Textile industry’s material sourcing under spotlight at COP26 as UN Fashion Industry Charter For Climate Action scales commitments

COP26 has achieved independent international recognition for its approach to delivering a sustainable event, attaining the ISO20121 certificate.

With the knowledge that textile production contributes to 1.35% of global oil production, fashion’s seismic climate footprint is often overlooked by global policymakers and regulators.

During the second week of COP26, the industry’s ecosystem of stakeholders including brands, suppliers, retailers and NGOs have combined forces to call for a trade policy to incentivise the use of environmentally preferred materials.

Led by non-profit Textile Exchange, a roster of 50 of the world’s largest fashion and textile companies supported the request to incentivise the use less carbon intensive materials by mitigating or narrowing the price premiums that currently exist. This news follows the announcements on November 8 under the renewed Fashion Industry Charter for Climate Action which called for companies to set Science Based Targets and half emissions by 2030 and the plea last week from luxury fashion designer Stella McCartney who demanded heightened Government regulation of the industry.

The trade policy request submitted at COP26 by Textile Exchange, an organisation with over 640 members, is motivated by the trajectory that global fibre production has almost doubled in the last 20 years from 58 million tons in 2000, to 109 million tons in 2020.

Simultaneously, the global apparel and textile industry generates over $1.5 trillion in annual revenue and production is expected to increase by another 34% to 146 million tons in 2030, if the sector builds back to ‘business as usual’ according to the Textile Exchange. With no signs of this abating, mandatory measures are salient to rectify the devastation currently being caused by sector’s greenhouse gas emissions.

The call to action focuses on the incentivisation of ‘environmentally preferred materials’ which are defined by the Textile Exchange as those from certified, verified sources that can be traced from raw material to finished product, and that are connected to data-driven environmental impact reductions. The organisation references organic cotton and recycled fibres as examples for preferred materials.

Claire Bergkamp, COO for Textile Exchange believes in the power of market incentivisation to spark the systemic change that is necessary. “We need both regulations to stop bad action and incentives for sustainable materials to help reduce the price burden that currently exists for sourcing more responsibly. Our hope is through trade incentives and tariff reductions, we can level the playing field, without placing the burden on suppliers across the value chain.” Bergkamp notes

The negative environmental impact accrued by the fashion industry is often overlooked despite its carbon intensity relative to other sectors such as agriculture. For example, in 2019 the U.K. Government rejected the 18 clauses proposed in the Environmental Audit Committee’s Fixing Fashion Report that could have encouraged the industry to clean up its act and highlights historic missed opportunities.

In a statement to support the Textile Exchange request, Stella McCartney added that “Governments can actively support change by incentivising better materials in order to shift the fashion industry in a more nature-positive direction and reduce its contributions to the climate and biodiversity crises before it is too late.” Other companies supporting the request included H&M Group, Kering and Patagonia.

Bergkamp hopes that policymakers are listening to the latest calls from the industry and that they will take the request seriously. “Governments need to sit up and take action. This is a tangible request that can easily be acted on. We want to move the market as quickly as possible.” she states.

Tamara Cincik, founder and CEO of Fashion Roundtable, the think tank that bridges policy, fashion and creativity also urges the industry to engage on policy.  “For the fashion industry to be a part of the change, we have to be a part of the conversation and offer insights as well as solutions to politicians who may never have worked in the sector.” says Cincik. The organisation, who also joined forces with Fashion Revolution and Eco-Age published an open letter ahead of COP26 to stress the urgent need for the world’s leaders the recognise the impactful role fashion can play in reaching net zero, eliminating waste and exercising business responsibility. Indeed, there is no time to be wasted. Even if all the flurry of climate commitments and pledges made in the first week of COP26 were delivered in full, the International Agency estimate we could limit warming to 1.8 degree.

Yet, in the fashion industry, talk is cheap and hypocritical window-dressing accompanied by hollow promises laced in greenwashing remain rife. Brands in particular are keen to tout their membership of the Science Based Targets initiative, yet rarely address their use of virgin synthetic materials derived from fossil fuels. Often, these organisations have failed to align their climate commitments to their material sourcing strategies too. For example, ultra-fast-fashion giant Boohoo Group joined the SBTi in June 2021 however, this action has failed to translate to the materials used in their collection, as a recent Changing Markets Foundation investigation revealed that over 85% of their collection contained synthetics including polyester, nylon and acrylic.

For the Textile Exchange’s Bergkamp, she laments “There are no either-or issues. We want to see a real push for ambitious material sourcing as a method to achieve a company’s climate goals. It’s a wholistic new system that looks at sourcing, resale and durability, not incremental tweaks.”

Fashion Industry Charter for Climate Action Updated With Higher Ambitions

The renewed Fashion Industry Charter for Climate Action will hopefully galvanize businesses in the right direction with its ambitious commitments that set out how the industry can achieve the goals aligned to the Paris Agreement.

Signatories including the likes of LVMH must now set science-based targets across their scope 1-3 emissions or reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by 50% by 2030. This represents an increase from the prior charter which stated 30% by 2030.  

To support the delivery of these targets, key elements will ensure that companies must address energy efficiency, procure energy from renewable sources, engage in heightened levels of supplier’s due diligence, as well as phase out coal from the various tiers of their supply chain. Most notably, and related to the Textile Exchange’s trade policy request, this also includes the sourcing of 100% ‘priority materials’ by 2030 that have a lower climate impact. The criteria for these priority materials are defined by the Textile Exchange according to the scale, risk and opportunity they may represent to a company.

The new ambitions set out in the charter represent a golden opportunity for the industry and governments alike to set targets and sustainability strategies that are genuine in addressing the greenhouse gas emissions at each individual node of the supply chain. For legislators in particular, as material sourcing comes under increased scrutiny, they must be aware of the nuances surrounding specific materials that are derived from oil and gas and be attuned to the greenwashing and fraud that is now taking place when it comes to procuring more ‘sustainable’ materials.

Source: Forbes

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