Fashion Gets Serious About Going Carbon Neutral
COVID-19 may have taken centre stage in terms of media coverage for most of 2020, but there is no denying the immense pressure the environment is under and that climate change is a very real issue. As citizens of earth, we can all do our part to help restore its health and protect its resources. For those running businesses, corporate responsibility is compulsory.
As we have seen with the likes of the United Nations Fashion Pact, The Paris Agreement and the Copenhagen Fashion Summit, words such as ‘sustainability’, ‘circular economy’ and ‘carbon neutral’ are given frequent lip service. Is the fashion industry, globally known as a planet-polluting commercial enterprise, taking their sustainable responsibilities seriously? What exactly does it mean to be carbon neutral?
As humans, we inevitably emit greenhouse gases, but as is true for all things in nature, it’s about achieving balance. The fashion industry has long been under fire for its many polluting strands such as excessive water use, the use of hazardous chemicals for dyes and finishes, global shipping and a growing landfill problem. The fashion industry does indeed have many environmental issues to tackle. Every year, global emissions from textile production equate to 1.2 billion tonnes of CO2, a figure that outweighs the carbon footprint of international flights and shipping combined .
When a brand announces it is going ‘carbon neutral’, it means it is attempting to achieve a net-zero carbon footprint. This can be done in two ways, either by reducing emissions across the garment and home textile product life cycle, or by offsetting them against renewable energy commitments such as planting trees, funding wind farms or through the brand’s supply chain. The idea of offsetting emissions is controversial amongst environmentalists, as they argue that the focus should instead be on achieving reduced emissions across the supply chain. A focus on the reduction of carbon emissions as a first step and offsetting through verified programs is proposed by the UN Fashion Pact to achieve ‘net-zero’.
Luxury fashion brand Gucci became a leading charge for such cause when they first announced their ‘Equilibrium Initiative’ two years ago. Marco Bizzarri, president and CEO of Gucci, stated:
“A new decade of corporate accountability is upon us and as businesses, we all need to be diligent in taking all steps to mitigate our impacts, including being transparent and responsible for our Greenhouse Gas emissions across our supply chains. We are redefining carbon neutrality to encompass our entire supply chain and we hope other CEOs across sectors will view this as a call to action. Collective action is needed to make a significant contribution to our nature and society in the coming decade and for our future generations.”
Many other fashion brands have followed suit, from Reformation and Burberry to sustainable footwear brand Allbirds. The latter has combed through every stage of development, from raw materials to product manufacturing, to ensure carbon impact has been reduced at every stage. Allbirds also offsets what remains to achieve a carbon neutral status and has announced that its core goal is to emit no carbon at all – a goal that the team is continuously reviewing and working on.
The Lenzing Group, a cellulose fiber production company, is the latest company to fully commit to reducing its CO2 footprint. Lenzing is committed to investing EUR 100 million over the coming years to reduce carbon emissions both inside its operational boundaries and in its supply chain. Due to its ambitious CO2 emission reduction strategy, Lenzing will further contribute towards helping customers transition their businesses to a lower CO2 base.
A first milestone is set for 2030 as Lenzing plans to reduce CO2 emissions per ton of product by almost 50 percent as compared to the 2017 baseline. For 2050, Lenzing has announced a vision towards net-zero CO2 emissions. The Science Based Targets initiative, from one of the most recognized organizations in the field of climate-relevant target setting, has already scientifically validated Lenzing’s climate targets.
“Climate change is the most important issue mankind is facing. With this commitment, we are fully in line with the Paris Climate Agreement and will further help the world to reduce the speed of global warming. Our ambitious decarbonization targets make us a front-runner, not only in the world of fiber producers but also among major industrial companies. Despite the substantial investment that is necessary, we are convinced that this is not only a very responsible step but that it will also be a value-generating move”, says Stefan Doboczky, Chief Executive Officer of the Lenzing Group. “It is our responsibility to act now for our children and grandchildren”, Doboczky adds.
The announcement of Lenzing’s commitment alongside notable brands such as Gucci and Burberry will come as welcome news to environmental fashion campaigners who are calling for immediate action from textile and fashion businesses. As more brands continue to announce their plans to achieve carbon neutrality, consumers are also expecting more in the way of transparency. They want to know that their brand of choice cares about sustainability across the spectrum of product, people and planet.