Why the fashion industry stayed a global polluter in 2022
Despite all alleged sustainability efforts by many major top brands to lower fashion pollution, the fashion industry has failed to reduce its Co2 footprint, once again this year.
On November 1, 2022, stand.earth published a shocking report stating that despite promised efforts, the fashion industry has failed to reduce its carbon footprint this year as well. On the contrary, annual emissions increased significantly and now account for 5-8% of annual climate emissions. But what does this figure actually say about the multitude of brands that have actually committed themselves to a more environmentally friendly production?
Fashion Pollution: Many brands still lack sustainability efforts
As this year’s emissions are higher than in previous years, the fashion industry cannot keep its promise to become more environmentally friendly by 2030. Of the ten brands that were examined more closely for the report, only one was able to score positively. The report states: “Of the ten companies assessed (American Eagle Outfitters, Fast Retailing, Gap Inc., H&M, Inditex, Kering, Lululemon, Levi Strauss & Co., Nike, VF Corp), only one, Levi’s, is projected to reduce its supply chain emissions by 55% compared with 2018 levels, in line with keeping warming below 1.5C.” (stand.earth, 2022)
Key take-aways from the report on fashion pollution
These statistics clearly reflect that, again this year, the fashion industry has unfortunately not been able to deliver on its 1.5-degree emissions promise by 2030. According to the report, one of the biggest climate polluters, Nike and Inditex (Zara), reported manufacturing emissions of close to 10 million tons of CO2e, respectively. Sportswear brand lululemon saw the most significant increase and rose over 60% just in one year.
“If climate action is a catwalk, most of these brands are still looking for the dressing room.” Rachel Kitchin
Rachel Kitchin, Corporate Climate Campaigner for Stand.earth emphasises: “If climate action is a catwalk, most of these brands are still looking for the dressing room. At COP26 all of these brands increased their commitment under the UN Fashion Charter, promising to halve their emissions by 2030. Yet despite some small signs of progress, most aren’t just failing, they’re actually getting worse. ” (stand.earth, 2022)
On the other hand, there are also positive changes to note here. For instance, both Levi’s and VF Corp have shown some signs of progress, by showing a consistent downward emissions trajectory. In addition, Kering and H&M have both recently made important commitments to phase out fossil fuels. However, all of these brands still lack the transparency to fully show how they plan to operate those changes.
How to spot Greenwashing as consumers?
These statistics undoubtedly show that the fashion industry still lacks the determination to implement its previous climate commitments and promises. But how can we as consumers actually see through this ‘greenwashing’ more clearly?
The term greenwashing refers to companies that purport to be environmentally conscious for marketing purposes but actually are not making any notable sustainability efforts. (businessnewsdaily.com, 2022) These marketing strategies often lead consumers to believe that they are purchasing an environmentally friendly manufactured product, when they are unknowingly causing greater harm to it.
In order to avoid brands like this, consumers should first pay attention to the language. The use of undefined terms such as “eco-friendly” or “natural” is often only for promotional purposes. Additionally, it might be beneficial to avoid brands with campaigns that show evocative pictures or branding images like flower meadows or happy workers, which often mislead consumers. Last but not least, one should also be careful with brands that have attracted attention in the past due to their negative fast-fashion practices and now want to rebrand themselves as completely ecologically-friendly.
Even though we have our hands tied on a lot of things as consumers, it might be a good idea to keep your eyes open around holidays like Christmas and consider where to buy certain items of clothing. These small signals could encourage the aforementioned brands to rethink their manufacturing practices and make our world more environmentally friendly together.
By Katharina Rolfes, MA Luxury Brand Strategy & Business