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Climate Change Tracker: Fashion forward

From G7 pacts to UN charters to buying second hand clothes, here are the different ways that the fashion industry is trying to cut its carbon footprint

Fast fashion has created an unsustainable global industry. Photo: Getty Images
Fast fashion has created an unsustainable global industry. Photo: Getty Images

In the previous instalment of the Climate Change Tracker, we had looked at the fashion industry’s massive global carbon footprint. In the second part of the series on climate change and fashion, we take a look at the attempts being made by the industry to become sustainable.

“It’s not an option, it’s now a duty of running a global company," said Marie-Claire Daveu, chief sustainability officer of the French luxury group Kering, in August, ahead of the ambitious Fashion Pact at the G7 summit in Biarritz, France. French President Emmanuel Macron and Kering’s chairman and CEO François-Henri Pinault helped put together the deal that was signed by 32 global fashion brands, including Adidas, Burberry, H&M, Stella McCartney, Nike, Puma and Prada. At the heart of the pact was the aim of aligning the fashion industry with the UN sustainability goals, in addition to identifying three specific areas for action: climate, biodiversity and the ocean.

This isn’t the only action of its kind. The pact follows an earlier set of guidelines laid down by the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) in its Fashion Industry Charter for Climate Action (Ficca) in December. It targets net-zero emissions by 2050, one that the Fashion Pact also sets for itself. Addressing the full spectrum of emissions and pollution caused by each stage of production and distribution of fashion goods, Ficca also set a goal of 30% reduction in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2030 and set up working groups to review and monitor progress.

There has been some criticism of the Fashion Pact, with it being described as too much talk and not much action. Some industry sources have pointed out that enough industry bodies and networks already exist precisely for this purpose (e.g. the Sustainable Apparel Coalition, the Global Fashion Agenda, and Common Objective), but not enough is being done to meet the ambitious goals that have been set.

One way to check the resource-grabbing business of fast fashion would be to change consumer behaviour. This would entail a return to now-forgotten practices like buying second-hand clothes, not buying multiple clothes every year and just generally consuming less, depending on what you need, and not what you think you need or want. The excess of fast fashion is less than two decades old—the term itself was coined in the early 2000s as retailers looked to increase profit margins by increasing the speed of manufacturing at a cheaper price. By 2015, a label like Zara was posting sales of $19.7 billion (around 1.41 trillion) and H&M $20.2 billion. Given the profits, no wonder that a worried H&M CEO, Karl-Johan Persson, told Bloomberg in October that discouraging consumerism is not the way forward. “Yes, that may lead to a small environmental impact, but it will have terrible social consequences," he said.

The UN Economic Commission for Europe (Unece) would disagree. “The general current states of the fashion industry can be described as an environmental and social emergency," it said in a statement on fast fashion in July.

Next week on #MintClimateTracker: the individual versus the collective models of climate action.

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