The fashion industry is one of the most influential industries in the world. It’s also one of the largest polluters in the world. Fortunately, some of the world’s biggest fashion houses unveiled a new sustainability pact at last month’s G7 summit in France that looks to change that. In light of this, something else has been brought to our attention: a big part of the problem actually starts in Asia.
Climate change was a hot topic at the G7 Summit in France last month and fashion was at the center of conversations since the carbon impact of the industry is one of the most polluting in the world, with footwear and apparel accounting for 8% of global climate impact. The industry’s enormous greenhouse gas emissions and devastating environmental impact are in fact greater than that of the aviation industry (CBS). At least now, something is finally being done about it after 32 fashion brands signed a fashion pact act aimed at aligning the fashion industry with the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDG).
What is the G7?
The Group of Seven (G7) comprises of leaders of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States. The group regards itself as a community with values whose fundamental principles fight for freedom and human rights, democracy and the rule of law, prosperity and sustainable development. A summit happens annually and although it doesn’t have any legal or political authority, because the member countries are so powerful (accounting for 40% of the world’s GDP), it has the power to shift the direction of global economic growth.
So what about this pact…
In April of 2019, French President Emmanuel Macron beckoned for François-Henri Pinault, CEO of the Kering Group which manages brands like Gucci, Saint Laurent and Alexander McQueen, to formulate a series of concrete measures that will reduce the environmental impact of the fashion industry. He did just that by bringing together some of the world’s leading fashion and textile companies who together officially presented the Fashion Pact at the G7 meeting at Biarritz on 26 August 2019.
There’s a lot of big names on it…
The Fashion Pact is a coalition of 32 brands, of which LVMH (Kering’s biggest competitor) is notably absent. They are (in alphabetical order): Adidas, Bestseller, Burberry, Capri Holdings Limited, Carrefour, Chanel, Ermenegildo Zegna, Everybody & Everyone, Fashion3, Fung Group, Galeries Lafayette, Gap Inc., Giorgio Armani, H&M Group, Hermes, Inditex, Karl Lagerfeld, Kering, La Redoute, Matchesfashion.Com, Moncler, Nike, Nordstrom, Prada Group, Puma, Pvh Corp., Ralph Lauren, Ruyi, Salvatore Ferragamo, Selfridges Group, Stella Mccartney, and Tapestry.
The objectives are all there…
The objectives draw on the Science-Based Targets (SBT) initiative, which is broken down into three areas for safeguarding the planet:
1. Climate Change Commitment: The objective here is to stop global warming (or prevent it from rising to more than 1.5°C by 2050 as agreed globally in the Paris Agreement). This will be achieved by supporting the UNFCCC Fashion Industry Charter to implement science-based targets, reducing or offsetting carbon emissions to achieve net-zero by 2050; sustainably sourcing raw materials, and committing to using 100% renewable energy sources for operations by 2030.
2. Biodiversity Commitment: This objective is to restore natural ecosystems and protect species. Signatories have pledged to develop their own strategies based on science-based targets. Some examples of the types of objectives that signatories might work towards focuses on the supply chain, manufacturing and sourcing raw materials in a sustainable manner.
3. Ocean Commitment: The objective is to protect the world’s oceans after recognizing that scientists have predicted that 90% of large fish have been lost, coral reefs may not exist by 2050, and there could be more plastic in the ocean than fish. To tackle this issue: eliminate single-use plastic by 2030 in both business-to-business and business-to-consumer packaging; reduce microfibre pollution through washing innovations; carry out consumer education efforts; sustainably manufacture and source raw materials; support new guidelines related to the best practice for managing plastic pellets.
In addition to these core objectives, the following areas are recognized as enablers to achieve the goals:
1. Support for the circular economy
2. Education and consumer awareness
3. Drive more impact financing for cross-sector collaboration
4. Support more innovations relating to the technologies that can help achieve these goals
Except the problem with it is….
While the pact is a positive move, there is a reason to be skeptical—it’s just a pact. Given that the Fashion Pact is not legally binding on its signatories and targets are non-obligatory, it should be viewed as more of a set of voluntary guidelines rather than anything enforceable. In fact, the pact plainly states this and it will remain to be seen if it is upheld. And if it’s not, no penalties will be carried out. Furthermore, while the list is impressive and represents around 30% of the fashion industry, there is still another 70% missing. But the Fashion Pact all together acts as a significant starting point and is still open to any company that wants to help to fundamentally transform the practices of the fashion and textile industry.
And we still need to talk about the supply chain (and Asia)…
Most of the fashion industry’s ecological footprint lies in Asia: in China, India or Bangladesh. The first mile of the supply chain starts here in Asia where most factories are found and transparency is questionable. The pact does recognize this, stating “all commitments will focus on the ‘first mile’ of fashion supply chains, as a big unaddressed part of the impacts of the industry are felt at farm level and in raw material sourcing locations.” That said, few companies have control over this part of their supply chain so it will remain to be seen the power they can exert.
Photograph by IMAXTREE