An initiative that brings together roughly a third of the industry around a series of ambitious sustainability goals, The Fashion Pact commences, or attempts to commence, a new era of environmentally cognizant business decisions. A long overdue endeavour to regulate and hold the second most polluting industry accountable
By: Niyoshi Shah
Posted on: February 5, 2021
For the first time in the fashion business, an agreement unites CEOs of 60+ global companies from the fashion and textile industry, sports, lifestyle, luxury, suppliers and retailers - representing over 200 brands, pledging to a series of environmental objectives. The focus is on three areas: climate, biodiversity and oceans. Here is what The Fashion Pact means.
Kering pledges sustainability
This is a first of its kind coalition that enumerates seven strategic tangible targets with an end goal to achieve critical impact on a global scale. Launched in 2019 as a mission given to Kering Chairman and CEO, François-Henri Pinault by the French President, Emmanuel Macron, The Fashion Pact was presented to Heads of State at the G7 Summit in Biarritz. Kering itself has pledged to substantially reduce its environmental footprint over the next five years. The billion dollar company has invested in textile blend recycler Worn Again, and more recently, shown interest in material innovation through their involvement in the Mylo consortium. Marrying deep science with high design, Mylo consortium is the largest joint development agreement in consumer biomaterials to date.
This year, the group is particularly focused on making advancements in their biodiversity agenda, launching a fund in June to support regenerative agriculture projects.
Signatories in The Fashion Pact include Adidas, Bally, Burberry, Capri Holdings Limited, Carrefour, Chanel, Chloe, Ermenegildo Zegna, Gruppo Armani, H&M Group, Hermes, Karl Lagerfeld, Lacoste, Mango, Moncler, Monoprix, Nike, Nordstrom, Prada S.P.A., Ralph Lauren, Salvatore Ferragamo, Selfridges Group, Stella Mccartney, and Tapestry among others.
While one may argue that the industry’s investments in sustainable innovation is at its infancy, and may be a case of too little too late, there are promising signs of broader movement.
The pact binds members to achieving 25% low impact material sourcing by 2025, 50% renewable energy by 2025 and 100% by 2030. The final goal? To achieve net zero carbon impact by 2050. While this may be a tall order, in the 12 month since the agreement, the coalition has made its first strides towards achieving these goals. This includes successfully implementing an operations structure and developing a digital dashboard of KPIs to measure the impact of member companies.
Currently, most fashion companies have set aggressive emission reduction targets for their own operations since this is where they have the most perceptible control. However, the largest source of emissions for most apparel and footwear brands is in tiers 1-4 of their supply chain, which represent all stages from the extraction of raw materials to the finished product. This is arguably the most challenging to ascertain as companies cannot regulate energy use by vendors and neither can they ascertain transparency.
The Gap Inc.’s Mill Sustainability program, uses environmental audits and clearly expressed standards to drive improvements. Levi Strauss and Co., conducts energy audits of key suppliers and guidance programs that have led to a 30% energy use reduction at those suppliers — these form the guiding principles to control third party carbon emission. However, these guidance programs aren’t as easily executed by smaller, niche brands.
In the luxury sector, Gucci (a part of Kering Group), has been much vocal about its sustainability program. Among other projects, Gucci has invested in the Muskitia Blue Carbon REDD+ project in Honduras to protect nearly 5,000 hectares of mangroves and over 285,000 hectares of forest from deforestation. Mangroves store up to 10 times more carbon than mature terrestrial forests, thus absorbing much carbon instead of emitting it back to the atmosphere. However, 30-50% of the world’s mangroves are already lost and they continue to disappear at a rate of 2% each year.
Gucci is working on identifying and scaling up regenerative agriculture projects within its sourcing regions, with the aim to source regenerative raw materials for its products. Gucci is also incentivizing farmers to switch to regenerative agriculture through ‘carbon farming’. Gucci has directly funded Native’s newest regenerative projects for wool and leather globally covering 3,075 hectares, allowing for the capture of approximately 25,000 tons of CO2 over the next five years.
Honduras | ©Hector Emilio Gonzalez
Apart from that, by switching to green energy, Gucci avoided -59,000 tons of CO2e and reached 83% renewable energy for its stores, offices, warehouses and factories with a 100% target for 2022. Employing sustainable manufacturing efficiencies, such as metal-free tanning, Gucci Scrap-less and Gucci-Up, and reducing waste from manufacturing, equalled -3,000 tons of CO2e avoided. Sourcing sustainably and incorporating organic fibers in Gucci’s collections reduced -179,000 tons of CO2e, advancing its goal to source 100% sustainably by 2025. Gucci has also increased the use of recycled and regenerated materials across nylon, cotton, cashmere, polyester, precious metals, plastic and packaging to support a circular economy, with savings of -13,000 tons CO2e. Creating new circular business models such as its pre-loved Gucci digital shop in partnership with the RealReal, will further the cause.
Many luxury brands have started focusing on the subject by dabbling into one-off ‘eco-friendly’ products or collections. Speed, however, is of utmost importance here.
While industry insiders agree that one year into the pact they have achieved more than expected despite the COVID 19 pandemic, the progress may only be scaling the tip of the iceberg. The lack of representation of manufacturers points towards an incomplete approach where outsourced value chain leads to outsourced responsibilities that cannot be regulated and concrete information cannot be acquired.
Additionally the top countries exporting fashion are identified by the value, not volume, of exports. This places the EU second to China when in reality, Bangladesh, Vietnam and India produce the second-highest volume of garments exported.
This stance appears to diminish the importance of addressing supply chain emissions in the far east instead of focusing on them as a priority. Garment workers in Asian countries are subject to disproportionately high levels of poverty, environmental toxicity from wastewater and climate disasters, and placing the EU second to China risks diverting efforts from Asia to the EU, and a failure to tackle the biggest problem areas in the industry.
A clothing workshop in Indonesia | ©Rio Lecatompessy
A major concern is that the fashion pact is not legally binding, neither are there any commercial or monetary implications for failure to achieve the goals. It is merely a set of voluntary guidelines and an on-going dialogue committing the top bracket brands to understand their environmental implications and an encouragement to take measures accordingly.
This suggests that the industry may be aware of its impact and is taking steps to control and reduce its carbon footprint, but there is a need for stronger legal implications, monetary penalties and a focus on the marginalized sector that contributes to the highest ecological degradation as well as human right violations.