As many of us know, the fashion industry has dealt with a lot of controversy dealing with environmental issues. On August 23rd, 2019, Emmanuel Macron and François-Henri Pinault, Chief Executive Officer at luxury apparel company Kering, presented the “G7 Fashion Pact.” This pact outlined three science-based targets: climate, biodiversity, and ocean. This pact was presented to 32 of the leading fashion and apparel companies that represent 150 brands around the world, including Adidas, Gap Inc., Inditex, Nike, Nordstrom, Puma, Ralph Lauren, etc.
The G7 Fashion Pact takes a deep dive into three major issues:
1. Climate Commitment: mitigating and adapting to climate change
- “We will commit to implement Science-based Targets (SBTs) on climate and drive corporate actions that are consistent with a 1.5-degree pathway through a ‘just transition’ to achieve net-zero by 2050. This may include specific targets around the world.”
- “4. 100% renewable energy across own operations with the ambition to incentivize implementation of renewables in all high impact manufacturing processes along the entire supply chain by 2030.”
2. Biodiversity Commitment: bending the curve on biodiversity loss within 10 years
- “We will commit to support the development of SBTs on biodiversity and the implementation of these targets within our sector to assure our contribution to the protection and restoration of ecosystems and the protection of key species.”
3. Ocean Commitment: addressing the critical loss of ocean functionality due to climate change and pollution
- “The fashion sector will commit to significantly reducing the negative impacts that it has on the ocean environment, in collaboration with other existing leading initiatives.”
What is it?
The G7 Fashion Pact is aiming to represent 20% of the global fashion industry with broad targets that allow a wide variety of apparel brands to collaborate. The targets outlined above are built on various NGOs, Associations, and Government Programming. The seven-page pact outlines in detail what signatories need to do to comply with the pact. One main point outlined under climate is sustainable sourcing of key raw materials. In the biodiversity commitment, there is a heavy focus on no longer contributing to deforestation and animal abuse and work on restoring natural resources. The third commitment outlines brand’s willingness to support the elimination of microfiber, or microplastic, pollution released during the washing of synthetic materials. The pact also calls for all companies involved must provide full transparency to fashion industry stakeholders.
Alarming Environmental Statistics
In 2018, Share Cloth released an alarming report outlining how wasteful we are. Around 150 billion garments are created annually, while only 30% of them are sold. That means that 45 billion garments annually are put into landfills or incinerated. On average, 12.8 million tons of clothing are put into landfills, there are 1.2 billion tons of greenhouse gas emissions annually, and 7,000 liters of water are needed to produce one pair of jeans.
Most people believe that natural materials are more environmentally friendly than synthetic materials, which is not completely accurate. The Ellen MacArthur Foundation released a report stating ~200,000 tons of pesticides and 8 million tons of fertilizers are used to grow cotton annually. One cotton t-shirt requires 2,700 liters of water to make, which does not account for any material dyeing. As more negative impacts of cotton are released, brands are turning to organic cotton. Organic cotton does not use as many chemicals as conventional cotton; however, it requires three times the amount of water and offers much lower crop yields. Another popular and soft semi-natural material option is rayon, which is made from wood pulp. In a report released from Canopy Style, 30% of rayon is made from wood sourced from protected or endangered forests, which is about 150 million trees annually. During the textile development process, rayon requires a lot of chemicals, energy, and water, and ~65% of the tree is lost during the process. Though polyester requires less water, a 2016 study estimates that half a million microplastics are released into the ocean annually, or about 50 billion plastic water bottles. The G7 Fashion Pact outlines that by 2050, we will have lost approximately 90% of large fish, and coral reefs may longer exist, leaving more plastic in the ocean than fish.
Social Compliance vs. Environment
Something I find interesting about this pact is that it mainly focuses on environmental issues when there are growing concerns about unauthorized subcontracting, working hours, fair wages, and forced labor. The pact states the following:
“Work to ensure social inclusion, fair wages, and respectful working conditions all along our supply chains with a focus on empowering small-hold producers and women in low-income countries.”
In 2018, the U.S. Department of Labor found evidence of child and forced labor in 12 countries covering the apparel, footwear, and textile sectors. One report outlined that children as young as 6 years old were trafficked and forced into intense physical labor. This has been an issue for many years, and one of the main contributors is overproduction. The G7 Fashion Pact does not address overproduction, and the negative it effects has on young migrant workers.
Is it Enough?
This is a tough question to answer – as I was doing research on this pact and the companies involved, I noticed that most brands had released environmental goals before the formulation of the G7 Fashion Pact. These companies’ goals were more thorough, covering a wider range of industry issues with a shorter timeline. In my opinion, a weakness is only targeting 20% of the industry. By only targeting 20% of global companies, it will be hard to really make a difference. As global warming continues and the demand for transparency from consumers grows, it will be interesting to see how if more brands sign onto this pact or formulate their own sustainable goals and commitments. I think there is much room for improvement and expansion within these three commitments.
The Downfall of Fast Fashion?
According to the 2018 Share Cloth report, over 50% of fast fashion product sold is disposed of in under a year. As consumers become more aware and regulations tighten, it will be interesting to see how the fast fashion industry fares. Two signatories of the G7 Fashion Pact are H&M and Inditex, owner of Zara, who announced earlier this year they are pledging to do better by sourcing sustainable materials and eliminating the single-use plastics. It will be interesting to see how these key pledges impact the amount of styles produced and the frequency at which they distributed to stores.
In the last five years, 9 fast-fashion retailers have filed for bankruptcy while others have risen to become large, globally recognized brands with celebrity endorsements. Something that should be considered is the demand for more transparency and sustainability from young consumers. An interesting point was made from a report released by Green America; it stated: “the rise of fast fashion and the need for more resources provided faster and cheaper lends itself to practices that prioritize output and turnaround time over sustainability.”
The G7 Fashion Pact is a great step to making a difference. Though it aims to make improvements in the environmental sector, it falls short of improving other social issues like unauthorized subcontracting, working hours, fair wages, and forced and child labor. By only targeting 20% of the fashion industry, I think it misses the mark of accomplishing major environmental improvements. Most of the pact signatories had previously announced their pledge for a more sustainable business model focusing on more environmentally friendly material sourcing, reducing single-use plastics, and partnership with manufacturers for program improvement.