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How to Tackle Pollution in the Supply Chain

Even though quite a few fashion brands have made high-profile commitment statements about their present and future efforts to tackle climate pollution, the fashion industry is still considered the second largest polluter in the world, after the oil industry. The majority of fashion brands making these efforts have mainly set targets for their offices and retail stores and not their supply chain. We are yet to see them take significant steps towards reducing their growing carbon footprint. Some argue that making these significant steps is quite complicated. To that I say, there are measures that the fashion industry can take to manage not only its growing carbon footprint but also tackle climate pollution in the global supply chain.

The Importance Of Breaking Your Supply Chain Away From Fossil Fuels

Scientists have warned that global emissions need to reduce by 50% by 2030. The fashion industry has less than ten years to make dramatic changes. Many believe that the pandemic crisis is an excellent opportunity for the industry to rethink fundamental aspects of how it operates its supply chain. It is crucial for brands who want to exist post-pandemic to focus on their recovery. One way to do this could be eliminating their reliance on fossil fuels in the supply chain. Doing so will minimize environmental damage, which has, unfortunately, been increasing as the fashion industry grows.

So how should fashion businesses go about rebuilding an earth-friendly supply chain? The international environmental organization, Stand.earth, believes that there needs to be a rapid phase-out of coal. The fashion industry can change its ways through a combination of renewable energy, better materials, and greener shipping. On a mission to challenge corporations and governments to treat people and the environment with respect, Gary Cook, Global Climate Campaigns Director at Stand.earth, explains: “As brands look to restart after the pandemic, the industry must implement concrete, collaborative efforts to tackle its pollution problem through a combination of rapidly transitioning factories to renewables, eliminating fracked fabrics like polyester, and greening up shipping.”

In Stand.earth’s report, titled Fashion Forward: A Roadmap to Fossil-free Fashion, they identify five critical focus areas that could help fashion brands progress in a more positive direction. The first one is that the fashion industry needs to not only commit to more ambitious responsibilities but also be transparent in their accountability. The second one is that brands need to make sure that renewable energy is at the center of their supply chain decisions. Thirdly, Stand.earth believes that companies with strong climate and renewable energy commitments should pressure governments to help their suppliers build on going green.  

The fourth is that fashion brands should focus more on moving towards lower-carbon materials. The industry can do this by steadily phasing out the use of virgin fossil fuel-based plastic fabrics and shifting instead to a circular production model that involves long-lasting fabrics made from recyclable materials. Lastly, the fifth critical area Stand.earth identified is a need to focus on greener shipping. Stand.earth encourages fashion brands to reduce their climate impacts by thinking about how their clothing is shipped globally. They advise that fashion businesses start by slowing shipping and eliminating dirty fuels so that the industry can work towards a long-term decarbonization strategy. They also encourage fashion brands to not rely on fraudulent “clean” shipping proposals such as scrubbers & LNG.

Are You Ready For Change?

As the fashion industry continues to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, it is becoming more apparent that specific changes need to be put in motion. Now is the time to rebuild a business model around a rapid decrease in fossil fuel use. We cannot worry about making the pre-pandemic business model more sustainable teaches Liz McDowell, Director of Campaign Strategies at Stand.earth. She continues: “Now is the time for brands to rebuild their business model and supply chain around a rapid decrease in fossil fuels over the next decade. By doing this, the fashion industry can transform from being one of the world’s largest climate polluters to catalyzing the decarbonization of our global economy.”

Also, when it comes to renewables in the supply chain, Stand.earth stands firm that fashion brands must eliminate coal and transition to a renewable-powered supply chain by 2030. How might you ask? Well, they recommend that businesses “form partnerships with suppliers to embrace sharing capital costs, and also advocate with suppliers to block new investment in coal and demand clean energy policies to green electric grids and transportation infrastructure.”

Another key recommendation is that fashion brands should commit to sourcing lower carbon and longer-lasting materials. This is quite an important one because many sustainability experts believe that the phasing out of fossil fuel-based plastic fabrics like polyester needs to be taken more seriously. After all, they drive higher emissions and increase the demand for fossil fuels.

Lastly, before the industry can truly change, there are a few things it needs to stop doing, according to Stand.earth. The environmental organization encourages brands to stop pursuing greenwashing initiatives like renewable energy credits and carbon offsets. Even though it has been argued that fashion’s supply chain is currently dependent on coal for both electricity generation and heat used in apparel manufacturing, brands should avoid backing false “clean” energy transitions from coal to fracked gas or coal to biomass. Finally, if you are committed to taking steps to tackle climate pollution in your supply chain, do not be the fashion brand that lags far behind when it comes to responding to climate reduction targets. Instead, be the company that demonstrates how they are taking action to break their supply chain away from fossil fuels and encourage others to follow.

Create more traceability across the supply chain to improve sustainability with the Suuchi GRID

Written by Muchaneta Kapfunde

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