Fashion has an overproduction problem, and it is causing already high greenhouse gas emissions to skyrocket, despite promises from brands to curb their climate impacts. Yet, many still refuse to address what experts call the “elephant in the room”: degrowth.
In the last year, fashion companies from Kering to Ralph Lauren have been updating their emission reduction targets from emissions intensity to absolute emissions, forcing a conversation about the growth models underpinning their businesses. “You can reduce your footprint at the product level, but at the end of the day, because your company [keeps growing], you increase your quantity of greenhouse gas emissions,” Marie-Claire Daveu, Kering’s chief sustainability and institutional affairs officer, told Vogue Business when Kering updated its targets in March.
Many companies have net-zero value chain goals. Despite just starting to get underway, we already hear that many are not on track to meet these goals,” says David Wei, managing director for climate and nature at business network and consultancy Business for Social Responsibility (BSR). “It begs the question: is it possible to achieve the necessary absolute emissions reductions by 2030, without probing the question of growth? At a certain point, this will be impossible without deep business model transformation.”
Estimates of fashion’s footprint range wildly. Some estimates say fashion accounts for as much as 10 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions, a widely quoted figure. Others — including the Apparel Impact Institute, which published updated figures in June — say the reality is closer to 1.8 per cent. Either way, the global industry’s general aim is to halve emissions by 2030, and reach net zero by 2050.
Many fashion brands now have more specific, personalised targets, but progress towards meeting them is slow. At the current rate of emissions reduction, only 7 per cent of Accenture G2000 companies — just a small subset of global businesses — are on track to achieve their own net-zero targets for Scopes 1 and 2. Pushing target deadlines back to 2050 only increases this number slightly, to 8 per cent. It’s a bleak reality, but net-zero targets remain largely out of reach in an industry that still defines success as growth.
“The basic problem we face is that our economic system is completely measured and governed with financial growth indicators,” says Dr Hakan Karaosman, co-founder of the EU-funded research centre Fashion’s Responsible Supply Chain Hub (FReSCH), chair of the Union of Concerned Researchers in Fashion, and assistant professor at Cardiff University. “The triple bottom line [on which the B Corp model is based] was developed as an alternative to this, but ultimately falls short because it tries to plant sustainability within the existing system, which measures everything with productivity and gross domestic product (GDP). This profit focus at the system level has operational implications. It means we approach sustainability through the lens of transaction costs, top-down hierarchies and risk mitigation tools. This is not working.”
Read more – Vogue Business