Dozens of big-name fashion brands pledge to become carbon-neutral by 2050

H&M Group, Inditex and adidas are among a group of 31 big-name fashion brands to have signed a new United Nations (UN) charter outlining steps the global fashion sector must take to limit the global temperature increase below 2C.

Unveiled today (10 December) at the COP24 conference in Katowice, Poland, the charter is aligned with the aims of the Paris Agreement and sets a roadmap towards carbon neutrality by 2050 – the date by which the UN believes it is possible to fully decarbonise the global fashion sector.

The document outlines 16 key principles for signatories, including a clause requiring participating businesses to reduce their overall carbon footprint by 30% by 2030.

Signatories are also required to phase out high-climate impact raw materials from their products, packaging and supply chains, and to stop installing coal-fired boilers at supplier factories by 2025.

The charter is industry-led, meaning all its targets have been agreed on by the 31 signatory businesses rather than the UN. The UN has additionally made it clear that other companies are welcome to sign the charter, so long as they work within the fashion design, retail or supply industries.

“This charter is about getting the fashion industry united in important climate work,” H&M Group’s chief executive Karl-Johan Persson said.

“Our industry has a global reach, and only together can we create the change that is urgently needed.”

Persson’s sentiments were echoed by Levi Strauss’s vice president of sustainability Michael Kobori, who added: “We are proud to join the charter, which brings together leading apparel and footwear brands, supply chain actors, and civil society to reduce the estimated 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions produced by our sector.

“We see this charter as a natural extension of our climate commitment and invite others to join us in addressing this defining issue of our time.”

In order to ensure that the 31 participating businesses deliver on the charter’s commitments, the UN has set up six working groups in order to help them track and report on their progress on an annual basis.

The working groups will also help signatories identify and address gaps between ambition and action, and determine which other industry stakeholders they can collaborate with to drive maximum impact.

The charter was officially launched and founded by Stella McCartney, who is widely known for her efforts to make the fashion industry more ethical and environmentally sustainable. 

The other 30 businesses taking part are adidas, Aquitex, Arcteryx, Burberry, Esprit, Guess, Gap, H&M Group, Hakro, Hugo Boss, Inditex, Kering Group, Lenzing AG, Levi Strauss & Co., Mammut Sports Group, Mantis World, Maersk, Otto Group, Pidigi, Puma , re:newcell, Schoeller Textiles, Peak Performance, PVH Corp., Salomon, Skunkfunk, SLN Textil, Sympatex Technologies, Target and Tropic Knits Group.

A further 12 organisations have joined the charter to support business efforts and hold signatories to account, namely  Business for Social Responsibility (BSR), China National Textile and Apparel Council (CNTAC), China Textile Information Center (CTIC), Global Fashion Agenda (GFA), Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS), International Finance Corporation (IFC), Outdoor Industry Association (OIA), Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC), Sustainable Fashion Academy (SFA), Textile Exchange, WWF International and ZDHC (Zero Discharge of Hazardous Chemicals Foundation).

Spotlight on fashion

The global fashion industry is believed to account for one-tenth of the world’s annual carbon emissions and to employ more than half a billion people, with the majority being women in textile supply chains.

And with consumer demand for new clothing growing exponentially – the average US citizen buys 200% more garments annually than they did in 1990 – experts have predicted that the fashion industry could account for a quarter of global emissions by 2040 without ambitious action.

Earlier this year, the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) launched the UK Government’s first full-scale inquiry into the social and environmental impacts of this “fast fashion” model in response to the issue.

Since then, its own research has revealed that UK residents are consuming new clothing at a faster rate than their counterparts in mainland Europe, purchasing an average of 26.7kg every year. The World Wear Project similarly estimates that the average household generates more than 35kg of waste clothing annually, with 85% being sent to landfill.

As statistics like these continue to emerge and documentaries such as Stacey Dooley Investigates Fast Fashion and The True Cost continue to be produced, consumer demands are beginning to shift.

Fashion Revolution’s recent survey of 5,000 consumers found that 88% of respondents would prefer to buy from a company which engages in environmental protection than one which does not, while Lyst’s recent annual year in fashion report revealed that three of the top ten most Instagrammed clothing brands are now classed as sustainable.

Brands within the fashion industry have moved at a pace to address the issue and maintain consumer loyalty, with some launching products made from post-consumer recycled materials and others moving to launch repair, reuse or resale platforms in a bid to keep existing products in use for longer.

Sarah George

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