Going on a new and drastical path – for the sake of our climate

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Text by Carina Parke
Photo by Jay Wennington

The fashion industry has to act, now and more drastically, to achieve the global climate goal. What’s the actual status quo and what’s on the agenda that is essential for moving forward? The report “Fashion on Climate” gives an honest insight. 

It’s not a secret that fashion plays a huge role in climate change, neither is that the industry couldn’t run away from their responsibility anymore because mother nature is catching up. So brands got louder, their customers did too while demanding big changes. But here we are in a world full of greenwashing and PR strategies that makes facts seem vague. So what’s the real deal? 

“Fashion on Climate” (FoC) might be that honest friend that we needed because it speaks the truth even when it hurts. So when we go by the information the report authored by McKinsey & Company in partnership with Global Fashion Agenda is providing, everything doesn’t seem to play out that well if nothing major changes within in the next decade. Because if the fashion industry and their customers continue their path, we can’t align with the 1.5-degree pathway and the 2030 emissions reduction targets will be missed by 50 percent. Can’t be that bad, you might think? Well, this will lead to accelerated global warming. Now let that sink in…

Yet everything seems so promising when we look at the fashion industry as a whole and its development. We see more and more green collections, brands that focus on recycling and reduce their plastic waste while environmental awareness keeps growing. But like neon green, floral prints and 90s vibes I can’t get over the feeling that the topic is handled more like a trend than an honest attempt of a structural transformation from several big players – those who do have huge responsibility and hold the power in their hand. 

Status quo of fashion’s emissions

There is nothing new about that. What might be interesting though are the hard facts, so let’s get down to them: The fashion industry accounts for around four percent of emissions globally, equivalent to the combined annual GHG emissions of France, Germany and the United Kingdom according to FoC. Those emissions come up from different sources, such as upstream activities, particularly energy-intensive raw material production, preparation processing as well as downstream activities like transport, packaging, retail operations, usage and end-of-use. 

Photo by Jay Wennington on Unsplash

So if we go down the road with no further abatement action, emissions will rise by around a third to some 2.7 billion tonnes in 2030, with our current pace the GHG emissions maintain at 2.1 billion tonnes in 2030. But if we want to track a path to 1.5 degrees, the industry will be required to reduce emissions by half to around 1.1 billion tonnes by 2030 which will require to accelerate abatement actions, including scaling up and intensifying current decarbonisation approaches according to the report. 

And action – what the industry has to work on

It will need commitment and actions in different areas to achieve the goal. The first big topic is reducing emissions from upstream operations which concludes decarbonised material production and processing, minimised production and manufacturing wastage as well as decarbonised garment manufacturing. When it comes to energy, renewable energy and efficiency improvement in raw material production, preparation and processing as well as switching from coal energy boilers to electric boilers for synthetic material production will have to play a big role. Additionally, brands and retailers can be responsible with power purchase agreements in supplier countries or with supporting the purchase of unbundled Energy Attribute Certificates which verify that 1 MWh of renewable electricity was generated by a sustainable power source and fed back into the grid. 

Sustainable materials are already in the talks for several brands now but the report gets more concrete about them. For example, organic cotton is around 50 percent less emissions intensive than the conventional while 53 rPET is around 40 percent less emissions intensive than regular polyester. When it comes to FoC sustainable materials should become a priority because they also have an impact on factors like water consumption, water pollution, land and fertiliser use as well als eutrophication. 

Last but not least we, the customers, also have to do the work because around 21 percent of accelerated abatement potential is related to our action. So next to increased recycling we need more circular business models such as fashion rentals, re-commerce, repair and refurbishment – and we need customers to use them because they can cut around 143 million tonnes of GHG emissions in 2030. Then there is reduced washing and drying which means for example, skipping one in six washing loads or washing half of loads at below 30 degrees. In the end, all hands have to be on deck while every industry stakeholder has to play their part. Because we can’t say that we didn’t know …

You can find further information about Fashion on Climate here