Sparks

Fashionable sustainability

 By Anna Volpicelli

Last year the United Nations reported that the fashion industry is responsible for about 10% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. Along this way, a McKinsey report showed how the majority of the emission are placed during the manufacturing and shipping processes. Just like the styles, however, things are changing…

Fashion corporations and startups are making efforts to build carbon-neutral businesses.
According to the “Pulse of the Fashion Industry” report from by the Global Fashion Agenda, sustainability is rising on the corporate agenda. The nonprofit committed to making the fashion industry more sustainable found that 52% of executives said that environmental and social targets acted as guiding principles for nearly every strategic decision they made.
The study also showcased how 2017 was a turning point for sustainability. In all, 75% of fashion companies have improved their score compared to last year, raising the pulse of the industry by six points. New data and calculations show that investments in resource efficiency, secure work environments and sustainable materials boost profitability by up to 1-2% point in EBIT margin (earnings before interest and taxes) by 2030.

The fashion manifesto

Last August at the G7 summit in Biarritz, President Emmanuel Macron, along with 32 major fashion brands, unveiled the Fashion Pact, an industry-wide movement aimed at aligning the fashion industry with the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
The manifesto seeks to minimize the industry’s impact on the climate, oceans and biodiversity by adopting thoughtful and practical strategies to address the problem. It also highlights a commitment to 100% renewable energy in companies’ operations by 2030, a willingness to eliminate micro-fiber pollution and develop biodiversity strategies and smart efforts to reduce single-use plastics in both packagings by 2030.

The Italian pioneer

Some of the leading corporations in fashion are already moving in this new and improved direction. In September 2019, Gucci, the famous Italian brand, announced that they would be ultimately carbon neutral in its operations and across the entire supply chain, accounting for all the Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions they generate. It also announced a partnership with Redd+, a UN project dedicated to reducing emissions from deforestation on four projects that support forest conservation in Peru, Kenya, Indonesia and Cambodia. The goal: to offset carbon emissions it cannot eliminate.
Moreover, for its spring/summer 2020 show, the brand offset its guest’s carbon footprint, the set was designed with recycled woods and all the paper invites were certified by Forest Stewardship Council, an international non-profit organization that promotes responsible management of the forests around the world. The new company’s environment-oriented business model is part of the new 10-year sustainability strategy, which includes reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 50% by 2025.

Sustainable footwear

In California, an emerging group of fashion brands have adopted a more sustainable approach to the industry. Allbirds, for instance, is a young company specializing in organic shoes.
Founded by engineer and renewables expert, Joey Zwillinger, along with Tim Brown, a former professional soccer player in New Zealand, the company designs and produces shoes made by premium ZQ Merino-certified wool. Each shoe also includes an insole of castor bean oil-based polyurethane and a blend of rubber and EVA foam polymer on the bottom.
What makes Allbirds even more unique in the category of activist fashion brands is the company’s environmental strategy. It maintains a B Corp classification, an ethical business certification bestowed upon companies that focus on ecological conservation. In addition, Allbirds went carbon neutral for its entire supply chain in 2019. Considering that the footwear industry emits 700 million tonnes of carbon dioxide each year, this is a huge step forward.

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Allbirds' sustainable shoes (allbirds.com)

Among some of the practical actions Allbirds is taking: maximizing ocean shipping rather than air shipping, increasing energy efficiency and purchasing renewable energy. For every tonne of carbon they emit as business, for instance, they pay to take a tonne of carbon out of the atmosphere by buying credits from third-party verified emissions reduction projects, known as carbon offsets.
These projects include harnessing the natural ability of plant and soil to take carbon dioxide out of the air, building new solar plants and wind farms around the world to replace coal and capturing methane from landfills and livestock operations.

Natural fabrics

Some millennial-friendly apparel brands are leveraging their reputation with more green strategies. Reformation, a sustainable women’s clothing brand, makes 75% of its items with natural and recycled fibers. In 2009, its founder Yael Aflalo launched the brand with one only goal in mind: creating clothes with a low environmental footprint from leftover fabric, reducing water consumption and tracking the carbon emissions generated by each garment.
Transparency and integrity are two important keys to the company strategy. On the website, for instance, they publish the methodology for their fiber standards to help customers understand what they are purchasing and what they are wearing. TENCEL™ Lyocell, which is manufactured from eucalyptus trees and EcoNYL®, which is made out of 100% regenerated nylon, are two of the many raw fabrics the company uses to design their collections.

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The Reformation store in San Francisco (thereformation.com)

Everlane, a popular apparel company known in the industry for its radical transparency, aims to eradicate plastic from its supply chain. It launched Tread, a line of carbon-neutral leather sneakers, by partnering with a third-party to measure its carbon footprint and offset all emissions. Native Energy, a Vermont-based carbon offset provider, supported their work to improve cattle-grazing practices on American grasslands.
The company also launched the ReNew & Re:Down collection made with recycled plastic. From puffy coats and parkas to sweatshirts and hoodies, everything is made out of plastic bottles.
Fashion is one of the industries that has a big influence on people’s daily lives. By including more sustainable practices and ethical business choices in their strategies, they can make a significant impact and positive contribution to the fight against climate change and carbon emissions. A business model that could shift the conversation on the environmental responsibilities that fashion companies and consumers have will always be in style.

READ MORE: Sustainable threads by Michelle Leslie

about the author
Anna Volpicelli