Are fashion brands on track to meet the 1.5C emissions pathway?
Are fashion brands on track to meet the 1.5C emissions pathway?
Thursday October 28, 2021

As global leaders gather for COP 26, a new analysis by Stand.earth of the fashion industry's emissions shows why its pollution can't go unchecked.

Fashion companies are collectively responsible for 5% to 8% of climate emissions every year. Dirty fossil fuels like coal continue to power the manufacturing of apparel, footwear, and other fashion goods sold by leading brands, and fracked fabrics like polyester have become a mainstay of fast fashion and athleticwear.

Recognizing their massive role in driving climate change, many of the largest global brands came together in 2018 to sign the United Nations Fashion Industry Charter for Climate Action — committing to reduce their climate emissions 30% by 2030, including in their supply chains, which contribute more than 90% of their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

In August 2021, nearly three years after the launch of the UN Fashion Charter, Stand.earth released its Fossil Free Fashion Scorecard, benchmarking 47 luxury, sportswear, outdoor, fast fashion and casual wear companies on their efforts to reduce climate emissions. We found that while some progress had been made by a handful of brands in transitioning away from fossil fuels in their own operations, most brands had made little to no progress eliminating coal and other fossil fuels from their supply chain, where the vast majority of their emissions lie. In fact, some were even more dependent on coal than when they first signed the charter.

As the world prepares to gather in Glasgow next week for COP 26 to assess progress in reducing GHG emissions, and what actions are needed by 2030 to respond to the "code red for humanity" declared by the UN, a new Stand.earth analysis takes a closer look at how some of the biggest fashion and apparel companies are performing in reducing their supply chain emissions in line with a 1.5C emissions pathway of the UN Paris Agreement, which, as outlined this week in the UN Emission Gap Report, necessitates a 55% reduction in absolute emissions by 2030.

 

American Eagle Outfiitters graph
Fast retailing graph
Gap graph
H&M graph
Inditex graph
levi's graph
Lululemon graph
Nike graph
Kering graph

Key Findings

  • Fashion brands are off track in meeting the 1.5C pathway

All nine companies included in this analysis — American Eagle Outfitters, Fast Retailing (parent company of UNIQLO), Gap, H&M, Inditex, Kering, Lululemon, Levi’s, and Nike — are projected to fail to reduce their supply chain emissions in line with the 1.5C emissions pathway of the UN Paris Agreement if their emissions continue to increase at the rate of growth demonstrated before the COVID-19 pandemic, unless serious action is taken this year to phase out coal and switch to renewable energy in their supply chains.

In fact, the supply chain emissions of eight of the nine companies increased in 2019, the year after they committed to reduce their emissions as per the UN Fashion Charter. In some cases, emissions grew substantially. For example, UNIQLO’s parent company, Fast Retailing, reported a dramatic 35% increase in its supply chain emissions. Gap, Kering, and Levi’s also demonstrated a double digit increase in supply chain emissions in 2019 — 11.9%, 12.3%, and 13.1%, respectively.

Nike’s supply chain emissions in its 2020 fiscal year (which only cover the first five months of 2020) also grew at a concerning rate of 23.4%, indicating that the world’s biggest sportswear must do a lot more to decarbonize its supply chain if it aims to meet the 1.5C emissions reduction target.

  • Despite COVID-19 downturn, H&M and Lululemon produced more climate pollution

While fast-growing Lululemon, which received a D- in Stand.earth's Fossil Free Fashion Scorecard, has not reported its 2018 emissions data (making it impossible to assess how rapidly its emissions grew in 2019), the popular athleisure brand was one of two brands to report an increase in supply chain emissions in 2020. Despite the global economic recession caused by COVID-19, Lululemon’s climate pollution rose by 12.7%.

Fast fashion giant H&M reported a slight increase in supply chain emissions during COVID-19 (1.7%), but it is alarming that the company increased its emissions during a recession, when it has committed to cutting its climate pollution by 41% within the decade.

  • There is no “sustainable fashion” with fossil fuels

Fashion companies have for too long focused on cutting energy use in their own stores, implementing greenwashing practices like recycling polyester from single-use plastics, and making misleading “net zero” promises. But the consistent increase in climate emissions by these brands makes clear that these solutions are far from enough to tackle the climate and toxic pollution they generate.

But there are promising signs that some fashion industry leaders will turn the tide on the fashion industry’s fossil fuel problem within the decade.

Kering has committed to switching to 100% renewable energy in its supply chain by 2030, and Nike and Levi’s have already shown some progress in driving renewable energy use in manufacturing facilities.

On the other hand, Gap, Inditex, Lululemon, and UNIQLO have yet to make public commitments to phase out coal or switch to renewable energy in their supply chain.

As the runway to 2030 gets shorter, fashion brands must move from words to action to rapidly decarbonize their supply chain by phasing out fossil fuels as a source of energy, fabric, and shipping fuel.

Check out Stand.earth’s Fossil Free Fashion Scorecard for recommendations on how some of your favorite brand can become climate leaders and catalysts for a global energy transition toward clean and renewable energy.

Methodology:

  • This emissions analysis was limited to companies that:
    • Signed the United Nations Fashion Industry Charter for Climate Action;
    • Were included in Stand.earth’s Fossil Free Fashion Scorecard;
    • Reported an annual revenue of $4 billion US or greater in 2019 or 2020; and,
    • Disclosed supply chain emissions data for at least two years prior to the COVID-19 pandemic or including 2020 emissions if the reported emissions exhibited an increase.
  • Actual supply chain emissions used in the analysis were obtained from purchased goods and services data reported by companies in their sustainability or annual reports or in their responses to the CDP (formerly the Carbon Disclosure Project).
  • Projected emissions were calculated using the last year-to-year percent change in emissions (i.e. growth rate) reported by companies pre-COVID-19. The only exception was Lululemon, whose growth rate was calculated using 2019 and 2020 data.