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Unpacking Fashion’s Role in Slowing Global Warming

The fashion industry is one of the world’s worst polluters, and this week’s grim report from the UN’s IPCC made clear that change needs to come quickly.
Unpacking Fashion's Role in Slowing Global Warming

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This week, the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a new report from the world’s top climate scientists, warning that global temperatures will rise 1.5 degrees Celsius by 2040 and underscoring that human influence is “unequivocally” responsible for global warming since the late 19th century.

The fashion industry’s greenhouse gas emissions are estimated to be between 4 and 10 percent of the global total. “In the last two years, many of the industry’s biggest brands have taken steps to address emissions within their own supply chains,” says BoF deputy editor Brian Baskin. “It can be hard to tell how effective the industry’s efforts have been and what else needs to be done to address climate change.”

On this week’s BoF Podcast, Baskin is joined by Michael Sadowski, a sustainability advisor and former vice president of sustainability at Nike; Laila Petrie, chief executive of sustainability consultancy 2050, which works with the Fashion Pact; and Hannah Phang, head of marketing and advocacy at sustainability consultancy Futerra to unpack fashion’s role in slowing global warming.

  • Real action on emissions will require collaboration across the industry and cooperation with investors, financial institutions and policymakers. “Fundamentally, this is a problem which no individual company can solve on its own,” says Petrie. “We have all sorts of intractable issues around infrastructure, around incentives, around policy and no one actor can really operate within that system without being affected by it.”
  • The industry often offers carbon offsets as a climate change solution. But according to Sadowski, planting a tree or donating a dollar is not a path to achieving meaningful change. “The focus should be on reducing emissions. That’s what the science says, that’s what the NGOs work in the science-based target initiatives [say] — we must decarbonise all sectors, at a much more ambitious pace,” says Sadowski.
  • A brand’s messaging about sustainability is important, too. Providing accessible information on progress — and missteps — goes a long way. Beyond just being honest, “the other thing that consumers are interested in is: how are you helping them be more sustainable? How are you helping them be more climate friendly?” says Phang.

Related Articles:

A Crash Course on The BoF Sustainability Index

The Climate Fix: Addressing Fashion’s Emissions Problem

The Sustainability Regulations That Could Reshape Fashion

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The State of Fashion: Technology
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The State of Fashion: Technology