Members of the Sustainable Apparel Coalition, or SAC, will now be required to set and commit to science-based targets as part of a new member requirement that was recently announced.
As a driving force of the industry, the SAC’s membership boasts combined revenues of more than $750 billion, or about half of the industry, and spans brands, retailers and holding groups, manufacturers and raw materials manufacturers.
As part of the “Decarbonization Program,” SAC corporate members will be “required to commit and set Science Based Targets from 2023,” the organization said. Brands liked Levi’s, Nike and Amazon are among SAC’s membership — many of whom have already set, at least, near-term targets aligned with the 1.5-degrees Celsius pathway outlined in the Paris Agreement (or the standard for limiting global temperature rise). As it stands, fashion is set to majorly miss the mark on these carbon reduction pathways without serious action.
The SAC confirmed to WWD that it will only require “near-term science-based targets” to start. According to the Science Based Targets Initiative, or SBTi, this process can take up to 16 months and will require companies to disclose their commitments within six months if their designated plans are approved.
Industry sustainability advocates had their own opinions on the news.
“We greatly applaud the efforts of the Sustainable Apparel Coalition including their requirement that member companies set Science Based Targets and the work they are doing to coordinate solutions,” began Maxine Bédat, founder of fact-finding organization New Standard Institute. “At the same time, this industry is no different from any other and voluntary initiatives will continue to have limited results unless also backed up with a means of enforcement. Given the commitment of the SAC and its membership, we would expect them to fully support New York’s Fashion Act and call on those members to do so, to ensure that this announcement will prove to create the meaningful change we are all looking to achieve.”
Bédat stressed that the industry can’t rely on best intentions anymore. “New Standard Institute stands ready to support industry efforts provided that we have a common understanding that there will be consequences for inaction,” Bédat said.
“But what does ‘accountable’ even mean?,” chimed in Kristen Fanarakis, founder of U.S.-made slow fashion label Senza Tempo Fashion. “There aren’t legal consequences. From an organization that has promoted the use of polyester through its Higg Suite, I’m not sure this is the right body to self-regulate fashion.”
The SAC will also rely on research and data from its Higg Index and collaborators like Textile Exchange and Apparel Impact Institute to measure and track progress across six key areas related to materials and energy (material efficiency, scaling infrastructure, bio-based inputs, energy efficiency, coal elimination and 100-percent renewable).
In the weeks leading up to the launch, the SAC will carry out a series of webinars and learning sessions so that members can set, commit to and track their targets.
“Right now, the fashion industry is not on track to hit net zero by 2050,” said Joyce Tsoi, head of collective action at the SAC, in a statement. “But change is happening. We need to be accelerating the actions now, we are working alongside with our members collaboratively on committing and setting science based targets in line with latest climate science, which provides a clearly defined pathway for reducing their emissions in their decarbonization journey, providing a space or platform where companies can put competition aside to share insights, best practices and even collaborate on shared manufacturing facilities for their supply chains.”
She reiterated that the SAC’s position as a “convener” of about half the sector means that the organization is poised to leverage and influence the scale and impact of the fashion community to “get the industry back on track and deliver emissions reduction in line with science-based targets, to prevent the worst impacts of climate change.” This mission statement resembles that of the “Fashion Conveners,” a joint industry project formed in 2020 to convene stakeholders around issues like COVID-19 and climate change. It counts the SAC, Textile Exchange and others, and the group’s main updates center on events information from founding members.
While reporting for the Decarbonization Program is said to be on an annual basis as aligned with the SBTi’s guidelines, so far the repercussions in failing to align with the Decarbonization Program are unclear. The SAC confirmed that a “continued failure to demonstrate commitment to the requirements and the SAC,” will result in “termination of membership if necessary,” per an SAC spokesperson.
The European Commission is looking to crack down on circular policy, and the SAC has played an important role in assisting the technical secretariat to the European Commission in how circular fashion policy is shaped.
This latest Decarbonization Program, however, represents a key moment where the SAC pledges to take greater responsibility in holding its members accountable to environmental progress.