Major fashion brands accused of failing to phase out fossil fuels, despite net-zero pledges

A new index ranking 47 large fashion brands on their efforts to remove fossil fuels from their supply chains and products has given most a failing grade, with the likes of Primark, Uniqlo and Marks & Spencer named as laggards.

The global fashion sector is responsible for around 5-8% of annual emissions - more than aviation

The global fashion sector is responsible for around 5-8% of annual emissions - more than aviation

The ‘Fossil-Free Fashion Scorecard’ has been compiled by non-profit Stand.earth, which has compared each brand’s commitments to decarbonisation with the actions it is already taking to transition away from fossil fuels in operations, the supply chains and in products. To this latter point, global virgin polyester production has doubled since 2000 and is on course to double again, with significant implications for emissions, according to the Changing Markets Foundation.  

Stand.earth gave each of the included brands a grade for their efforts in climate advocacy, low-carbon logistics, low-carbon materials and low-carbon manufacturing. This last category takes into account energy efficiency and renewable energy procurement. An overall grade is also provided for each brand.

Across the board, no brands scored an ‘A’ grade. The highest grade, a 'B-', went to Swiss outdoor wear brand Mammut, while 20 brands received the lowest possible grade, 'F'. The F-graded brands were American Eagle, Giorgio Armani, Booho, Capri Holdings, Espirit, Everlane, Hugo Boss, Kering, LVMH, Marks & Spencer, MEC, On Running, Pentland, Prada, Primark, Salvatore Ferragamo, SKFK, Under Armour and Uniqlo.

Many of the brands to have received an F grade are signatories of one of the several industry coalitions working towards net-zero. Such initiatives include the UN Fashion Charter, WRAP’s Textiles 2030 scheme and the Fashion Pact, coordinated by Kering.

Stand.earth claims that, beyond the top-line climate commitments – and broadly strong progress in decarbonising direct operations -  many fashion brands are failing to develop targets and strategies that meaningfully address their indirect (Scope 3) emissions. This is worrying because, for most companies with multinational supply chains, Scope 3 emissions will be far higher than those generated from Scope 1 (direct) and Scope 2 (power-related) sources. Stand.earth claims the average large fashion brand will see 90% of its total emissions footprint represented by Scope 3 sources.

Only three of the 47 brands assessed – namely Asics, Mammut and REI, have set out targets to reduce Scope 3 emissions by at least 50% by 2030. Climate scientists have repeatedly stated that halving global emissions by 2030 will be necessary to reach net-zero by 2050. Moreover, more than half of the companies assessed exclude shipping from their emissions reduction targets for the supply chain.

Due to this lack of strong target-setting, few of the companies assessed by Stand.earth could provide evidence that they are deploying renewable energy at scale across their supply chains. Only six brands provided that evidence and just six provided details on how they are supporting suppliers to transition away from coal-fired boilers. Progress on energy efficiency was found to be similarly weak.

The scorecard also details poor progress in phasing out polyester and other synthetic fabrics made from fossil fuels. Just one of the 47 brands – Icebreaker – is planning to eliminate all fossil fuel fabrics altogether. It has set a 2023 target for the phase-out. The scorecard does acknowledge, however, that several brands, including Allbirds, Levi Strauss and Kering, use a very small percentage of fossil-based synthetics in their entire fibre mix already, and that some others, including Zara’s parent firm Inditex, are working towards 100% recycled synthetics.

“The runway is getting shorter for companies to move from commitments to actions and take the steps necessary to drastically reduce their greenhouse gas emissions in the next decade,” Stand.earth’s senior climate campaigner Muhannad Malas said. “If fashion companies truly care about solving the climate crisis, they need to phase out coal power from their supply chains and say goodbye to fossil fuel fabrics like polyester.”

Malas emphasised that climate risk, for fashion firms, is likely to crystallise in terms of financial risk in the coming years, as investors increasingly demand climate action. This pressure is likely to affect activewear and outdoor brands who market themselves as “healthy”, he added.

The findings from Stand.earth’s Scorecard are similar to Fashion Revolution’s transparency index for 2021. Covering 250 large retailers, suppliers and brands, the index found that just 26% of brands disclose emissions from processing and manufacturing. The proportion dropped to just 17% for emissions relating to raw materials.

Sarah George



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