In part two of his monthly round up of sustainability news, Oliver Balch reports on how progress on circularity by the likes of Burberry, Zara, and C&A is not widely replicated
“Do not worry about . . . your body, what you will wear. [Is] the body more than clothes?” This famous injunction of Jesus was meant as a corrective against worldly worries when it was first issued two millennia ago. Today, however, worrying about what we wear feels all too prescient. The apparel and footwear industries together account for more than 8.1% of global climate impacts, the equivalent of 3,990 million metric tons of carbon dioxide, estimates suggest.
The industry isn’t ignorant of its need to resolve the problem it has with carbon emissions and high resource use. Part of the answer, it is suggested, lies in introducing more circular modes of production. Hence the 2017 commitment by 90 fashion brands and retailers (representing 12.5% of the global fashion market) to advance the cause of circularity back in 2017. Giving direction to their efforts is the Global Fashion Agenda, which is supported by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, the Sustainable Apparel Coalition and Fashion Positive.
Progress, however, is mixed. According to a recent update, 15 of the signatories have failed to meet even the most minimum requirements of the commitment. Overall, only 21% of the 213 targets have so far been met. Participating brands have until June 2020 to achieve the remainder. Most progress has been made on recyclability (with 24 of 87 targets achieved), followed by the collection of used clothes or footwear (with 12 out of 52 targets accomplished).
If the cost of carbon and the price of fair wages were to be added in, the average €30 price tag for a pair of jeans would more than double to €63
The fashion industry is not without its bright spots, however. Only last month, for example, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation launched a new initiative to reduce waste and increase the use of recycled content in the manufacturer of jeans. Among the various requirements of the Jeans Redesign Guidelines is that each pair of jeans should include a minimum of 98% cellulose fibres (by weight). The scheme takes a strong steer from a joint initiative by C&A and Fashion For Good to develop C2C Gold Certified jeans. The jeans are made with 100% organic materials and designed to be reused, recycled into new products or safely composted.
Advocates of a more circular approach argue that fashion manufacturers ignore the hidden costs of conventional production methods. According to new research, if the cost of carbon and the price of fair wages (along with other externalised costs) were to be added in, the average €30 price tag for a pair of jeans would more than double to €63. In 2017, the global jeans retail market value was estimated at $42bn, with European consumers owning more than five pairs per person on average.
Among other recent positive developments is the launch by Burberry of a new jacket made from sustainable nylon yarn. The Econyl fabric used in the product derives from a mix of old fishing nets, fabric scraps, and industrial plastic. Burberry is also experimenting with a fabric made from volcanic sand and waste coconut shell, among other innovations. Fashion label Prada also features Econyl, an invention of Italian synthetic fibre firmAquafil, in a new sustainable line of its iconic bags. The US fashion brand features the breakthrough material in a new video series, entitled Prada Re-Nylon.
In other news, high street fashion chain Zara has announced that its new collections will be made from 100% sustainable fabrics before 2025. By 2023, meanwhile, the brand has pledged to ensure that all the viscose used in its fabrics will also be 100% sustainable. Zara’s parent company, Inditex, which posted net annual profits of €344bn in mid-July, already operates clothes banks in more than 800 of its global stores. Since 2015, it the company has collected more than 34,000 tonnes of used stock.
Such voluntarism appears to be the direction in which the governance debate regarding the sector is heading. This is certainly the case in the UK, where parliamentarians recently rejected proposals for a mandatory extended producer responsibility scheme for the fast fashion industry. The idea featured in a list of hard-hitting recommendations made by the Environmental Audit Committee last February. Among other measures, the Fixing Fashion Report also called for a ban on incinerating or landfilling unsold stock that can be reused or recycled, as well as compulsory environmental targets for fashion retailers with a turnover above £36 million. All the proposed measures were rejected by the UK government in its official response back in June.
This article is part of this month’s CSR Cheat Sheet round-up. See also:
CSR Cheat Sheet part 1: Food industry struggling to meet SDGs as hunger grows
CSR Cheat Sheet part 3: BlackRock’s uncertain progress on ESG