2. How to Decarbonise your Company

Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in fashion are largely remote from the consumer in production countries and are therefore not thought of as a significant impact. But fashion and textile has been estimated to be as much as 10% of total global emissions. The fashion industry’s emissions are mostly associated with the products imported from production countries. (Note that these are not currently considered as emissions in the country of the consumer).
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What does decarbonise your company mean?

The fashion industry is propped up by fossil fuels which is responsible for 89% of global GHG emissions. Polyester has become the backbone of the ‘pile them high, sell them cheap’ business model.  If nothing changes, in 10 years nearly three quarters of our textiles will be made from synthetic fibres, with 85% of this coming from polyester. Already, two thirds of fibres and materials are produced with fossil fuels as are the dyes used to colour, print and finish them. Even the so-called natural fabric of conventional cotton is grown with fossil fuel-derived fertilisers and pesticides. (This is why organic cotton is such an important switch). The fibres, fabrics and garments are then made and stitched in fossil fuel-powered factories. Think about how the fashion industry would transform if we kick out the fossil fuel crutch from under it? We need to cut overall production to enable this transition and switch to low impact materials and renewable energy-powered factories and distribution now.

You could attend The Sustainable Angle’s 10th Future Fabrics Expo which is to be held on 28-29 June 2022 in London. Future Fabrics Expo is a one-stop shop for sourcing sustainably and responsibly produced materials.

Decarbonising your fashion company means switching to low impact, regenerative and recycled fibres and materials. Steer clear of virgin polyester and other virgin synthetics. Fashion companies report that up to 70% of their carbon footprint is in the raw materials they use. The fashion industry must reach real net zero (not relying on carbon offsetting, capture and other unproven technologies) by 2030 or soon after by cutting emissions. This means working with suppliers to switch to renewable energy.

A major challenge is that brands roam from factory to factory and country to country, looking for the facilities that can offer them the cheapest prices and the fastest turnaround. The issue is mainly one of policy; most fashion is made in countries that run on coal. The United Nations Fashion Charter for Climate Action committed to stopping the use of coal by 2025, but Nike is the only brand that has taken real action in this area, by helping its footwear suppliers electrify all of their boilers.  The Apparel Impact Institute and Fashion for Good estimate that it will take a trillion dollars in global investment to decarbonize the industry. However it is not currently the practice that brands give financial support to factories.

Brands need to look at cutting emissions through your product returns process and distribution too. This will impact your critical path and offer new ways to redesign your business models together with stakeholders, including setting up reselling of pre-loved clothes, repair, rental etc.


‘How to Decarbonise your organisation’  webinar video

Fashion Declares held a webinar on this topic, delving into the details of what decarbonisation is, and what it means in practice to an organisation.

Hosted by Fashion Declares’ Founder Safia Minney and with a brilliant panel of experts in the field:

Our speakers brought brilliant detail and insight to this topic, we urge you to watch the recording if you were unable to attend and use the video as a resource to share with those around you in the industry hoping to make a change.

The fashion industry is propped up by fossil fuels.

Think out of the box. This decade is about changing the way we have done things. Look for best practice in your area and join webinars with us and others linked in the resources and events sections and sign up for our monthly newsletter to learn and share resources with colleagues. Fashion Declares is committed to achieving real net zero by 2030 or soon after. 

Sustainability teams and Boards need to engage everyone and all stakeholders. Everyone has a part to play so if you have ideas share them.

GHG emissions can be divided into Scope 1,2 and 3 as follows:

Scope 1 – fuel combustion, company vehicles

Scope 2 – purchased electricity, heat and steam

Scope 3 – supply chains, purchased goods and services, business travel, employee commuting, waste disposal, use of sold products, transportation and distribution (up- and downstream, investments, leased assets and franchises.

Targets should address all ‘Scopes’ of emission.

A product’s in-use emissions (consumer phase in the life cycle) need to be addressed. Brands must educate their customers to stop treating their clothes as though they are disposable, to wash their clothes less and at a low temperature and avoiding tumble drying and ironing. This will reduce Scope 3 emissions.

Regenerative Agriculture, along with Degrowth holds the key to our future – read more in Topic 3

The industry should use natural materials produced through the principles of regenerative organic agriculture, favouring small scale and local producers. This will radically promote soil health, restoration of ecosystems, biodiversity and carbon drawdown. Decarbonising your supply chain could also involve adding lines of carbon-neutral handcraft textile production. All materials should be independently recognised or certified.

What tools are there to help?

The first step in a company setting out a real net zero strategy is to quantify its baseline emissions for all its tiers of operation. There are a number of service providers eg Green Element a London based consultancy which will support SME organisations (used by Finisterre) become more environmentally responsible with bespoke solutions. It has helped over 120 organisations.  The Science Based Target Initiative supports large scale organisations in determining baseline and emissions and developing a reduction strategy.

Co2 emissions graphic
Fossil fuels factory chimney spewing out smoke

Today's IPCC ... report is a code red for humanity. The alarm bells are deafening, and the evidence is irrefutable: Greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel burning and deforestation are choking our planet and putting billions of people at immediate risk. Global heating is affecting every region on Earth, with many of the changes becoming irreversible.

Code Red for humanity 

In 2021, the IPCC reported that we are facing CODE RED for humanity and that the narrow window of opportunity is closing fast. We need urgent, radical action to keep to 1.5oC global heating alive; we are heading for 2.9°C above pre-industrial levels according to CAT.  Within 50 years one billion people will live in insufferable heat. One billion people will live in insufferable heat within 50 years – study | Climate crisis | The Guardian

The concern is that, with the trend of increasing consumption, fashion industry emissions are only set to increase; the fashion sector is predicted to contribute to more than 26% of the world’s annual carbon budget associated with a 2oC pathway by 2050. There has also been a dramatic growth in synthetic textiles derived from fossil fuels. A polyester shirt has more than double the carbon footprint of a cotton shirt.

Who’s taking action?

The Swedish Textile Initiative for Climate Action (STICA) supports apparel and textile companies operating in both the Nordic and international markets to set science-based targets and reduce their greenhouse gases in line with 1.5°C warming pathway, share best practise, collaborate and develop a roadmap and implementation plan.

Fashion Pact is a global coalition of companies in the fashion and textile industry (ready-to-wear, sport, lifestyle and luxury) including their suppliers and distributors, all committed to a common core of key environmental goals in three areas: stopping global warming, restoring biodiversity and protecting the oceans. Signatories include Adidas, Chanel, Chloe and Nike.

Suggested reading

SBT App Guide

‘This Changes Everything’ by Naomi Klein, ‘Regeneration’ by Paul Hawken (see also regeneration.org), ‘The Uninhabitable Earth’ by Davis Wallace-Wells

Suggested viewing

Climate Change – The Facts with Sir David Attenborough – YouTube

Science Based Targets Sign up and become part of the future – YouTube

Textile Exchange: Climate+ – YouTube

wind turbines along a green hill