Making fashion sustainable to address climate change


The current crisis has put the spotlight back on climate change and the urgency to address the impending crisis that can potentially change the world as we know it. Fashion as an industry produced 2.1 billion metric tons of greenhouse-gas (GHG) emissions or about 4% of the total global emissions in 2018. That is about the same quantity of GHG as emanated by the entire economies of three countries.

To meet the 1.5-degree pathway to mitigate climate change set by IPCC, fashion industry must reduce its GHG emissions to 1.1 billion metric tons a year by 2030. But McKinsey’s forecast shows that the industry will exceed its 1.5-degree pathway by producing almost twice the target emission by 2030 if additional abatement measures are not adopted.

The McKinsey study findings show that all stakeholders of the fashion value change must play an active role to drive decarbonization and bring about lasting change in the industry for the betterment of all.

What is the need for abatement acceleration?

Growing population and shifting consumption patterns is expected to drive industry growth further which could increase carbon emissions substantially. To tackle this challenge and meet its 1.5-degree pathway target, the industry needs to increase its decarbonization efforts. The McKinsey study identified three key areas of concerted action that can drive the industry towards this end.

Curbing emissions from upstream operations

Material and fiber manufacturers could accelerate abatement measures by 61%. There is ample scope of decarbonizing material production and garment manufacturing; and minimizing production and garment waste. Improving energy efficiency by shifting from fossil fuels to green energy can deliver emission reduction by 1 billion metric tons in 2030.

Operational improvements in fashion brands

Fashion brands have a direct connect with the consumers and their action can have a profound effect. If they choose to use more sustainable material mix (like using recycled fiber more frequently), increase usage of green transportation, switch to sustainable packaging, decarbonize retail operations, reduce over production and minimize returns, they could reduce carbon footprints by 18% or 308 million metric tons in 2030.

Encourage consumers to choose sustainable fashion

Influencing a shift in consumer behavior cannot be done single-handedly. Business leaders from the industry must collaborate with government to frame adequate regulations and policies that encourage sustainable fashion.

Measures should be taken to drive consciousness about sustainable fashion in consumers. Adopting and promoting circular business models that promote garment resale, rental, repair and refurbishment can act as a key accelerator. Taking the industry to a closed-loop recycling model can also help substantially. Efforts in this area is forecasted to increase reduction of GHG emission by 21% in 2030.

Evaluating the Cost Factor

Most of the actions advocated above can be delivered at a very low cost. About 90% of the action identified is estimated to cost less than $50 per metric ton of GHG emissions curbed. Moreover about 55% of the steps would contribute to net cost savings for the fashion industry. Rest of the actions would need incentives to reshape consumer demand or change regulations. Only 60% of the abatement action would require capital upfront.

As evident, to reduce GHG emissions and meet the targets, fashion industry must come together, and each stakeholder must claim ownership to drive action in their own sectors. The boldest commitments must come from the strongest participants and must be followed by right actions. It must be remembered that the climate challenge becomes greater after 2030. If the industry starts treading the path today, it would be easier to deal with future challenges.

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Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Economic Times – ET Edge Insights, its management, or its members

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