Fashion Companies Must Avoid Greenwashing Sustainability Goals, Says GlobalData

As fashion groups fall over themselves to make carbon neutrality pledges and set targets to reduce waste and produce sustainable clothing, there is a risk of ‘greenwashing’ when the real issue lies in the supply chain, writes GlobalData.

Sainsbury’s and Fat Face have recently committed to cutting emissions across their operations by 2040 and 2025, respectively. They join the ranks of global fashion firms signing up to initiatives such as the UN Fashion Charter and the Fashion Pact, or chartering their own course to hit sustainability goals.

While the commitments are a step in the right direction, many of these companies have been accused of ‘greenwashing’ – spending more on marketing themselves as environmentally friendly than on actually reducing their environmental impact.

Michelle Russell, Apparel Correspondent at GlobalData, says: “The bulk of a company’s greenhouse gas emissions, for example, are generated in its supply chain, so brands need to be taking their supplier networks into account when setting out their pledges if they are to even come close to mitigating emissions.”

According to the Carbon Trust, as much as 80% of a company’s total carbon impact lies outside its direct operational control.

Gucci CEO Marco Bizzarri recently issued a cross-industry call to other chief executives to implement a “360-degree climate strategy,” taking “full responsibility and accountability” for the total greenhouse (GHG) emissions generated by their business activities. As such, he launched the ‘CEO Carbon Neutral Challenge,’ which covers both a company’s operations and its entire supply chain.

Similarly, Maya Rommwatt, fashion campaigner for environmental group Stand earth, says commitments such as the Fashion Charter are encouraging but don’t go far enough: “To get really excited, we’d like to see signatories pledge to make deeper and faster emissions cuts aligned with a pathway to 1.5 degrees, which is what current science tells us we must be aiming for if we want to reduce the worst impacts of climate change. This would mean committing to reducing absolute climate pollution in their global supply chains by at least 40% by 2025, setting specific renewable energy goals for their factories and mills, and pledging to avoid false solutions like reaching ‘carbon neutrality’ through mass carbon offsets.”

Russell adds: “It would be encouraging if more companies acted like Levi Strauss, which set targets in 2018 for reducing carbon emissions across its owned-and-operated facilities and global supply chain by 2025. Unfortunately, there many companies that aren’t in complete control of their whole business operations and visibility across the value chain is non-existent, or limited, at best. There is also the challenge of investment, which may be proving a huge factor in holding brands back.”