Circularity is no longer the “hot” topic of sustainability in fashion. While thinking circularly is a good first step, the entire industry is embarking on the next big frontier: tracking carbon impact. Reducing companies’ CO2 footprint will be less performative as the effects of climate change continue to hit closer and closer to home. Finally, all hands are on deck for action behind the scenes, not just sustainable heavyweights like Patagonia, Kering and Eileen Fisher. This is a commitment for our entire global community.
Several carbon commitments have recently been signed, underlining the common understanding of the severity of the climate crisis. Textile Exchange, a global non-profit organization that brings stakeholders together to collaborate (I have been on the board since its inception in 2002), launched its 2030 strategy, “Climate Plus,” at the last personal Textile Sustainability Conference in 2019. Climate Plus promises that textile exchange “will be the driving force for urgent climate action with a target of 45 percent reduced CO2 emissions from textile fiber and material production by 2030.”
This common vision is paramount, as textile processing is the most energy-intensive step in fashion production. Another comprehensive 2020 overall commitment was organized by the B Corp Climate Collective shortly thereafter at the UN Climate Conference COP25. Over 900 companies joined their NetZero 2030 pledge. This date from 2030 is in line with the sober IPCC report (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) from 2018, which stated that we have as little as 12 years to reach 1.5-degree Celsius targets to avoid a global climate disaster point without return.
Amazon also aims to be carbon neutral by 2040. By expanding its marketplace offerings to include more eco-friendly brands, Amazon is now striving to serve the growing demand for sustainability, while pushing existing partners to integrate the added value of sustainability into their current products. .
Sustainability is no longer about staying ahead – it is about not being left behind. This must be a joint effort, otherwise we will all lose. The good news? By creating responsible solutions with a large group of organizations and partnerships, we can redefine competition as “cooperation” and learn from each other – leading to exponential positive effects while sharing in successes across sectors and stakeholders. My d-to-c sustainable clothing brand, Yes And, and parent company Ecofashion Corp, have committed to being zero carbon zero on November 11, 2022. Our goal is to be role models for the future of fashion, while supporting other brands and retailers , who want to scale their efforts through our turnkey manufacturing company, MetaWear.
Carbon mitigation tools at each step of the supply chain
So far, most fashion brands have tackled their carbon footprint with questionable offsetting or energy-saving strategies in physical stores. These are good first steps, but there are so many other ways to reduce the carbon impact to zero or even reach climate positivity. These plans require new levels of understanding and an unwavering willingness to adapt.
First, we need to reduce carbon at the fiber level. We need to phase out petrochemical based synthetic fibers. Not only do plastics release greenhouse gases at every step of their life cycle, they pollute our waterways and prevent the work of our atmosphere’s greatest natural carbon offset – our ocean’s phytoplankton. However, natural fibers are not all perfect. Fiber farming must be regenerative and organic to capture carbon in the soil and build up water retention that reduces runoff. Soil is the skin of the earth – we need to protect and nurture it.
Genetically modified crops and synthetic fertilizers and pesticides should be avoided as they are produced using significant amounts of energy and release greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Wood-based cellulose fiber comes best from mills that are committed to replanting, such as Lenzing. Another good starting point for material is recycled fibers and / or deadstock. By choosing recycled raw materials, the CO2 footprint needed to grow, twist, weave and dye fibers is avoided.
Next, renewable energy at the mill and factory level is a must. Wet processing is the most energy-intensive stage in fashion production. Solid dyes are kept constantly warm; huge spinning machines and power looms fill factory sizes in stock size, and industrial washers and dryers are used for dyeing, for shrinking fabric and for laundry. Especially in developing countries, coal is still used for energy; China and India are the two largest consumers of coal in the world. We must collectively invest in solar, geothermal and wind energy to drive the stages of production that are most energy-intensive.
Another overlooked carbon touch point is the efficiency of the supply chain. By streamlining, we not only increase transparency, we save money, energy and emissions. At Ecofashion Corp, our farmers, mills and factories are generally within driving distance of each other. Another added bonus of keeping our supply chain vertically integrated is the ability to measure the positive effects on the communities we serve and to equalize directly in the environments affected.
Technology is an important tool for benchmarking, tracking and holding accountable for all players in the system. Whether you use blockchain, RFID or genetic tracking, there is no longer any excuse for not knowing exactly where and when materials are moving through the supply chain. As a tool for carbon neutrality, technical tracking also helps data collection for more accurate carbon calculations.
Choosing sea freight versus air for shipping is an obvious choice, as is reshoring and / or nearshoring to reduce emissions. Because there is always an impact on transport, as we know it now, carbon sequestration in the earlier stages of production is key.
Most companies have a huge opportunity to use the above strategies to deploy carbon emissions, which means reducing the impacts when and where they occur in our supply chains. Balancing the rest of one’s carbon impact may in theory not even be necessary if the previously mentioned tools are in place. Since many organizations are not there yet, some offsetting ideas include planting trees, investing in wind or solar farms, and partnering with like-minded environmental initiatives that capture carbon.
In terms of engaging consumers in the journey to carbon zero, Yes And recently launched a program with Ecodrive to enable our customers to take responsibility for the carbon emissions that occur between the warehouse and their front door. We create triple with our customers and Ecodrive to plant enough trees to offset e-commerce delivery emissions. Sustainable lingerie brand We Are Hah is committed to #startsomewear and uses a range of low power materials and strategies to reduce carbon impact throughout their business. Their “green menu” engages customers to learn about and choose how they want to make a difference with their purchases.
Partners and certifications
Understandably, the full breadth of opportunities to achieve carbon neutrality cannot be realized without the help of external experts. Textile exchanges lead the way in “material change” with expert fiber guidance to the deepest levels of your supply chains, not to mention their sustainability certifications, such as OCS (Organic Cotton Content Standard) and GRS (Global Recycled Standard), to name just a few. Gold Standard and Natural Capital Partners are other long-standing expert organizations offering offset, input and carbon neutrality plans. Green Story helps quantify carbon impact data for benchmarking, reporting and communication. Pure Strategy offers a wide range of tailored sustainability guidance to their customers. Establishing a list of carbon through the supply chain is not something companies are prepared to do alone – we must seek strategic partnerships to create CO2 neutrality (or better yet – climate positivity) together.
Smaller start-up brands with sustainability in their DNA are lucky because solutions are the starting point. In my business, offset projects directly affect the communities that serve us, as they are in the same villages where we have farms or factories. While this is simpler for a small to medium-sized business, it requires serious long-term dedication and an honest desire to switch brands and retailers in companies.
We gathered climate change and it was not easy. Drilling, mining, refining, processing – none of these daily processes started simply. It’s time to get together to design and scale a new kind of industrial revolution – one that heals, restores and regenerates so we can all thrive.
Marci Zaroff coined the term “eco-fashion” and is an internationally recognized environmental lifestyle expert, educator, innovator and serial eco-preneur.
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