neutral leather from a tannery in Germany, which measures, reduces and offsets its carbon emissions. On top of that, the brand is using the same carbon-neutral leather used on all its heavy grain styles, making up 26 percent of its autumn-winter 2022 collection.
When a fashion brand invests in carbon offsets, the benefits also extend beyond balancing its CO2 footprint. The sale of carbon offsets also helps to sustain and expand existing sustainability projects and can even fund the creation of new ones that wouldn’t exist otherwise. Offsetting their carbon emissions won’t be enough to repair what’s already broken for luxury or fast fashion brands. In addition to their current efforts, they should also focus on other ways they can make big changes across different levels of their operations.
For example, adopting organic fabrics for their collections would be a first step as these materials are free from artificial chemicals and require far less water and energy to manufacture, or using renewable energy to power their operations. Initiatives such as installing rooftop solar panels, signing green energy deals with utilities, or purchasing renewable energy credits are all good ways to increase a brand’s sustainability levels. There’s also been a growing focus on energy-efficiency in factories, relating to equipment, lighting, heating, and packaging in order to reduce the overall electricity demand.
The decarbonisation of the fashion industry is a good first step towards the industry's awareness of its own carbon footprint, but relying on offsetting only is insufficient without reducing emissions and the industry should be aiming for positive impact, not just a positive change.
(information sourced on voguebusiness.com, fashionunited.uk and eco-cart.com)
(Featured image and Image 1: Gabriela Hearst’s carbon neutral fashion show. Photo by William Theisen, CEO EcoAct North America)
(Image 2: by Mulberry)
(Image 3: by Trình Minh Thur on Unsplash)