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Fashion Steps Up Climate Commitments

The UN Fashion Charter upgraded its targets to drastically slash emissions by the end of the decade and added LVMH as a signatory.
A protester calls for action on climate change at a demonstration in London as world leaders continued to meet at the COP 26 conference in Glasgow.
A protester calls for action on climate change at a demonstration in London as world leaders continued to meet at the COP 26 conference in Glasgow. Vuk Valcic/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images.

Fashion’s flagship climate initiative upgraded its ambitions Monday and added the world’s biggest maker of luxury goods in a major update to the industry’s climate ambitions announced at COP26.

The UN Fashion Industry Charter for Climate Action laid out new goals for its 130 signatories, aligning commitments with efforts to cap global warming at no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels — an internationally agreed limit intended to stave off the worst effects of climate change.

LVMH, which has remained on the outside of fashion’s collective efforts to address environmental issues, also added its name to the list of participating companies. The owner of Louis Vuitton, Dior and other labels said it decided to join the initiative because of its links to the institution of the UN and focus on concrete issues that could address fashion’s climate impact. The company updated its own climate goals in the last year and appointed Stella McCartney, a founding signatory of the UN Fashion Charter, as a sustainability advisor in 2019 after taking a stake in her brand.

Under the updated charter, signatories must pledge to reach net-zero emissions by no later than 2050 and either halve their emissions by the end of the decade or set science-based targets within the next 24 months. The charter previously called on signatories to reduce emissions by 30 percent by 2030.

“It’s time to accelerate progress,” said Stefan Seidel, Puma’s head of corporate sustainability and chair of the Fashion Charter steering committee. “Now with the new ambition level, we’re all clear on where we need to go.”

The new commitments are part of a flurry of initiatives that have been announced at the UN climate summit taking place in Glasgow, Scotland. The two-week gathering of politicians, business leaders and environmental advocates is widely viewed as a critical moment to address the fact the world is currently well off track to keep global warming within the recommended parameters.

While fashion’s contribution to climate change is notoriously tricky to pin down, the industry is a significant polluter and has faced criticism for failing to match high-profile commitments with tangible action. Recent studies peg its contribution to greenhouse gas emissions at between two and 10 percent of the global total. Unchecked, fashion’s emissions are expected to grow more than 50 percent by 2030, according to estimates in a new report from the Apparel Impact Institute and World Resources Institute.

“We cannot ignore fashion and fashion cannot ignore its role here,” said UN Climate Change’s manager of global climate action Niclas Svenningsen at the launch of the Fashion Charter’s updated commitments Monday.

Alongside updated emissions reductions targets, signatories to the Charter have also committed to concrete steps like shifting all electricity in their own operations to renewable sources and phasing out coal from the supply chain by the end of the decade. Neither will be easy. Shifting the industry will be “tantamount to getting [a] supertanker to make a U-turn with skid marks on top of that,” said Svenningsen.

Critics say the updated targets still don’t go far enough, with environmental advocacy group Stand.Earth calling for fashion to make even stronger commitments to adopt renewable energy throughout the supply chain.

Signatories must submit action plans within the next 12 months detailing their pathway to achieve the Charter’s upgraded goals, with Monday’s announcement accompanied by a flurry of recommendations for further action.

Nonprofit Textile Exchange launched a call backed by more than 50 fashion and textile companies, requesting changes to trade policy that would encourage the use of so-called preferred materials, like organic cotton or recycled fibres. Backers pushing for incentives like lower tariffs and import duties for such materials include Gucci-owner Kering, Gap Inc. and H&M Group.

“We know that incentives change the market very quickly,” said Textile Exchange’s chief operating officer Claire Bergkamp. When it comes to adopting better materials, “price is the issue that comes up over and over again, and most of the options involve farmers getting paid less. This is a way to level costs without negatively affecting farmers.”

The industry will also have to grapple with one its trickiest challenges: decoupling production growth from profits. While around 60 percent of the industry’s required emissions reductions can be achieved through taking steps like eliminating coal from manufacturing and accelerating material innovations, consumption remains an elephant in the room, according to a report published Monday by the World Resources Institute and Apparel Impact Institute.

“It’s really hard to do this without addressing growing consumption,” said Michael Sadowski, one of the report’s authors.

That will also require fashion to address the way it markets its products, an area of growing interest for regulators concerned about greenwashing. The United Nations Environment Programme said it is working on a series of guidelines to publish next year.

Many brands have already announced renewed commitments around COP26, indicating increasing engagement with efforts to move beyond reducing impact to find ways of operating that can restore and reverse environmental damage through practices like regenerative farming.

“Being less bad is simply not good enough anymore,” said former Unilever chief executive and co-founder and chair of climate-focused business network Imagine, Paul Polman, speaking at the launch of the renewed Fashion Charter. “We need to move to an economy that is net positive, restorative and regenerative.”

Disclosure: LVMH is part of a group of investors who, together, hold a minority interest in The Business of Fashion. All investors have signed shareholders’ documentation guaranteeing BoF’s complete editorial independence.

Related Articles:

What Fashion Needs to Know About Cop 26

What Will It Take for Fashion to Cut Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Measuring Fashion’s Sustainability Gap



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