Fashion must ditch fossil fuels from supply chains

25 August 2020

A roadmap has detailed how the fashion industry should use its post-Covid recovery to end its use of fossil fuels in order to meet climate commitments. 

The report, by campaign group Stand Earth, said as one of the largest greenhouse gas producing sectors, fashion brands must “focus their recovery on breaking their supply chain away from fossil fuels”.

The report found the pandemic had led to many consumers choosing to consume less, instead placing greater value on items that are environmentally and socially responsible. 

Despite high-profile commitments and CEO statements on the importance of climate change, Stand Earth argued that most fashion brands had not taken significant steps to reduce their carbon footprint or eliminate their reliance on fossil fuels in supply chains, particularly coal. 

While coal mines are experiencing declines in the US and EU, a number of countries at the centre of global fashion supply chains, including Bangladesh, Vietnam, China and Turkey, have proposed a new generation of coal capacity. 

Synthetic materials made from fossil fuels such as polyester also make up over two-thirds of the materials used in apparel, which the report said is driving higher emissions and further increasing demand for fossil fuels.

Stand Earth recommended that brands focus on eliminating coal and transitioning to a renewable-powered supply chain by 2030. They should work with suppliers to “embrace sharing capital costs” and “block new investment in coal and demand clean energy policies to green electric grids and transportation infrastructure”. 

The NGO also called on brands to “commit to sourcing lower carbon and longer-lasting materials, while steadily phasing out fossil fuel-based plastic fabrics such as polyester”.

Efforts must also be focused on reducing the climate impacts of how clothing is shipped with short-term solutions like slowing ships and eliminating dirty fuels and a long-term decarbonisation strategy, the report said. 

Liz McDowell, director of campaign strategies at Stand Earth, said: “Rather than trying to make a pre-pandemic business model marginally more sustainable, the Covid-19 crisis offers a critical opportunity for the fashion industry to rethink key aspects of how it operates. 

“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 catalysing the decarbonisation of our global economy.”

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