Textile Exchange, the Sustainable Apparel Coalition and a number of industry partners are galvanizing support toward joint climate and biodiversity action this week.
Kicking off Day One of Textile Exchange’s 2021 conference (happening through Friday in Dublin, in person as well as virtually) were sessions on animal fibers, man-made cellulosic fibers and biosynthetics. The conference is held for the first time, jointly alongside the SAC. Additionally, this week’s program dovetailed with the SAC’s annual meeting held on Wednesday and Thursday.
“Partnership is no longer optional — it’s imperative,” said Amina Razvi, the executive director of the SAC. “We believe bringing the industry together and convening around these shared topics is going to be increasingly important as we move forward.”
Top-level insights from the joint programming followed unified climate and biodiversity strategy around materials, a push for recycled materials and impact measurement methods.
With global fiber production having doubled in the last 20 years, reaching an all-time high of 111 million metric tons in 2019, per Textile Exchange’s 2020 Preferred Fiber and Materials Market Report — a lot is on the line. Materials are more than a little problem.
“Seventy-two percent of greenhouse gas emissions are directly related to additional fossil fuel carbon from the ground.…This is by far the most important thing in climate mitigation,” Michael Carus, director and founder of the Nova Institute, said in a biosynthetics session on Monday. “The other 28 percent is coming mainly from agriculture, deforestation and meat/cheese production.”
Carus spoke of the Renewable Carbon Concept Initiative that aims to speed up the transition away from fossil carbon (essentially keeping carbon in the ground) for all organic chemicals and materials. This means using renewable carbon sources or those that avoid or substitute the use of added fossil carbon from the ground.
A key component of the initiative — as well as the sessions so far — is the linkage between climate change as “one of the most significant drivers of biodiversity loss,” per Carus.
A separate session on animal fibers outlined proper ecosystem management as well as preliminary data on how one ranch (Imperial Stock Ranch) is sequestering carbon. Benefits point to water storage and biodiversity, for one.
Themes were consistent at the SAC’s annual meeting held last week, where Dr. Sweta Chakraborty, a risk and behavioral scientist, relayed the urgency for acting on the climate crisis in an opening keynote, amid the backdrop of climate negotiations underway at COP26 in Glasgow.
“The slow speed in which these choices are being offered in fashion, food, energy and beyond, despite the science, has been described by the U.N. secretary general as a ‘#codered’ for humanity. As the [August] IPCC report clearly stated, humans have unequivocally contributed to climate change,” said Chakraborty.
Biases, media amplification and politics all contribute to a tendency to “ignore serious but slow-moving or seemingly faraway risks,” according to Chakraborty.
“The fashion industry has a real opportunity to lead here. Creating sustainable operations is clear, but going beyond that to communicate and engage with consumers and all stakeholders on climate is where you can really shine…regardless of what level you are in,” she added, pointing to the support of the SAC and social platforms like We Don’t Have Time as a tool for stakeholder engagement.
This year’s conference is far from the first time the SAC and TE have come together. Earlier this fall, TE rolled out its Climate+ strategy alongside the SAC, with the top-line goal of reducing CO2 emissions (from textile fiber and material production) by 45 percent by 2030. LCA+ (another impact measurement method) is a separate work in progress that TE hopes to incorporate in 2022.
“Bold action isn’t just important right now. It’s become a profound and time-sensitive mandate. We’re on the clock, so to speak,” echoed James Schaffer, managing partner at strategy consultancy Schaffer&Combs, in a Monday session on climate strategies.
Three years ago, only 12 fashion companies had set science-based targets. Today, that headcount is more than 140 companies across the value chain.
Launched in November, the “Roadmap to Net Zero” report was developed by the World Resources Institute and Apparel Impact Institute. It pinned a fresh number to industry emissions which was unpacked in greater depth in corresponding conference sessions.
According to the report, sector emissions (based on data provided by the SAC, Higg and Textile Exchange) landed at 1.025 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalents in 2019 (or around 2 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions). Unchecked, emissions will grow to 1.588 gigatonnes by 2030.
Michael Sadowski, adviser to the SAC and TE, touched on the aims of the report: “If you are in the [apparel] sector, you’ve probably seen different estimates of the apparel sector emissions. I get this question all the time of ‘What are the emissions of the sector?’ I’ll just be candid and say we don’t know for sure. It really depends on the assumptions and data sources of the author.…Until we come up with better data, it’s hard to make these claims.”
Slated this week are sessions on recycled polyester, organic cotton with Textile Exchange’s Climate+ initiative as well as the SAC’s Policy Hub.