Big fashion cannot align its climate goals with its business model.


Last week was Fashion Week in New York City, and on Monday Climate Week comes to the Big Apple. At the intersection of these annual shows is an inconvenient truth: No one has figured out how to properly integrate climate goals with the current fashion business model.

Retailers have announced a number of sustainability initiatives over the past few years—practically every company in the industry has a plan or plan to make products greener and extend the life of those products. These initiatives have given rise to the buzz of “publicity,” and are aimed at accounting for fashion’s massive climate footprint. According to the United Nations, the industry contributes between 2 percent and 8 percent of global carbon emissions.

But that’s where things get confusing. So far, there has been little discussion of how. a lot of To hit environmental targets, a company must produce. Instead, bold strategies abound to keep businesses in expansion mode.

“Many, many companies are beginning to realize that they have a seemingly irreconcilable situation,” said Elisa Nimtsow, vice president of consumer affairs and global member of sustainability consulting firm BSR. “The concept of decline and alternative business models or alternative models for growth can be uncomfortable terms for people.”

Take H&M. The Swedish retailer has pledged to cut emissions by 56 percent by 2030 compared to 2019 levels, according to a 2021 climate statement from third-party non-profit CDP. That’s at a time when H&M is moving to reduce its water and plastic use and rely on recycled materials. But even the best materials can’t handle 3 billion garments a year or the volume of production that investors expect to beat fast-fashion competitors. Can climate goals be separated from such a strategy?

Not many scientists seem to relate to BSR. “Scientists generally say that fusion is impossible, or that emissions can be released but not used for resources,” Nimtsow said. “And even if it were theoretically possible, it would never happen.”

Some companies are trying. In the luxury space, Gucci managed to cut emissions 15% compared to 2019 levels while still growing sales, Fashion Business reported. Alternative models proposed include capping growth, focusing on fewer, higher-quality goods, and narrowing down climate-friendly options — though it’s unclear how these approaches will scale over time. There are also entire businesses that spring up around selling everything from clothing to furniture, or renting out items to get rid of a new product entirely. According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, increased resale, rental, repair and recycling businesses, among the factors needed to meet the 1.5°C target, could cut fashion’s climate footprint by as much as a third.

“I think the sustainability people in the fashion space have been talking about the elephants in the overproduction and overconsumption room for years,” Nimtsow said, adding that companies are at least beginning to be drawn into the conversation. We are all still looking for the right models to guide us.

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