The Fashion Industry Can Reduce Emissions — if It Wants to

The fashion industry is in the mood to commit lately.

In 2019, some of the most popular fashion brands in the world put their names science-based climate targets, which say they will reduce their greenhouse gas emissions 30 percent by 2030 to stay in line with a The route is endorsed by the UN to prevent the climate from heating above 1.5 degrees Celsius. Just a few years ago, the Sustainable Apparel Coalition, which had more than 130 brand members — including Amazon, Gap, H&M, Nike, and Under Armor—raised the target for its members to a 45 percent reduction in emissions by 2030. In COP26 At last week’s climate conference, 130 companies participated in an announcement that they would reach net-zero emissions not later than 2050.

But to reduce greenhouse gases, the climate fight in fashion depends on another commitment: cleaner factories.

Forget swapping energy -efficient bulbs in retail stores — according to the World Resources Institute, 96 percent of a fashion brand’s footprint is in its manufacturing supply chain. In other words, factories (and to a lesser extent, farmers who grow cotton and raise sheep for wool and cattle for leather) have to do the work so that the brands can reach these high, announced goals.

Unfortunately, when it comes to factories, brands seem to have more commitment-phobia than a 24-year-old on Tinder.

“We are a migratory business,” said Sanjeev Bahl, founder and chief executive of Saitex, the long -term Vietnamese denim supplier. Like a digital nomad crypto bro, brands roam from factory to factory and country to country, looking for facilities that can give them the most affordable prices and the fastest returns.

During the pandemic, that fact became clear to the public. With the sudden closure of retail stores, brands and retailers annoy their suppliers, violate contracts, cancellation of orders, and asking for high discounts or refusing to pay for orders that in some cases have already been shipped. “You see what happened before and after Covid. Most factories, why would they invest [in low-carbon technology]? ” Bahl said.

In fact, a study from The Climate Board released this month found no link between bold climate commitments from brands and actual carbon emissions. In order for the fashion industry to truly decarbonize, brands need to stop being like flakes.

We Have Power

The fashion and climate experts I speak to mostly believe that technology exists to drive emissions in the fashion industry in 10 years.

There are four large levers clothing vendors to pull to get there. One is to shift factories from coal to renewable energy. Solar and wind are well -established and effective sources. The solar roof alone can handle 10 to 20 percent of the factory’s energy needs, and the rest can be purchased from an offsite solar or wind farm.

“Barriers are the main policy,” said Michael Sadowski, a research consultant at WRI. As he and others point out, it is difficult to decarbonize when most of the fashion is done in coal-running countries. For example, Vietnam, where a large part of the world’s fashion is made, does not allow businesses to purchase renewable energy produced outside the area. But that could change earlier this year, with the Vietnamese government ready to be approved a pilot power purchase agreement program.

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