Four per cent, 2.7 billion tons, 1.5 degrees - these are the fashion industry’s climate figures. The fashion industry accounts for four per cent of the world's greenhouse gas emissions, so its influence on climate change is huge. Four per cent equal some 2.1 billion tons of greenhouse gas emissions in 2018, about the same quantity per year as the entire economies of France, Germany and the United Kingdom combined. The fashion industry is in second place after the oil industry when it comes to pollution. If action is not taken now, greenhouse gas emissions coming from the fashion industry will have risen to 2.7 billion tons by 2030, according to McKinsey & Company's and Global Fashion Agenda's "Fashion on Climate" report. This amounts to more than twice the emissions allowed to stop global warming and climate change. To reach the 1.5-degree pathway set out by the UN and ratified in the 2015 Paris agreement, the clothing and shoe industries would have to cut their greenhouse gas emissions to 1.1 billion tons.
Air traffic dropped, logistics and transport almost came to a standstill, production was reduced drastically, consumers consumed less – these are some of the positive effects the corona crisis has had on the climate. The textile and clothing industry’s climate footprint improved, but the effects are short-lived. To really change something for good, targeted and long-term measures are needed, the report argues. It says that the fashion industry is not reducing its ecological footprint fast enough and will not reach its 1.5 target if it continues its current pace. “Bold action is required if the fashion industry is to meet the ambitious target of aligning with a 1.5 pathway in the next 10 years,” says Karl-Hendrik Magnus, senior partner and head of Apparel, Fashion & Luxury Group at McKinsey Germany. To reach the target, the industry would have to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by approximately 1.655 tons.
Time for change
But how? The report has answers. Some 61 per cent of emissions can be cut by so-called upstream operations, for instance by decarbonising materials production and processing and minimising production and manufacturing waste. Fibre producer Lenzing has committed itself to this goal. In September 2020, Lenzing launched TENCEL-branded climate neutral lyocell and modal fibres. All emission arising from the production of these fibres are calculated and compensated to reduce the textile industry’s carbon footprint.
The “Fashion on Climate” report urges fashion brands to act too. By improving the material mix, increasing the use of sustainable ways of transport and improving packaging, emissions can be reduced by 18 per cent. Motivated by these findings, French luxury group Kering started the “Fashion Pact” in 2019 in cooperation with French president Macron. Many brands like Burberry, Chanel and Hermes have joined the initiative pledging to stop climate change in cooperation with their suppliers and sales agencies, to protect marine biodiversity and to make the entire industry climate neutral by 2050. Kering, for instance, started to become more energy efficient in 2015 by reducing 30 per cent of emissions at its stores. Some 77 per cent of Kering’s European operations are meanwhile powered by renewable energy, in seven countries the figure stands at 100 per cent.
Naturally, consumers also have to change their behaviour. They can reduce the industry’s emissions by 21 per cent by buying more sustainable clothing, wearing it for a longer time and then reusing it, the report finds. A crucial approach is circularity. Online marketplaces like Vestiaire Collective or TheRealReal sell second-hand luxury clothing. So-called Circularity Collabs give an incentive to sell used clothing. Zalando is also driving climate friendly shopping with its “redeZIGN for Circularity” collection. The capsule collection gives consumers deeper insight into production and product care. Clothing rental, reselling and repairing clothing as well as care processes with less washing and drying cycles can prolong a product’s life cycle.
The advantage is that these approaches are not only good for the climate. “Many of the required actions can be delivered with beneficial economics,” says Magnus. Around 90 per cent of the accelerated abatement can be delivered below a cost of around 50 US dollars per ton of CO2 emissions, more than half of the measures could even reduce net costs across the entire industry.
Fashion and politics
Apart from producers, retailers and consumers, trade shows also play an important role in climate protection. Trade shows are at the heart of the fashion industry, all players involved get together at the events. By providing information, having a positive influence, supporting industry initiatives for the protection of the environment and the climate, creating networking possibilities and setting a good example, they can contribute to a more climate friendly development in the textile and clothing industry. An important step in that direction was taken in November 2019, when Messe Frankfurt’s Texpertise Network announced a global cooperation with Conscious Fashion Campaign and the United Nations Office for Partnerships. The cooperation focuses on global sustainable development by 2030, in accordance with the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which include climate protection. In this context, Neonyt, the global hub for fashion, sustainability and innovation, is making a substantial contribution. In January 2019, Neonyt was the first Texpertise Network trade show to present the SGDs as part of the Conscious Fashion Campaign. In cooperation with companies like ClimatePartner, Neonyt is striving to improve the climate. Despite the difficulties the trade show business faced in 2020, progress was made on the international stage. Techtextil India in January, the digital edition of Texworld USA in July and Heimtextil Russia in September all put the spotlight on their cooperation with the UN, thus sending out a signal for the importance of sustainability.
More than just a fashion trend
The corona pandemic has presented the world with many challenges, but there are also chances. “The time to act is now. The pandemic has shown us how interconnected we are and how we also possess the capacity to change. However, real long-lasting change hinges on the fashion industry’s ability to come together, so we can rise to the occasion and play a leading role in combating climate change,” says Eva Kruse, CEO of the Global Fashion Agenda.
For the sake of the environment, a rethink is necessary in the fashion industry. New business models are needed, it is necessary to distinguish between sales growth and value growth and awareness must increase. Brands and retailers have to work together more closely with their supply chain partners, consumers have to question their purchases and circular business models like resale and rental have to gain more ground. The prospects are good. The recent sustainability survey by periodical TextilWirtschaft shows that all parties involved are interested in making the fashion world more sustainable. With this potential, the fashion industry can use the corona crisis to contribute to changes that are more environmentally friendly and last a lot longer than the crisis. With imagination and creativity, the industry can turn sustainable fashion into the new normal.
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Photo: Karina Tess
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