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Sustainable fashion: urgent measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions

Karan Shah

Oct 14, 2023

Various sectors are increasingly adopting measures to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, in the context of a global debate on climate change. In this sector, the fashion industry is considered to be a significant contributor to greenhouse gas emissions as well as a potential catalyst for change.

Various sectors are increasingly adopting measures to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, in the context of a global debate on climate change. In this sector, the fashion industry is considered to be a significant contributor to greenhouse gas emissions as well as a potential catalyst for change.The fashion industry accounted for over 2.1 billion metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions in 2018 equivalent to about 4 % of total global emissions, based on research carried out by McKinsey. To put it another way, the fashion industry's annual emissions are equivalent to the emissions of all the other countries in the world, such as France, Germany, and the United Kingdom.

 

Despite ongoing efforts to mitigate emissions, the fashion industry finds itself on a trajectory that overshadows the goals set forth by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the 2015 Paris Agreement. The fashion sector needs to cut GHG emissions by 1.1 billion tons of CO2 equivalent in 2030 if it is to match the 1.5 degree Celsius pathway for dealing with climate change.  However, a bleak picture appears to be presented by the recalculations reflecting COVID-19's impact. It argues that the industry is expected to exceed its own targets by almost two times, if no additional measures are taken between now and 2030 when emissions are estimated at 2.1 billion tonnes CO2.


The expectation of further growth, as a result of population shift and consumption patterns, is one of the main challenges facing the fashion industry to reduce its carbon footprint. By 2030, if nothing is done to mitigate emissions, the projected increase in volume could amount to 2.7 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide per year. However, emissions are estimated to remain at approximately 2.1 billion tonnes a year by 2030 if the sector continues with its existing pace of decarbonisation efforts. This measurement is still far above the 1.5-degree threshold that must be reached.


The fashion sector needs to step up its abatement efforts and make an expansion of existing initiatives in decarbonisation, if it is to meet the 1.5 degree target. That will translate into an emission reduction of about 1 bn tonnes per year by 2030, around half the current level. Through measures like energy efficiency improvements and the transition to renewable sources of energy, a significant proportion of these further reductions in emissions can be obtained through downstream operations. This effort can be helped by support for efficiency improvements from manufacturers and retailers, but changes in consumer behaviour are crucial to achieve additional reductions.


Encouragingly, it is feasible to implement most of the measures required for an immediate abatement at a reasonable cost. It is estimated that less than $50 per tonne of greenhouse gas emissions will be incurred by nearly 90% of the identified measures. Net cost savings for the sector are expected to amount to around 55% of these measures. Upfront capital investment will be needed to carry out the remaining actions requiring incentives or regulations.

 

The role of retailers and manufacturers as key stakeholders in the fashion industry is crucial to driving an accelerated abatement. In order to influence any change in their operations, they must also support initiatives aimed at reducing carbon emissions across the industry and provide consumers with more sustainable purchasing choices. To generate long term benefits for society and the environment, it is vital to cooperate in a value chain.

Priorities for Industry Participants:


The need for a coordinated approach in three main areas is underlined by our analysis: 

  1. The reduction of emissions from downstream activities such as fabric production, processing and garment manufacturing. 

  2. By improving the use of materials, sustainability transport, packaging and sales practices, this will reduce emissions from individual brands' activities. 

  3. Encouraging sustainable consumer behaviour through circular business models, changes in consumption habits, and innovative business approaches.


The fashion industry is in a state of flux, and the urgency of addressing its carbon emissions has never been greater. Bold actions, increased transparency and greater collaboration will be needed from all stakeholders in the value chain. Beyond 2030, the industry faces the formidable task of reinventing itself, decoupling volume growth from value growth, and pursuing innovative approaches to minimise its contribution to global warming.


In the end, sustainable fashion cannot simply be an aspiration; it is a necessity. In order to combat climate change, the fashion industry can be a potential force for positive change.


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