Carbon Neutrality in the Fashion Industry

The fashion industry accounts for 10% global carbon emissions, using more energy and releasing more toxins than aviation and shipping combined. Climate change and the issues that expand along with it are slowly impending and proposing new resourceless forms of livelihood. One of the biggest issues causing climate change are carbon emissions, specifically created by the fast fashion industry. 

Environmental nonprofits all over the world are supporting the idea of “fossil-free” routes, encouraging fashion brands to partake in a new, cleaner journey of clothing production. They provided a 5 step plan which (simplified) reads as follows:

  1. Setting ambitious climate commitments with full transparency
  2. Centring renewable energy in supply chain decisions with specific commitments to phase out coal
  3. Advocating for renewable energy policies in supply chain countries
  4. Sourcing lower carbon and longer lasting materials
  5. Reducing the climate impacts of shipping

With this, brands are beginning to announce “carbon neutral” plans for further production.

Starting with the famous shoe brand, Allbirds. They released a statement, expressing they were going “100% carbon neutral” in order to address the fact that each company within this industry has a role to play. This followed the first ever carbon neutral product introduced in popular apparel and shoe store, Everlane. Clothing producers, Reformation, followed up with a statement and staying true to their claims of being carbon neutral since 2015. These brands are most popular with the younger generations, who have already shown great advancement in sustainability projects.

The millennial-friendly brands were joined in their sustainability journey by more luxury brands, such as Gabriela Hearst. They hosted the first carbon-neutral runway show at New York Fashion Week. The introduction of Gabriela Hearst sustainable collections in New York fashion week was notable following the backlash during London Fashion Week.  Extinction Rebellion (XR) launched a campaign which called on the British Fashion Council to cancel London Fashion Week. This demand wasn’t met; as a result, protestors staged ‘die-ins’ and a ‘fashion week funeral’, urging the fashion industry to take drastic action (Carbon Neutral Fashion Brands). 

French luxury group, Kering pledged to “become carbon neutral within its own operations and across the entire supply chain.” As a result of this, there was a notable rise in ‘carbon neutral’ fashion shows

To summarize the phrase, carbon neutrality refers to achieving net zero carbon dioxide emissions by matching carbon dioxide emissions with reduction or actually removing carbon dioxide emissions entirely; often by carbon offsetting or the transition to the “post-carbon economy.” (Carbon Neutrality).

However, claiming to transition into fully carbon neutral ways is easier said than done. Rather than cutting down on toxic processing to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide release, most companies who claim to be carbon neutral, achieve this through offsetting. 

Explained through XR Fashion Boycott team, representative Sara Arnold says “Brands are saying that they have carbon emissions which are essential; that instead of cutting them out, they’ll offset. So you calculate: there were that many flights taken, so we’ll plant this many trees. But carbon emissions have knock-on effects which should be taken into account, and there are feedback loops. We’re getting closer to tipping point.” (Carbon Neutral Fashion Brands). The external factors to consider are not taken into consideration because of the automatic assumption that small actions do not add up. She gives the example of a worker who lands a job planting trees, and celebrates by booking a holiday for his family, thus upping his emissions (Carbon Neutral Fashion Brands). 

The process of agricultural growth contains factors which prove harmful for the environment, longterm. The uses of agrochemicals on the land can be put into question, or the use of fossil-fuel based materials such as nylon and polyester. In order to become 100% carbon neutral, there are many parts of the industry to take into consideration. 

True carbon neutrality is a step forward in the journey to fashion sustainability. Still, in order to make an everlasting mark on the process, it is imperative for brands all over the world to partake in ethical processes from beginning to end. 

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