Primark commits to deliver net-zero value chain by 2050

Primark is one of the world's largest fashion retailers

The Charter covers the business’ absolute emissions footprint, including Scope 3 (indirect) emissions. Primark, like most large fashion firms, has calculated that the majority of its emissions footprint sits within this category.

In the coming months, the retailer will develop a decarbonisation pathway with support from the Science-Based Targets Initiative. Key focus areas will include raw materials, manufacturing, distribution and logistics and stores.

On distribution and logistics, Primark has already begun work to decrease its reliance on air freight. It claims the “vast majority” of its products are sent by road or shipped. Its delivery trucks also have a ‘reverse logistics’ function; drivers collect waste after delivering products, reducing miles travelled for Primark.

On store energy use, Primark established an internal Energy Reduction Group (ERG) in 2015, bringing together operational staff and energy experts. The Group has spearheaded numerous behaviour change campaigns and encouraged investments in more energy-efficient and automated technologies.

As for raw materials, Primark is one of the world’s largest procuring bodies for sustainably certified cotton. It is on track to train 160,000 cotton farmers by 2022, by which point it will have enough of the material to incorporate in 60 million products. It is also working towards commitments on recycled materials and climate data collection across textile supply chains.

It is hoped that the new commitments will accelerate action across these areas and help Primark broaden its focus and collect better data on emissions across the whole value chain. Net-zero laws in the UK, Ireland and EU already bound the business to achieving net-zero stores and logistics in many of its key regions, but the Charter applies to all global operations.

Primark’s director of ethical trade and environmental sustainability Katharine Stewart said the retailer will not need to increase prices to meet the new commitments.

“While we have big ambitions to make our business more sustainable, we also know that even our small changes can make a big difference, simply because of our size,” Stewart added.

Fashioning the climate

The UN Fashion Charter launched in 2018 and has garnered the support of more than 50 businesses, including suppliers and logistics firms as well as designers and retailers. Other signatories of the Charter include H&M Group, Levi Strauss, Kering Group and Inditex – the owner of Zara.

Hugo Boss recently had new emissions targets, created as a result of the Charter, approved by the SBTi. It is striving to reduce operational emissions by 51% by 2030 and supply chain emissions by 30% within the same timeframe.

The global fashion sector is estimated to account for 4-10% of annual emissions, making it a higher emitter than aviation. McKinsey and Global Fashion Agenda have warned that the industry will fail to align with the Paris Agreement without transformational change over the next decade.

Building on the UN’s Charter, Kering moved in 2019 to launch its own industry-wide commitment to tackling climate change – along with issues like plastics waste. Kering’s Fashion Pact binds signatories to set science-based emissions reduction targets in line with a 1.5C trajectory; to remove all single-use plastics from business-to-business and consumer-facing products and services by 2030 and to support new technologies aimed at minimising waterborne microplastic pollution.

To date, the Pact has been signed by more than 50 companies – many of which are also UN Fashion Charter members.

Nonetheless, green groups and activists pushing for a more sustainable fashion industry have been calling for the sector to address two other major issues – the over-consumption of materials and the treatment of workers across the supply chain. Covid-19 has highlighted slow progress on the latter of these issues, with suppliers for major high-street brands reporting non-payment for completed and in-process orders and a lack of support for social distancing measures.

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Sarah George

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