The fashion industry has a lot of work to do when it comes to reducing its impact on climate change.
“Fashion on Climate,” a report released Wednesday by the Global Fashion Agenda and McKinsey & Co., is upping the urgency for the industry’s action to curb emissions.
“Climate change is not going away, when it really kicks in it will really affect [the fashion business] supply chains,” urged Morten Lehmann, chief sustainability officer at GFA, and one of the report’s authors.
Today, the industry’s impact represents some 2.1 billion tonnes of CO2 emissions, or about 4 percent of the global total, according to the report, the first since McKinsey and GFA began their multiyear partnership last year. That’s the same as what France, Germany and the United Kingdom emit per year, combined.
At its current clip, the fashion industry is set to miss the 1.5-degree Celcius pathway to mitigate climate change set out by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change by 50 percent. Without further action, emissions could rise by as much as 2.7 percent annually, reaching 2.7 billion tonnes a year by the start of the next decade.
For fashion to achieve global climate goals, it will have to halve its carbon emissions, bringing them down to around 1.1 billion tonnes by 2030, which is no small feat given the pandemic “has painted a polarized picture,” as far as sustainability priorities go, with some putting their eco-efforts on the back burner, as Lehmann and others in the industry have inferred. But that may not be the best move.
“The world has changed — consumers are looking for more sustainable companies and brands,” said McKinsey senior partner and coleader of its Apparel, Fashion & Luxury group. “Bold action is required if the fashion industry is to meet the ambitious target of aligning with a 1.5-degree pathway in the next 10 years. The good news for the fashion industry is that many of the required actions can be delivered with beneficial economics.”
The report details the cost benefits of each criterion in what it’s calling “accelerated abatement” to help right the industry’s climate wrongs, accounting for economic factors like the rising prices of organic cotton and recycled synthetics, the payoff in initial training, technology, energy and material mix investments and what adoption levels are needed for circular business models to thrive.
On the bright side, according to Anna Granskog, McKinsey partner in the sustainability practice, “many of the required actions can be delivered at a moderate cost,” with roughly 55 percent of the actions required for abatement delivered at net cost savings, “on an industry-wide basis,” meaning collaboration, if necessitated by incentives, is crucial. Efforts like “coordinated decarbonization” across upstream, brand-owned and consumer activities.
But it’s going to take an up-front spend and greater collaboration across the fashion industry should yield a long-term benefit for society and the environment.
“We’ve been talking about collaboration throughout the industry for years and years. With this report we’re really demonstrating how each player in this value cycle has to act to achieve these goals,” said GFA sustainability manager Holly Syrett. “What’s needed from brands, manufacturers, consumers to achieve this together, and what are the criteria in this?”
With a majority of the fashion industry’s emissions coming from upstream activities, a remarkable 61 percent of accelerated abatement potential lies in decarbonizing upstream operations.
Reduction potential is said to be reached through 17 identified “levers” across the industry value chain, including decarbonizing material production and retail operations, reducing washing and drying in the consumer care stage, increasing re-commerce, upcycling and recycling activities, and reduced overproduction.
Using a cost curve abatement model akin to those used in other industries, like automotive, the report’s roadmap cuts the overproduction rate from 20 to 10 percent, which McKinsey senior partner Karl-Hendrik Magnus admits is an “already quite ambitious goal.”
For fashion, however, it will be about changing some of those long-standing ways that can’t carry the industry into its future.
“This whole system of the industry is built to devalue a garment,” Syrett said. “Within the report and the scope of the cost curve – we’re trying to prioritize what needs to happen now.”
And, according to GFA chief executive officer Eva Kruse, the time to act is now.
“The pandemic has shown us how interconnected we are and how we also possess the capacity to change,” she said. “However, real long-lasting change hinges on the fashion industry’s ability to come together, so we can rise to the occasion and play a leading role in combatting climate change….I am confident that this report will help industry leaders better understand where to focus their efforts and still reap the most impact of their investments.”
Responsible for steering the “Pulse of the Fashion Industry” report and CEO Agenda as two other anchor publications from GFA, Lehmann said, “We, of course, haven’t found all the answers yet — this one is a deep dive on climate, but the important thing is looking at all the systems,” to drive transformation at the business and societal level.
GFA is gearing up for its digital Copenhagen Fashion Summit this October and annual forum in June 2020, which, according to Lehmann, will go “much deeper with concrete action and tangible levers that stakeholders need to implement.”