The need for change

The fashion industry faces mounting pressure to decarbonise as investors, consumers and climate litigation cases demand genuine commitment and action towards achieving net-zero targets. To succeed in the low-carbon future, fashion companies must engage in responsible environmental stewardship and adopt an authentic transition plan.

It is well known that the fashion industry has a significant environmental impact. According to McKinsey’s 2020 Fashion on Climate report, the global fashion industry produced around 2.1 billion tonnes of GHG emissions in 2018, equalling four per cent of the global total. This is equivalent to the combined annual GHG emissions of France, Germany and the United Kingdom which underscores the urgent need to take decisive action to reduce emissions from the sector.

The transition to net zero has already started

The UN Climate Change Fashion Industry Charter for Climate Action, launched in 2018, ramped up ambition last year and committed signatories to cut emissions in half by 2030 and reach net zero by 2050. The Fashion Charter boasts an impressive collection of signatories, including Adidas, Chanel, LVMH, Nike and H&M. As part of the charter, all signatories are required to report their greenhouse gas emissions annually, with the aim of encouraging more brands to cut their cloth accordingly.

While steps to reduce emissions are starting, the fashion industry could do better. The Fashion Revolution Transparency Index annually reports on the social and environmental policies, practices and impacts across the operations and supply chains of 250 of the world’s largest fashion brands and retailers. The latest index reports that only 65 per cent of major brands publish their Scope 1 and 2 emissions. Even less, 34 per cent, publish their Scope 3 processor emissions and only 31 per cent disclose a decarbonisation target.

What gets measured gets managed

Risilience, a climate analytics company, advises that the first step towards an effective net-zero plan is measuring carbon emissions. By identifying and understanding emission sources, businesses can develop realistic strategies to reduce them.

A crucial aspect of net-zero strategies for large corporate organisations involves decarbonising Scope 3 emissions. According to the Greenhouse Gas Protocol, Scope 3 emissions encompass 15 categories across upstream and downstream activities within the value chain. For many fashion brands with intricate supply chains, Scope 3 emissions constitute the majority of their total emissions. Reducing these emissions demands large-scale collaboration with suppliers, focusing on education, enablement, incentives, and monitoring. Incorporating questions about net-zero plans into existing procurement agreements will also help to gather and monitor information while supporting suppliers during the transition to net zero.

Targets must be realistic and achievable 

Fashion companies must avoid hastily setting targets without understanding the implications for their business. A science-led, data-driven plan, aligned with the company’s strategic direction and governance, is essential for a successful transformation towards net zero. Determining the organisation’s carbon footprint is vital for setting a vision, achievable targets, and enabling public disclosure. Annual disclosure maintains accountability to shareholders and customers, driving motivation for further progress over time.

Optimising opportunities

Over 50 per cent of all textiles are produced from fossil fuel-derived synthetic materials, presenting a significant opportunity for businesses to adopt more sustainable materials, such as using recycled plastic bottles or switching to organic natural fibres. Committing to the use of different and more sustainable materials is essential in the transition to net zero.

Incorporating circularity into processes can also be advantageous. Companies like Nudie Jeans design clothes for durability, promoting trade-in programmes, repair services, and second-hand sales as part of their re-use initiative.

Fashion brands that are prepared for the low-carbon economy will reap the rewards. By taking effective action towards decarbonisation, they can better position themselves to capitalise on the commercial opportunities of a sustainable future.

• Hear Dr Scott Kelly discuss what a fool-proof apparel net-zero plan looks like on the latest InnovationForum podcast episode hosted by Ian Welsh. Listen to the 15-minute podcast on demand at:

• Dr Scott Kelly, SVP Model Development and Analytics at Risilience, will be speaking on 25th April at 10am to 10.50am as part of the panel event ‘Apparel’s route to net-zero: how to set credible targets for 2030 to 2040 to 2050’ at the Sustainable Apparel and Textile conference in Amsterdam, 25th and 26th April 2023. Dr Kelly will be joined by Eva Karlsson, CEO Houdini Sportswear and Stefan Seidel, Head of Corporate Sustainability, PUMA Group.