WRAP’s sustainable clothing plan nears water and carbon targets

More than half of the UK clothing market has achieved a collective 10% reduction in carbon emissions through a collaborative involvement with WRAP's Sustainable Clothing Action Plan (SCAP), a new report has revealed.

Members of SCAP, including companies like M&S, Next and Sainsbury’s, account for 60% of the UK clothing market. A new report released by WRAP today (11 July) has found that these companies are outperforming the rest of sector, achieving a 10.6% reduction in carbon since 2012 – alongside a 13.5% reduction in water use.

WRAP’s director of business programmes Steve Creed said: “I am delighted by how well SCAP signatories are doing. At this stage of the agreement they are not only well on the way to achieving the targets, but continue to outperform the sector as a whole – particularly in sustainable cotton.

“It’s amazing that twenty percent more cotton is now sustainably-sourced by signatories than when we began. And having high-street names like M&S, Tesco and Sainsbury’s setting ambitious sustainable cotton targets will help ease the pressure on some of the world’s most water-sensitive countries.”

The Valuing our Clothes report acts as an update for WRAP’s assessment of the industry in 2012, which led to the launch of SCAP as a voluntary agreement a year later. SCAP sets industry targets for 2020 to reduce water and carbon by 15%. A waste reduction target of 3.5% is also in place. As of 2017, signatories have reached a 0.8% reduction.

The update lists a number of priority garments for brands and retailers to target, as they have the highest environmental costs to manufacture. Women’s dresses, jumpers and jeans were at the top of the list, followed by men’s t-shirts and jumpers.

Notably, the water used to make cotton is 60% of the total water footprint of fabric processing, outweighing cotton’s 43% market share. Fortunately, companies are taking steps to promote sustainable cotton sourcing and WRAP is calling on organisations to set a 70% target goal for sustainable cotton sourcing by 2020.

Some SCAP signatories are already driving this aspect of the action plan. Primark announced at edie Live in 2016 that it would join SCAP, and did so later in the year. The retailer has helped rural female farmers in India increase average profits by 247% through the third year of its Sustainable Cotton Programme.

Household hindrance

The report also examined household interactions with clothing items. WRAP is pushing for 60% of household washes to run at a lower 30C setting by 2020, a habit which has become more prominent since 2012. Elsewhere, a decline in the use of tumble dryers and ironing has reduced emissions of clothes in circulation by 700,000 tonnes annually.

The amount of clothing in household residual waste has also fallen by 50,000 tonnes since 2012. Around 300,000 tonnes still remain in the waste stream, but the 14% reduction is close to the 15% target issued by WRAP.

However, as Creed points out, the overall carbon footprint of clothing purchases is still on the rise, meaning that the next few years are “critical” in balancing household demand. In total clothing items worth £4.6bn across Britain remain unworn

“It’s great to see fewer clothes ending up in the residual waste, but overall our carbon footprint, including global and territorial emissions, has risen to more than 26 million tonnes CO2e,” Creed added. “That’s nearly two million tonnes greater than five years ago due to increased clothing purchases, thanks to relatively low prices and the increased population.

“The next few years are critical in balancing this growing demand with supplying clothes more sustainably. I’m confident SCAP will play a big part in helping to make this happen, and make sustainable fashion much more mainstream.”

Matt Mace

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie