Net zero in fashion, but apparel giants fail to cut emissions

Global fashion giants have pledged to reduce their carbon footprint, but that goal remains elusive at a time when “fast fashion” is all the rage – a hot topic at the UN climate summit.

With a chance to show off their climate commitments at the COP27 talks, clothing brands and manufacturers discussed global warming – but some admitted that their commitment to halving emissions by 2030 and reaching zero net by the middle of the century could be exaggerated.

“Are we there already? Of course not. Are we on the right track? of COP27 in the Egyptian seaside resort of Sharm el-Sheikh. .

Greenpeace and other groups have urged the sector – already under fire from often abusive labor practices – to slow down or end the wasteful trend of mass-producing cheap clothes that are quickly thrown away.

Fast fashion loads, consumes huge amounts of water, produces dangerous chemicals and clogs poor countries’ landfills with textile waste, all while generating greenhouse gases during production, transport and storage. elimination.

The fashion sector was responsible for 4% of global emissions in 2018, roughly as much as Britain, France and Germany combined, according to consultancy McKinsey.

Around 30 companies – from retail giants H&M and Zara owner Inditex to sportswear rivals Adidas and Nike – signed the Fashion Industry Charter for Climate Action at the COP24 summit in Poland in 2018.

At the time, they pledged to reduce emissions by 30% by 2030 and to be net zero emitters by mid-century.

A year ago, they set themselves the new, more ambitious target of halving their CO2 emissions by the end of the decade, with more than 100 companies now signatories to the pledge.

But hitting the target is a major challenge for an industry with long and complex supply chains that span the globe, industry insiders admit.

“Difficult and expensive”

Industry figures at COP27 barely mentioned the “fast fashion” business model, which critics say is at the heart of the matter, instead focusing on ideas around the use of renewable energy in factories and regulations.

But greening the entire supply chain and introducing climate-friendly standards among raw material suppliers and factories is a monumental task.

Leyla Ertur, sustainability manager at H&M, said the Swedish company has more than 800 suppliers.

And Marie-Claire Daveu, head of sustainability at Kering Group, owner of luxury brands Gucci and Yves Saint Laurent, said: “Even we are not big enough to change all the supply chains. why collaboration is essential.”

Ali Nouira, an Egyptian manufacturer, told another COP27 panel that certification bodies don’t even exist in the region.

“When we manufacture, we have to have all the right certifications and carbon footprints and all that, and for a small brand coming from Egypt, it’s extremely difficult and also expensive,” Nouira said.

“We also manufacture for other brands, in Europe and elsewhere,” he said. “And we are under pressure to have the certifications and also to lower our prices, so that they can continue to make the profits that they are making.”

‘Act of faith’

Nicholas Mazzei, head of environmental sustainability at online retailer Zalando, said there had been a culture shift in developed countries, with banks offering lower interest rates to businesses that pledge to reach a net zero goal.

“If you do this transformation, you risk paying nothing because the loans are so low that the costs are practically free,” Mazzei said.

But suppliers face high costs because sewing clothes in factories requires more energy than that used by retail stores at the end of the supply chain.

“We need, on a much larger scale, more renewable energy than the brands,” said Catherine Chiu, vice president of corporate quality and sustainability at the Kongo-Kong company. Crystal International Group.

“Even if we installed solar panels in all of our 20 factories, it would only represent 17% of the group’s energy consumption,” she said.

Delman Lee, vice president of sustainability at TAL Apparel, another Hong Kong apparel maker, said it has been decarbonizing its operations for a decade.

But with subsidiaries in countries like Vietnam and Ethiopia, it’s complicated to navigate the different regulations, Lee said.

Wanting to become a net zero business “is a leap of faith,” Lee said. “You are committing to something that you don’t know how to accomplish.”

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Michael O. Stutler