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A New Report Ranked The Actions That Your Favorite Fashion Brands Are Taking Toward Sustainability —The Results May Surprise You

In recent years, ’sustainability’ has become much more than a buzzword. The fashion industry —and the world— has been waking up to its impact on the planet and its communities. A new study, found, however, that fashion brands and retail stores are not doing too well when it comes to improving their sustainability processes and policies. While some retailers are putting in the work to make their businesses more sustainable and environmentally conscious, others still have a lot to do. 

There may be no such thing as a ‘fully sustainable’ brand yet, but the fashion industry should start investing on fixing that.

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What many consumers don’t know is that fashion is as much about the process as it is about the end result —in fact, fully sustainable fashion doesn’t exist yet. There are many ways in which the fashion industry impacts the environment and communities, from the sourcing of the fabrics, to manufacturing, transport and right down to selling and recycling. 

‘I don’t like to use the word sustainable, because I find people are scared of it and don’t understand it,’ says Orsola de Castro, Founder and Creative Director of Fashion Revolution, an organization which educates brands on how to produce clothes than don’t exploit the planet or people. ‘There is no fully sustainable brand at this point in time. There are certainly brands that are embedding sustainability in the way they design and think,’ Orsola says.

‘Sustainable’ should not just be a buzzword added to a marketing campaign to attract buyers —but rather a total change in policies and processes. 

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In recent years we’ve heard fashion brands and retailers mention ‘sustainability’ a lot more. Huge high-street giants like H&M which came up with ‘H&M Conscious’ a range of sustainable clothing and fashion, have made entire ranges and campaigns around the trendy buzzword. Brands like Reformation and Everlane make a point of sharing their sustainable practices such as sourcing recycled materials. But are brands really walking the walk, or just talking the talk?

A new report by environmental group Stand.earth, has found that a lot of fashion brands and retail stores aren’t doing too well at making their businesses more sustainable.

credit Twitter @standearth

The group recently released their Filthy Fashion Climate Scorecard, which ranks the “climate commitments of 45 top fashion companies” including everything from high street favorites like American Eagle and Levi’s to top luxury labels such as the ones managed by luxury giant LVMH, sports brands like Nike, as well as infamous mass-fashion brands like Zara.

And —tbh— Stand.earth’s findings were not all that shocking. 

According to the report, the many “efforts” that companies have made public to change their manufacturing processes for the betterment of the climate, have fallen short. The report found that “nearly all of the companies (except two) have failed to reach the level of emissions reduction needed to align with the UN Paris Agreement’s pathway to 1.5°C degrees of warming and avert the worst consequences of climate change,” according to a press release from the organization.

Participating fashion brands and retailers were measured on a few different commitments and given scores up to 50 points for each category, including commitment to reductions in direct emissions from owned and controlled operations and the energy used to power them, use of renewable energy, commitment to reductions in global supply chain emissions, and long-term global supply chain emissions reductions.  Companies were also rewarded five bonus points each for positive changes in their processes; like supplier incentive programs and low carbon textile sourcing. Their scores were then added up and ranked in order. 

Mid-market and high street brands came out on top, whereas luxury brands didn’t do too well.

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This year, Levi’s came out on top, with American Eagle at a close second and English luxury brand, Burberry at number three. Brands like Target, Ganni, and Adidas landed in the middle. Upper-market department store giant, Nordstrom, scored zero points. LVMH, the luxury conglomerate which owns everything from Dior to Fendi to Pucci and Louis Vuitton, scored a 14; they earned points for emissions reductions and renewable energy. 

Stand.earth found that 17 of the companies they studied for their report have made little to no effort to improve their manufacturing processes at all, and that could potentially “put the world on a path to climate catastrophe, with 3 or more degrees of warming.”

While some brands are making meaningful progress, others need to step up their game if we want to reverse climate change.

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Liz McDowell, Filthy Fashion Campaign Director at Stand.earth said in a press release that; “A handful of companies, including Levi’s, Burberry, the Gap, H&M, and American Eagle are taking meaningful strides to shift their global supply chains off dirty fossil fuels. But many other companies are relying on false solutions to meet their climate commitments – easy measures that look good on paper but fail to tackle carbon pollution in the real world.”

“While the industry’s progress is encouraging, signing onto one of these initiatives doesn’t guarantee that a company will take climate action in line with the scale of emissions reductions needed to keep the world below a dangerous level of warming.” The group’s study also found that; “companies will not be able to adequately reduce emissions in line with the Paris Agreement’s 1.5°C ambition unless they transition their supply chains off of coal and on to renewable energy.”

The fashion industry has a disastrous impact on the environment. In fact, it’s the second-largest polluter in the world, just after the oil industry.

In most of the countries in which garments are produced, untreated toxic wastewaters from textile factories are dumped directly into rivers. Huge quantities of freshwater are also used for the dyeing and finishing processes of all of our clothes. The private research platform, ‘Sustain Your Style’ states that “Up to 20,000 liters of water are needed to produce just 1kg of cotton.”

On top of the pollution caused by the manufacturing process, clothing has clearly become disposable. As a result, we generate more and more textile waste. A family in the western world throws away an average of 30 kg of clothing each year, according to Sustain Your Style. Of all that waste, only 15% is recycled or donated, and the rest goes directly to the landfill or is incinerated. 

The fashion industry’s impact on the climate is a serious problem, and though it seems like many brands are aware of their role in these catastrophic processes, and are working to improve, we must hold them accountable.

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It’s important to keep brands accountable as they continue to push sustainable initiatives and recognize their impact on the environment. In August, luxury brands like Gucci, Chanel, and Prada announced their intention to join up with brands like H&M to help combat the industry’s negative impact on the environment, signing the “Fashion Pact” to ensure their partnership. And while it’s exciting that brands are putting in the work towards a more sustainable tomorrow, it’s important to mention that we, as consumers, should start making more conscious fashion choices too!

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