Research highlights fashion industry’s failure on sustainability

1st December 2022


The global fashion industry is fundamentally failing on sustainability and net zero, according to two major reports.

A report by think tank the Hot or Cool Institute and published with the Rapid Transition Alliance, Unfit, Unfair, Unfashionable, warns that the fashion industry could account for up to a quarter of the global carbon budget by 2050 unless governments, the industry and consumers take urgent action. Meanwhile, a study carried out by environmental charity Stand.earth, Are top fashion brands’ Net Zero commitments worth the paper they’re written on?, found that major brands are excluding their supply chains from net-zero targets.

Unfit, Unfair, Unfashionable argues that current fashion consumption and production is unsustainable, structurally unfair and in need of urgent reform if it is to align with global climate agreements and binding legislation. It adds that the fashion industry – from producers and manufacturers to retailers and consumers – needs wide-ranging changes to make it more sustainable, fairer and less polluting.

The report warns that, without such changes, the industry’s share of global emissions will increase. By 2030, its emissions are expected to rise by almost 50%, and it will be producing the amount of emissions that India – the world’s third-largest greenhouse gas emitter – released in 2021.

It goes on to say that tackling fashion’s climate impact must start among the wealthiest nations and richest consumers. Fashion consumption is highly unequal both between and within countries, and the fashion-related carbon emissions of the richest G20 citizens were 10 times higher than those of the G20’s lowest-income groups.

The research concludes that the carbon footprint of fashion consumption among G20 countries must fall by an average of 60% by 2030, and by 40% for upper-middle income nations such as Brazil and South Africa. The average carbon footprint of fashion consumption in nations such as India and Indonesia, meanwhile, is currently below the 1.5°C limit.

In Are top fashion brands’ Net Zero commitments worth the paper they’re written on?, Stand.earth investigated the net-zero plans of 10 major fashion companies – American Eagle, Fast Retailing, Gap, H&M, Inditex, Kering, Levi’s, Lululemon, Nike and VF Corp. All have targets to at least halve their direct and power-related emissions by 2030, but only half have had these verified under the Science Based Targets initiative. Half have so far failed to publish interim targets before 2030, and only two have promised to halve their indirect emissions and use 100% renewable energy across their supply chains by 2030. None have emissions targets that cover their entire supply chains, or targets for the amount of fossil fuel-derived synthetic materials they use, even though these account for up to 20% of the industry’s emissions footprint.

Image credit | Shutterstock

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