The backdrop of the World Economic Forum 2023
Last week, world leaders, ministers, investors, business leaders, academics, activists and more descended upon Davos to set the tone for the year ahead and consider ‘Cooperation in a Fragmented World’. With growth slowing in the global economy, climate change and its repercussions on the rise and the ongoing war in Ukraine, the return of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos was situated against an ominous backdrop. Whilst this naturally led to more sobering headlines, Reuters reported that Davos concluded with a cautious optimism surrounding the global economic outlook for 2023.
Short term solutions were certainly prioritised due to the urgent economic crises at hand, so much so that certain leaders didn’t attend in order to focus on these issues at home. However, it was abundantly clear that the climate can no longer be compromised and many at Davos worked to ensure that this remained prominent on the agenda.
The WEF’s risk analysis for 2023 concluded that whilst the cost-of-living crisis is the biggest risk for the coming two years, this is closely followed by extreme weather events. Over the next decade, failure to mitigate climate change is the number one risk.
To mark the beginning of Davos, activists Helena Gualinga, Vanessa Nakate, Greta Thunberg and Luisa Neubauer penned a ‘Cease and Desist’ letter to fossil fuel CEOs laying out in blunt terms the fragile state of the world. The letter has since been signed by over 900,000 people including António Guterres and Al Gore. It demands that fossil fuel companies “immediately stop opening any new oil, gas, or coal extraction sites, and stop blocking the clean energy transition we all so urgently need.”
At the event, Antonio Guterres, Secretary-General of the UN starkly stated: “The battle to keep the 1.5C limit alive will be won or lost in this decade”. Guterres highlighted the urgent need to close the emissions gap by ending the “addiction to fossil fuels”, phasing out coal and supercharging the renewable revolution. This was echoed by many at Davos including the likes of UK Labour Party Leader, Kier Starmer, who criticised new oil investments. Irene Vélez, the minister for mines in Colombia announced: “We have decided not to award new oil and gas exploration contracts, and while that has been very controversial, it’s a clear sign of our commitment in the fight against climate change,”
The annual Oxfam report on global inequality was published in conjunction with the start of Davos and outlined that for the first time in 25 years, extreme wealth and extreme poverty have both gone up. Since 2020, the richest 1% have captured nearly two-thirds of new wealth in the world. Despite this, wealth equality and wealth distribution were not a prominent part of the programme.
Guterres reiterated the need to double adaption finance, as promised at COP27 in Sharm El-Sheikh, and for the biggest emitters to unite around a Climate Solidarity Pact in order to keep 1.5 alive. Pakistani climate minister Sherry Rehman pushed for loss and damage funding, another key agreement from COP27.
The Earth Commission revealed that it has scientifically quantified, for the first time, a ‘long-term safe and just corridor for humanity at a global scale’. Soon to be published, the new ‘safe and just Earth System Boundaries’ will outline a set of boundaries, much like the 1.5ºC limit for climate, but for a more extensive set of biophysical domains, all of which are critical for the world economy, social stability and for human wellbeing.
U.S. climate envoy John Kerry discussed how to meet the global warming targets of the Paris Agreement: “How do we get there? The lesson I have learned in the last years … is money, money, money, money, money, money, money.”
On day two, WEF launched the new initiative, Giving to Amplify Earth Action (GAEA), which will leverage philanthropic capital to help generate the $3 trillion needed each year from public and private sources to tackle climate change and nature loss.
The landmark U.S. Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) permeated dialogues at Davos. The IRA was signed into law in August last year and in part, directs new federal spending toward reducing carbon emissions whilst driving investment in domestic clean energy. It has proven somewhat controversial with worries of global companies being excluded from US markets and investment opportunities.
In a pivotal moment for the EU, Ursula von der Leyden, President of the European Commission announced that the ‘Green Deal Industrial Plan’ is in development with the ambition to “make Europe the home of cleantech and industrial innovation on the road to net-zero.” This plan will encompass regulation, the appropriate upskilling of workers, financing the transition and promoting the trade of cleantech and low-carbon industrial products. Under the plan, a new ‘Net-Zero Industry Act’ will be formed, offering clear goals for specific technologies and state aid to deliver these. This is being touted as the EU’s answer to the IRA and a bid to prevent firms from moving to the US.
WEF, in partnership with Accenture and Microsoft, unveiled the first prototype for a “purpose-driven metaverse” – Global Collaboration Village – where organisations can convene to learn about and take action on the world’s major challenges. Currently, 80 organisations have joined as Village Partners to bolster more diverse global collaboration and large-scale action.
Underpinning discourse around AI, innovation, tech and blockchain was the importance of maintaining human connection and striking the right balance between digital and physical.
The annual Global Circularity Gap Report, published by Circle Economy in collaboration with Deloitte was launched at WEF. The report outlines that the global economy is currently only 7.2% circular and argues that “A global circular economy will allow us to fulfil people’s needs with only 70% of the materials we now extract and use,” within the safe planetary limits. The report identifies 16 transformational circular solutions, one of which being ‘eschew fast fashion in favour of sustainable textiles’, which calls for local textile manufacturing, the reuse and recycling of garments and higher quality and more durable clothing.
Whilst it is evident that the fashion sector must play a significant role in influencing the climate trajectory and addressing social inequality, the Davos programme was not indicative of this and there were no fashion industry-specific activations on the official agenda. This undoubtedly must shift at future forums. GFA will continue to embolden its network of committed stakeholders and give them a platform for impact, accountability, alliances, collaboration and education. For those who wish to explore how the fashion industry can have a positive impact, The GFA Monitor is a guide for fashion leaders on how to reach a net positive industry through the consolidatation of existing knowledge, clear actions, proven best practices, data insights and solutions.
2022 provided yet more evidence that we cannot continue with a business-as-usual approach and wait for the trajectory of the fashion industry to change. Much of what was reported this year, including the vulnerability of certain communities and the irreversible risks that climate change is posing, emphasised what we already knew. The various IPCC reports released throughout the year substantiated this knowledge and reiterated that systemic change is needed if we are to guarantee an abundant future for our planet and its communities.
Fashion has the ability to foster innovation, empower communities, communicate new ideas, and showcase identities and cultures. By its very nature fashion dictates trends and thus has unparalleled potential to make ‘sustainability’, in all its nuance, desirable. Moreover, the industry is uniquely positioned to influence the climate trajectory – its operations impact societies and environments around the world and it accounts for up to 4% of global emissions.
In 2022, sustainability was certainly a major focus for the industry, but which areas were prioritised and what is on the agenda for 2023?
Read more about GFA’s work in 2022 here.
Degrowth – a defining concept
Peppered throughout conversations was, once again, the concept of ‘degrowth’, an increasingly popular theme underpinning the industry, though less apparent in practice. Degrowth has been defined by Timothée Parrique as “a planned and democratic reduction of production and consumption in rich countries to reduce environmental pressures and inequality, while improving well-being.” For fashion this means for example, producing less overall and avoiding extractive practices and cheap labour. A recent report by Hot or Cool Institute found that in order to meet fashion’s environmental goals, citizens in high-income countries should only be purchasing five new items of clothing annually, amplifying the need to curb current rates of production and consumption.
Watch our explainer video to learn more about the concept of ‘prosperity vs. growth’.
Whilst this year’s monumental announcement that Patagonia Founder, Yvon Chouinard, and his family have transferred complete ownership of the company to the Patagonia Purpose Trust and the Holdfast Collective was met with near-universal acclaim, some have argued that a stronger degrowth strategy could accompany this for maximum impact. This could follow on from the brand’s infamous 2011 ‘Don’t Buy This Jacket’ campaign.
Policy and legislation – landmark proposals with more on the horizon
Increasingly evident is the salience of policy in incentivising change within the fashion industry. Up until now, much of the industry’s efforts were voluntary, but proposed regulations that materialised during 2022 are set to change this.
This year, the fashion industry came into focus for conversations at COP27, during a clampdown on greenwashing and an announcement that clothing sold in France will require labels detailing climate impact from the end of 2023.
In the European Union, March marked the landmark publication of the long-awaited EU Strategy for Sustainable and Circular Textiles which encompasses everything from design requirements for circularity, digital product passports and tackling greenwashing, microplastics and overproduction.
In the United States, The Fashion Sustainability and Social Accountability Act (or, The Fashion Act, as it’s widely known) is a bill pertaining to New York State which intends to hold big brands accountable for environmental and social impacts. Amendments in November saw stronger commitments around emissions reductions and supply chain improvements. The FABRIC Act of 2022 is a federal bill which proposes major new workplace protections for garment workers and manufacturing incentives in a bid to cement the US as a leader in responsible apparel production.
The hope is that these proposals progress in 2023 and policymakers will follow suit in pushing mandatory measures for companies globally.
Brand accountability – a call for better data and transparency
Commitments are one thing but measuring progress is also important. This year made clear the crucial need for accurate and robust data to substantiate sustainability claims and credentials. Whilst the focus on finding ‘perfect’ data cannot be allowed to stifle progress, Global Fashion Agenda and other industry actors will continue in 2023 to consider how the industry can accurately measure and communicate sustainability performance and illuminate the data credibility challenges.
Better data is needed to ensure trustworthy traceability and transparency from brands. Taking things even further into the realm of ultimate transparency we saw ‘Mea Culpa’ marketing shine in 2022, with brands acknowledging shortcomings like never before. In the fashion industry this technique has been partly pioneered by Danish label GANNI, now renowned for its vulnerability and openness about needing to do better. Despite being a frontrunner in ‘sustainability’, a quick look at the brands responsibility page and it’s immediately evident that GANNI ‘don’t identify as a sustainable brand’ – a surprising statement perhaps, but it’s much more nuanced than that. This level of upfront honesty can cultivate new levels of trust in its defiance of carefully curated, calculated, and polished brand representations.
Upcoming EU policy it also expected to drive transparency. The substantiating green claims legislative proposal is due to be published in 2023 and is aimed at tackling misleading green claims, i.e., “green washing”, and addresses the shortcoming in existing disclosure rules on sustainability. With the overall mission to make green claims reliable, by using standard methods for quantifying them. Our Partner, The Policy Hub – Circularity for Apparel and Footwear, also released a position paper on Green Claims, underlying their support for trustworthy sustainability communication.
Decarbonisation – considering the whole supply chain
The resounding takeaway from the April IPCC report is that unless we drastically cut emissions, more specific and focused efforts, say around coral reefs, will be futile. Our Fashion On Climate report revealed that if the fashion industry does not accelerate its response to climate change, by 2030 it will produce around twice the volume of emissions required to align with the Paris Agreement global warming pathways.
Fashion is a major energy consumer and The GFA Monitor outlines that current operations throughout the supply chain mostly rely on non-renewable energy sources, such as petroleum, gas, oil, and coal.
During our session on decarbonization of the value chain, at COP27, Dorte Rye Olsen, Head of Sustainability, BESTSELLER said, “There will not be enough renewable energy for our growth unless we reduce our energy consumption…It’s a two-pronged approach, so insetting and reduction is key.”
Decarbonisation throughout the entire supply chain will become increasingly pertinent in 2023. The supply chain remains the most impactful part of the industry, and strong partnerships between brands and suppliers will aid the much-needed change in this area.
Watch the discussion around decarbonisation that GFA hosted at COP27 here.
Circular Fashion – the resale boom
According to a recent report by BCG and Vestiaire Collective, the value of the resale market for apparel, footwear and accessories has more than tripled since 2020, with no signs of abating anytime soon. It has been empowering for citizens to participate in a circular economy, though it’s clear that to make real impact these second-hand buys must replace new purchases.
2022 also sparked conversations about fast fashion brands participation in the resale market and whether it actually contributes to the meaningful cultivation of a circular economy. Brands like Zara, Shein, Boohoo and Pretty Little Thing all launched resale platforms this year. Just last month, Vestiaire announced the banning of fast fashion from its resale site, explaining that it would be hypocritical to platform fast fashion.
Resale is not enough if approached exclusively as a marketing opportunity and additional sales avenue, with little to no focus on overproduction and unethical practices associated with core collections. Shifting to a circular system requires a holistic approach, encompassing areas beyond resale. For example, in November Bottega Veneta launched a lifetime warranty programme on handbags, offering unlimited refreshes and repairs as a complimentary service.
Digitalisation – metaverse momentum
Throughout 2022 the influence of the metaverse was undeniable. A report from Business of Fashion found that approximately 70 percent of US general consumers rate their digital identity as important and digital demand for fashion and luxury brands is expected to grow and result in extra sales for the industry that could reach $50 billion by 2030, according to Morgan Stanley.
There are exciting metaverse opportunities being explored by the industry – including metaverse events (April of this year marked the first ever Metaverse Fashion Week), NFTs to authenticate products, games, virtual showrooms and stores and digital clothing and sampling. However, digitalisation isn’t a fail-safe answer. The often-invisible infrastructure of the technology sector is more polluting than some may think.
As we head into 2023, explore the current scope of sustainability challenges and opportunities in the metaverse here.
Social Justice – intersectional approaches
Solely acknowledging the environmental degradation associated with many fashion industry practices is not enough if we fail to also address the social issues so closely linked to the industry. Sustainability must be understood in all its nuance.
Coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw, ‘intersectionality’ encompasses the broad scope of identities and subsequent interplay of social justice issues that exist, allowing us to recognise that hardships are borne differently for everyone. Social injustice embeds itself in fashion on a multitude of levels. Read about how the 2022 IPCC report reiterated the importance of intersectionality.
Whilst this year has seen promising shifts in some areas, there remains much work to be done in 2023. Remake outlined six key wins from its 2022 Accountability Report, this progress demonstrates “… that the industry is ready and willing to become more ethical, more just, and more sustainable through tangible, positive actions – even in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds.” We hope to see legislations materialise, bold action from brands, progress with the likes of the Good Clothes Fair Pay campaign and the voices of those most impacted being amplified and listened to.
November saw some 35,000 participants convene for COP27 in a bid to accelerate action, share ideas, solutions, and build partnerships and coalitions.
The conference, which took place in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, saw a landmark agreement on a loss and damage fund but fell short in crucial areas such as the phasing out of all fossil fuels.
The fashion industry came into focus for a number of discussions and commitments taking place over the two-week period and we have collated seven of the key activities and takeaways for fashion from COP27.
A call for holistic industry targets
On 8 November, Global Fashion Agenda (GFA) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) launched a public Fashion Industry Target Consultation to identify and align the industry around a set of holistic sustainability targets. Through this new Consultation, GFA and UNEP endeavour to really push the industry forward in a unified route of travel that represents industry-wide views and considerations.
Read more about the Consultation and how to participate here.
Linked to the consultation, stakeholders discussed ‘Circular Systems for a Net Positive Fashion Industry’ in an event on 12 November, where GFA was joined by speakers from UNECE, ISKO, Ellen MacArthur Foundation, RCGD Global and UNEP.
Find out more about these discussions here.
The Fashion Industry Charter for Climate Action
The Fashion Industry Charter for Climate Action was first launched at COP24 in Poland in 2018. Now, the Fashion Charter is signed by over 100 companies and 43 supporting organisations, GFA is proud to be amongst these organisations. The Charter includes signatories such as our Strategic Partners, Kering, H&M Group, Target, PVH, and Nike. Signatories and Supporting Organisations of the Charter work collaboratively to deliver on the commitments outlined in the Charter, which was updated at COP26.
Building on GFA’s partnership with the UN Climate Change Secretariat (UNFCCC), our CEO, Federica Marchionni, contributed to the COP27 event by UNFCCC’s Fashion Industry Charter for Climate Action: ‘Fashion Industry on the Race to Zero: Building a better future for the industry, people and planet’.
Watch the full UNFCCC event.
Canopy’s joint commitment
33 fashion firms including H&M, Inditex, Kering and Stella McCartney are amongst the inaugural signatories of a Canopy-led commitment to purchase more than half a million tonnes of ‘next-generation’ alternative fibre for the textiles and paper packaging sectors.
Retailers agreed to purchase 550,000 tonnes of alternative fibres made from waste textiles and agricultural residues instead of forest fibres. According to Canopy, every tonne of clothing produced using these alternative fibres will save between four and 15 tonnes of carbon.
Loss and Damage
The Loss and Damage fund agreement was seen as a major milestone that was long since overdue and the result of 30 years of tireless advocacy. Loss and damage finance is the money provided by high emissions nations to compensate the countries bearing the brunt of the climate crisis for the results of extreme weather events. The agreement of a new fund is a significant breakthrough although there is not yet an outline on how this promise will be fulfilled. Moreover, as crucial as this money is, it is merely dealing with the symptoms as opposed to the cause of climate catastrophe. The root of the problem must be resolved to prevent the need for loss and damage.
We know that the fashion value chain spans the globe, with ripple effects on many communities. The latest series of IPCC reports signalled that whilst everywhere is affected by climate change -with no inhabited region escaping the consequences – the vulnerability of ecosystems and people vary considerably based on factors including inequity, marginalisation, colonialism and governance.
The industry must follow suit in the uptake of similar initiatives to compensate the people it negatively impacts and prioritise reducing these impacts from the outset.
Fossil fuel reliance and decarbonisation
The final COP27 agreement text does not include a commitment to phase down all fossil fuels but rather includes the same commitments from the Glasgow conference a year earlier. A non-negotiable, to prevent some of the worst-case climate scenarios, is ensuring we keep global temperature increase to 1.5 degrees, in line with the Paris Agreement. A number of countries pushed for the final COP27 agreement to reference the need to peak emissions in 2025. According to the IPCC, this is the deadline for maintaining the 1.5C emissions goal. However, this failed to make the final text.
Despite disappointment this should serve as a bellwether to the industry that it cannot continue its reliance on fossil fuels . Fashion is a major energy consumer and The GFA Monitor outlines that current operations mostly rely on non-renewable energy sources, such as petroleum, gas, oil, and coal. Our Fashion On Climate report revealed that if the fashion industry does not accelerate its response to climate change, by 2030 it will produce around twice the volume of emissions required to align with the Paris Agreement global warming pathways towards net zero emissions by 2050. As commitments and ambitions come into fruition, the industry must be prepared for changes throughout supply chains.
On 11 November, GFA hosted a panel on ‘Alliances for a new era: Decarbonising the fashion value chain’, convening representatives from Crystal Group International, BESTSELLER, Zalando and GFA. Watch the discussion.
As COP27 commenced, a picture was circulating around the internet showing world leaders gathered in Egypt. There was a notable lack of women in the photograph. Of 110 leaders present, just 7 were women. BBC analysis found that women make up less than 34% of country negotiating teams at COP27, despite the fact that women are often the hardest hit by the implications of climate change. Climate change exacerbates the existing results of deep-rooted gender inequality.
Shirley Djukurna Krenak, an Indigenous woman of the Krenak people of Minas Gerais, Brazil, told the BBC that Indigenous women in particular have always fought for environmental protection.
Whilst a record number of Indigenous peoples participated in COP27, several Indigenous activists and leaders told Axios that they were excluded from decision-making dialogues. Representation cannot simply entail accommodating the presence of people, they must also be listened to. Together we must respect the central and fundamental role Indigenous peoples play in conserving a healthy planet and the intimate cultural and spiritual methods through which they do so.
The intricate web of issues that emerge as a result of climate change are complex and can be overwhelming, but we cannot expect to better our understanding without listening to the voices of the communities on the front lines of the climate crisis.
Every COP sees us tread closer to those crucial planetary tipping points, with increased urgency at each edition. COP27 was hosted against the backdrop of three key UN agencies releasing damming reports for the trajectory of our planet, with UNEP finding that under current goals, there’s no credible pathway to 1.5 °C in place. In fact, current policies put us on a decisive route to 2.8°C temperature rise by the end of the century.
Hollow promises will not suffice. Change must be systemic, meaningful and enacted quickly and diligently, particularly by the fashion industry which accounts for up to 4% of global GHG emissions. We must not draw a line under COP27 but rather, continue the conversations, engage with policymakers, increase the binding commitments, and most crucially start implementing changes immediately to accelerate a meaningful transformation.
The recent heatwaves that have blanketed our globe have raised further alarm bells about our rapidly warming planet – amplifying mainstream conversations around the climate crisis. Today marks International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples and we want to recognise the extensive Indigenous sciences around the likes of land stewardship and biodiversity preservation that set the precedent for true planetary resilience. Together we must respect the central and fundamental role Indigenous peoples play in conserving a healthy planet and the intimate cultural and spiritual methods through which they do so.
Indigenous peoples actively safeguard and conserve an abundant diversity of species, habitats and ecosystems which in turn provide the basis for clean water and air, healthy food and livelihoods for people far beyond their boundaries. The World Bank found that despite comprising around 5% of the global population, predicated upon their intimate relationship with the living world, Indigenous peoples protect 80% of the Earth’s biodiversity in the forests, deserts, grasslands and marine environments which these communities reside. A comprehensive United Nations study outlined that deforestation is lower on Indigenous and tribal-managed lands and in fact, 45 percent of the intact forests in the Amazon are in Indigenous territories.
The February iteration of the latest IPCC report series outlined for the first time that colonialism not only contributes to climate breakdown but also to the consequential vulnerability of many communities. Moreover, in order to achieve climate resilient development, the report acknowledged that partnerships must be developed with traditionally marginalised groups, including Indigenous peoples. Read more about the report here.
Despite concrete evidence and recognition of Indigenous peoples’ contributions and perspectives, this is not always reflected in terms of representation and inclusion. At global events like COP26, there was double the number of representatives from fossil fuel companies than the events official Indigenous presence. We cannot expect to better our understanding without listening to the voices of the communities on the frontline of the climate crisis and those with a deep and holistic understanding of our Earth.
The right to Indigenous sciences
The messages embedded in Indigenous sciences are invaluable to Western conservation efforts but many climate strategies and decisions either ignore, exclude, co-opt or romanticise them. Indigenous peoples must be centred within strategies and discourse. Likewise, misappropriation by Western perspectives places the onus on Indigenous peoples to ‘teach’ this intimate knowledge. Speaking to Atmos, Dr. Jessica Hernandez, an environmental scientist of Maya Ch’orti’ and Zapotec descent, said: “It’s important to understand that we don’t have a right to Indigenous sciences, especially sacred knowledge. We should put Indigenous people front and centre.”
Those in the pursuit of true environmentalism must respect, work in synergy with and centre the Indigenous peoples’ who have provided instrumental scientific insights into sustaining our planet.
Indigenous knowledge can provide a wealth of takeaways for the fashion industry. With the ever-increasing urgency, scrutiny and attention, brands in search of sustainable endeavours sometimes co-opt certain traditional practices as pioneering. One notable example being regenerative forms of agriculture. As we see this concept increase in popularity throughout the industry, we must remember that research demonstrates innumerable examples of Indigenous regenerative land practices that must be acknowledged when integrating certain farming techniques.
Speaking to the Financial Times, Co-Founder of Sylvanaqua Farms, Chris Newman, urges those exploring the potential of regenerative agriculture to recognise Indigenous peoples as experts, and account for their work accordingly.
Furthermore, addressing the social inequalities rife within land management is a necessary precursor to environmental justice. We must support Indigenous peoples in securing their collective land rights, human rights and the maintenance of their cultures on their own terms.
This year, World Environment Day comes with an urgent message: ‘REIMAGINE. RECREATE. RESTORE.’ Continued unsustainable practices and the destruction of our planet’s ecosystems not only present a great threat towards biodiversity but also to the future survival of our planet’s natural carbon sinks.
The apparel producing industry has long been practicing exploitative forms of agriculture in order to keep up with the natural plant and animal fibre demand for fashion goods. Therefore, this year’s messaging highlights the importance of near-term industry action in relation to better farming practices and the introduction of more regenerative forms of agriculture necessary to pave the way for more resilient ecosystems.
WHAT IS REGENERATIVE AGRICULTURE?
Coined in the 1980s, Regeneration International describe regenerative agriculture as farming and grazing practices that, “reverse climate change by rebuilding soil organic matter and restoring degraded soil biodiversity.”(1)
There is not currently a common industry definition of regenerative agriculture, however the practice generally entails methods including foregoing pesticides and certain fertilisers, increasing crop rotation, diversity and biodiversity, composting, tilling, managing livestock grazing, integration of livestock, soil disturbance and the introduction of cover crops to act as natural carbon sequesters.(2)
As a result of over-farming, development and other factors, soil capacity is rapidly declining, with some experts predicting fewer than 60 harvests remaining. Soils are host to a quarter of our earth’s biodiversity and if we continue to degrade the soil at the current rate, the world will run out of topsoil in 60 years. (3)
Read more about biodiversity in our article HERE.
Regenerative agriculture presents just one system-based solution to promote the recovery and future resilience of our planet’s ecosystems by omitting the use of synthetic chemicals and replenishing soil health. It is also a system which values crops as carbon sequesters, according to research, if we were to make a complete switch to regenerative organic agriculture, we could sequester more carbon than is currently emitted.(4)
It is no secret that every garment produced has a ripple effect on the environment, and fashion is in many cases, a product of agriculture, making the industry directly accountable for the resulting soil degradation and biodiversity loss. Natural fibres used for textiles in the fashion industry, whether animal or plant based, are all grown or raised on land, if the land is part of a regenerative system, the subsequent fibre is regenerative.
As outlined in our Fashion CEO Agenda 2021, the material mix is one of the biggest drivers of a fashion brand’s environmental footprint and comes with implications for climate change, waste and biodiversity(5). While significant progress has been made within natural fibre production practices largely driven through the introduction of material standards, these fibres still pose challenges and trade-offs that need to be acknowledged and resolved.
Going forward, industry leaders are encouraged to switch to lower impact materials and consider the integration of regenerative agricultural practices within their supply chains in order to achieve this. A shift towards a more regenerative agricultural system has the potential to create new job opportunities, upskilling and new ways of working. However, it is urged that those who are exploring the potential of regenerative agriculture are respectful towards local indigenous agricultural practices, and account for their work accordingly. (6)
Download the Fashion CEO Agenda 2021 HERE.
REGENERATIVE AGRICULTURE IN PRACTICE
Our Strategic Partner, Kering, is one industry player that is driving progress in the field of regenerative agriculture. Speaking at CFS+ 2020, Katrina Ole-MoiYoi, Sustainble Sourcing Specialist at Kering and Chantsallkham Jamsranjav, South Gobi Cashmere Project Manager at the Wildlife Conservation Socierty discussed regenerative materials for fashion and why focusing upon raw materials is so critical for Kering.
Watch the full video on Regenerative Materials for Fashion HERE.
More recently, Kering have launched a Regenerative Fund for Nature alongside Conservation International. Over the next five years, the initiative will drive the shift from conventional farming practices to regenerative methods for 1,000,000 hectares of crop and rangelands by providing grants to farming groups, project developers, NGOs, and other stakeholders with ambitions to scale regenerative practices.(7)
Read more about The Fund HERE.
(1) Regeneration International (2017). What is Regenerative Agriculture?
(2) Earth Day (n.d.). Regenerative Agriculture.
(3) FAO (n.d.). Keeping soils alive and healthy is key to sustain life on our planet.
(4) Rodale Institute (2020). Regenerative Agriculture and the Soil Carbon Solution.
(5) Global Fashion Agenda (2021). Fashion CEO Agenda 2021.
(6) Financial Times (2021). The New Buzzword in Fashion.
(7)Kering (2021). Kering and Conservation International launch Regenerative Fund for Nature.
A stark warning came last week as the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its latest climate change report. Amid an influx of ‘eco-anxiety’ and ‘climate doom’ following this “code red for humanity”, it has never been more important to remain determined and strong-minded as we reimagine our future.
WHAT THE REPORT TELLS US
The comprehensive overview provided a reckoning with the fact that some of the damage we have inflicted upon our planet is irreversible, for which human activity is now proven to be responsible. We do, however, have the opportunity to prevent some of the worst-case scenarios laid out in the paper. Crucially, the report warns of a 1.5° Celsius global warming in the next two decades unless we take drastic action.1
Climate change comes with widespread implications beyond the obvious planetary consequences, having a ripple effect on everything from the economy to human health, where the consequences are not felt equally by all. The climate issue is a life issue that has begun to take hold on vulnerable communities globally, calling for immediate and widespread attention.
Read the IPCC report HERE.
Despite significant progress made in the fashion industry, it remains a leading cause of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Research shows that the global fashion industry produced around 2.1 billion tonnes of GHG emissions in 2018, equalling 4% of the global total, the equivalent of combined annual GHG emissions from France, Germany and the United Kingdom.2
The fundamental takeaway from the IPCC report is that we must act quickly and meaningfully. We need to abandon the assumption that we have multiple decades to implement changes, but rather, prioritise implementing actionable changes immediately.
Whilst the pursuit of convenience often reigns supreme, we must step out of our comfort zones and flip the script on the prevailing fashion mentality. We can no longer accept hollow commitments speaking to aspirational targets in the distant future.
As aforementioned, the effects of climate change are not borne equally for everyone. A system benefitting some disproportionately at the expense of others is by no means sustainable. Moving forward brands must account for the outsourcing of garments in communities that are already carrying the burdens of climate change at alarming rates.
The industry must now take a holistic approach, whereby brands must focus upon the sustainability of the entire supply chain, as well as the complete lifecycle of products. We cannot afford to ignore the multi-dimensional nature of this issue with narrow approaches. The supply chain remains the most impactful part of the industry,2 and strong partnerships between brands and suppliers will aid the much-needed change in this area. Moreover, the role of policy will become increasingly important to incentivise significant reductions in GHG emissions.
Our Fashion on Climate report is an essential resource for the fashion industry as it outlines areas in which players can focus their efforts to meet climate targets in line with the 1.5° pathway. The report provides a business case demonstrating the industry potential for decarbonisation and concludes that the onus is on fashion leaders to move from a moderate decarbonisation trajectory to a significantly more ambitious one. 2
Read the full report HERE, which covers topics from circular business models and decarbonised material production, to the improved packaging of products and the use of sustainable transport.
HOPE FOR THE FUTURE
The science is clear. Now what?
Eco-anxiety and climate doom can be all-consuming and stifling so we must, therefore, hold on to promise and unite to demand a better future.
From rental to regenerative agriculture, to circular systems and innovative new biomaterials, the opportunities for meaningful change are plentiful. Whilst a full industry transition is no easy feat, it is no longer something we should encourage but rather something we should insist upon. A more prosperous future is possible if we work together.
Challenging as this may sound for businesses, it is encouraging to note that 55% of the efforts outlined in the Fashion on Climate report will actually generate savings on an industrywide basis.2
As climate justice writer and podcast host, Mary Annaïse Heglar, poignantly reminds us: “The thing about climate is that you can either be overwhelmed by the complexity of the problem or fall in love with the creativity of the solutions.”3
Aligning key stakeholders on core priorities to push the industry onto a prosperous trajectory, our Fashion CEO Agenda 2021 is an essential guide for industry leaders. You can download the report HERE.
Moreover, our digital Innovation Forum connects fashion companies with sustainable solution providers with a mission to drive industry words into viable action. Visit the Innovation Forum HERE.
The industry now has not only a considerable responsibility, but also a remarkable opportunity to subvert the path we currently find ourselves on and ensure an abundant future for both people and planet.
1. IPCC. Climate Change 2021: The Physical Science Basis. 2021
2. Global Fashion Agenda. Fashion on Climate. 2020.
3. Heglar M. Twitter. 2020. Available HERE.
Dear GFA Community,
As we usher in 2023, I want to take a moment to extend my warmest wishes for the new year and to thank you for your unwavering support throughout 2022. It is thanks to your dedication and commitment to our cause that we have continued to build a thriving and global GFA community.
2022 marked a pivotal year for GFA; we hosted our Summit outside of Copenhagen for the first time in its 13-year history, announced landmark alliances and partnerships, launched new impact programmes and published collaborative reports.
Amidst GFA’s breakthrough announcements and developments, 2022 was undeniably also shadowed by extreme weather events, uncertain economic landscapes, geopolitical strife, and both environmental and social challenges. These adversities exemplified the need for GFA to keep working towards its mission of a net-positive fashion industry, that gives back more to the natural world, people and societies and the economy than it takes out. Every industry is navigating the repercussions of such turbulent times, but it is imperative that we remain strong-minded and united in our ambitions for a better future.
As we look ahead to 2023, I want to emphasise that the changes you now make, individually or collectively, can have impact well beyond the fashion industry. Let’s lead by example and inspire other industries by demonstrating the many opportunities that can be created when we steer our impact strategies with a net-positive mindset and collaborate with actors across the value cycle.
I wish you all a wonderful festive period full of gratitude and hope. We very much look forward to continuing to inspire, educate and mobilise the industry in 2023 to generate even greater impact.
Federica Marchionni, CEO
Read our latest article exploring what happened in the fashion industry in 2022 here.
Our Highlights From 2022
Hosted in the grand setting of the Royal Opera House, Copenhagen, on 7-8 June, the event convened over 900 leaders to drive urgent action.
Attendees heard from over 100 speakers including HRH The Crown Princess of Denmark and representatives from Kering, Bottega Veneta, GANNI, UNFCCC, Vestiaire Collective and many more.
Multiple companies chose to announce their latest sustainability measures at the landmark event including Ralph Lauren Corporation, Apparel Impact Institute, Fashion Revolution, Mulberry and more.
Ticketholders had the opportunity to meet with 24 in-person and 51 digital Innovation Forum exhibitors. Over 450 business meetings between fashion companies and sustainable solution providers were facilitated.
Building on the learnings from Copenhagen, on 3 November, Global Fashion Summit assembled over 300 stakeholders representing manufacturers, garment workers, retailers, brands, suppliers, NGOs, policy, and innovators in Singapore and online to spur industry impact.
Attendees heard from over 50 speakers including representatives from PUMA, Zalando, StandUp Lanka, Singapore Fashion Council and many more.
The Summit’s first international edition facilitated even more conversations with manufacturer and supply chain voices to discuss crucial challenges and opportunities around working collaboratively with brands on equal terms.
Ticketholders had the opportunity to meet with 7 in-person Innovation Forum exhibitors.
The Fashion Industry Target Consultation
Formally announced at COP27, GFA and its new partner; the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), launched the Fashion Industry Target Consultation (FITC)- seeking public input on cohesive and measurable fashion industry impact targets according to the five priorities of the Fashion CEO Agenda.
The consultation’s official survey is now open until February 2023 for feedback. A series of five online regional workshops co-hosted by GFA and UNEP will also run between January and February 2023 in Africa, Asia Pacific, Europe, North America, Latin America & the Caribbean, and West Asia for regional participation.
We invite you to take part in the consultation. Find out more and how to participate here.
The GFA Monitor
This year saw the unveiling of The GFA Monitor – a new resource designed to guide fashion leaders towards a net positive fashion industry by 2050. It presents consolidated guidance according to the five core sustainability priorities of the Fashion CEO Agenda.
Building alliances through shared industry knowledge, over 30 partners and organisations were consulted to form a cohesive resource that presents expert insights on the status of the industry, available solutions, clear actions, case studies, and proven best practices. Higg also partnered with GFA to present aggregated performance data across the five sustainability priority areas.
Download The GFA Monitor here.
The Global Circular Fashion Forum
GFA launched the Global Circular Fashion Forum (GCFF), a global initiative, supported by GIZ, to spur local action in textile manufacturing countries to accelerate and scale recycling of post-industrial textile waste. The GCFF will bring together circularity programmes from different organisers to exchange knowledge, pool efforts and share best practices across regions and moreover produce a blueprint to replicate upstream circularity initiatives. It will launch in Viet Nam and Cambodia in 2023 through 2024.
Find out more about the GCFF here.
The Circular Fashion Partnership
The GCFF builds on the Circular Fashion Partnership (CFP) in Bangladesh which facilitates circular commercial collaborations between textile and garment manufacturers, recyclers and fashion brands. Bestseller, Benetton, Teddy Group, H&M Group, Usha Yarns, C&A, Inditex, Kmart, Peak Performance, Cyclo, OVS and Primark are supporting partners that are actively engaged in the Circular Fashion Partnership.
This year, technology partner, Reverse Resources, tracked 6,910,155 kg of textile waste segregated and collected from manufacturers to recycling solutions and onboarded 81 manufacturers to its platform in Bangladesh.
GFA worked to establish funding from UNIDO Switch to Circular Economy Value Chains to continue activities in Bangladesh through 2025.
Find out more about the CFP here.
GFA worked to place fashion firmly on the COP27 agenda during the conference in Sharm El Sheikh.
To mark the launch of the FITC, GFA and UNEP facilitated two events at COP27 speaking to the importance of holistic, inclusive industry targets to establish an industry-aligned route of travel towards net-positive for both people and planet.
GFA also hosted an event discussing the alliances to decarbonise the fashion value chain. This event built on GFA’s research into cross-sectoral collective action opportunities to finance the increase of renewable energy in manufacturing countries.
Continuing GFA’s partnership with UN Climate Change Secretariat (UNFCCC), Federica Marchionni also contributed to UNFCCC’s Fashion Industry Charter for Climate Action event.
Read more about GFA’s activities at COP27 here.
Following the launch of the EU Textiles Strategy, our CEO, Federica Marchionni and our Public Affairs Director, Maria Luisa Martinez Diez, took part in two high-level roundtables hosted by the European Commissioner in charge of the Environment Virginijus Sinkevičius. Both the Global Fashion Summits in Copenhagen and Singapore have given increased attention to policy and the forthcoming EU Textiles Strategy – with a total of four dynamic policy segments.
Additionally, GFA joined the European Fashion Alliance in June of 2022 as well as the EU Pact for skills. When it comes to the Policy Hub-Circularity for Apparel and Footwear, we lead two EPR roundtables as well as a transparency media masterclass. This was also done alongside a daily follow up, analysis and advocacy actions around seven policy work streams.
New Alliances & Partnerships
In March, GFA forged a new alliance with UN Climate Change secretariat (UNFCCC) to accelerate the fashion industry’s climate action, which was activated around the organisations’ prestigious forums including GFA’s Global Fashion Summit and the UNFCCC’s annual Fashion Charter meeting and Conference of Parties (COP). Read more about the alliance here.
At Global Fashion Summit: Singapore Edition, Global Fashion Agenda (GFA) announced a new partnership with BBC Storyworks Commercial Productions to launch a new branded film series on social and environmental sustainability in the fashion industry, which will be released to a wide audience on a dedicated BBC.com microsite in 2023. Members of the GFA network are invited to share their stories for potential inclusion in this commercial series. Read more about the project here.
Building further alliances, GFA partnered with Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC) to host the SAC Annual Meeting and Global Fashion Summit back-to-back in Singapore in order to complement each organizations strengths, build greater synergy and ensure a more compelling experience for attendees to accelerate greater impact. Read more about the alliance here.
This year, GFA was also delighted to be an official Nominator for the 2022 Earthshot Prize, the most prestigious and ambitious global environment prize in history, designed to incentivise change and aid in the repair of our planet over the next ten years. Explore the winners here.
Furthermore, GFA welcomed three new Associate Partners: Neiman Marcus Group, PUMA, and Vestiaire Collective; a new Data Partner: Higg; five new impact partners: Fair Labor Association, the Social & Labor Convergence Program, Ellen MacArthur Foundation, Apparel Impact Institute, and Textile Exchange, and a Summit Media Partner: FT Live.
Explore all of our partners here.
Throughout the year, Global Fashion Agenda has paid close attention to industry developments, noteworthy days and core themes.
To learn more about these explore our latest news page here.
World Water Day, held on 22 March every year since 1993, celebrates water and raises awareness of the two billion people living without access to safe water.
An annual United Nations Observance, World Water Day is primarily a day to support the achievement of Sustainable Development Goal 6: water and sanitation for all by 2030.
This 2022, the focus is groundwater, an invisible resource with an impact visible everywhere.
Fashion’s Water Consumption and Pollution
So, what does World Water Day have to do with fashion? The textile industry is heavily reliant on fresh water across the whole value chain – from raw material production through to product use and ultimate disposal and is accountable for approximately four per cent of global freshwater withdrawals. As for our oceans; scientists estimate that textiles produce 35% of the microplastic pollution in the world’s oceans, which would make textiles the largest known source of marine microplastic pollution. These are just some examples of the many ways in which fashion contributes to water consumption and pollution.
Despite various statistics echoed throughout the industry, it is near impossible to accurately sum up fashion’s impact on water – this is not helped by a lack of transparency upstream of the value chain, not only challenging identification of impact but also the necessary actions. Despite lack of comprehensive statistics, fashion’s impact is undeniable – for example, cotton production has been linked to instances such as the dried up South Aral Sea basin.
Currently, most apparel and textile sector water strategies are focused on the direct water impacts of the brands and suppliers in their value chain. But these approaches don’t address all of the water risks the industry faces. Businesses don’t operate in a bubble; they are part of complex societies and reliant on the natural ecosystems that surround them. Since water risks vary from region to region, solutions need to be site-specific.
Alliance for Water Stewardship: Weaving water stewardship into the textile and apparel sector
Multi-stakeholder organisation Alliance for Water Stewardship (AWS) promote a holistic stewarding approach to water use. Water stewardship is a cooperative and multi-stakeholder approach that enables a ‘bigger picture’ perspective by managing a site’s direct water impacts (water management), and then also working with others in the catchment area to address shared water risks and challenges (water stewardship). For example, a dye house in an area experiencing water scarcity may be as efficient and non-polluting as possible, but without working with external stakeholders on both a local (for example, fellow business owners and local agencies) and national level (such as national governments, international NGOs), the site will continue to face water risks.
Whilst water stewardship must happen in places, often these actions are enabled through engagement at the catchment and global level. For this reason AWS formed a global Textiles & Apparel Working Group to ignite and nurture global and local leadership in water stewardship in the sector.
So far, the Textiles and Apparel Working Group has successfully identified key sourcing hubs where members are keen to advance (and, where possible, combine) their water stewardship efforts. This has already initiated a country specific working group in Bangladesh. The group is working to further water stewardship activities through the supply chains of three global textile retailers, in collaboration with local stakeholders from civil society and the public sector.
AWS are seeking to replicate this approach in other key sourcing hubs that are facing significant water risks and that are strategically important for the textiles and apparel sector, such as India, Turkey, and Vietnam. At the core of this approach is the understanding that water stewardship is not about reinventing wheels or creating new approaches, but rather it is about complementing existing efforts.
The International Water Stewardship Standard (AWS Standard) offers a credible, globally applicable framework that allows corporate sustainability strategies to connect on-site actions with an understanding of the local contexts they operate in. It is built on a foundation of collaboration and continual improvement and provides a robust way for water users to work with their stakeholders, both globally and locally in value chain hubs.
By focusing efforts on key hubs identified through the working group, AWS can focus on sharing knowledge and learning with the right stakeholders and build capacity in the right localities for maximum impact.
It is essential that the industry puts water at the heart of a sustainable future and begin tackling the biggest risks to water security for the people and ecosystems in apparel supply chains and beyond.
To contribute to global efforts tackling water security within textile supply chains, apply to join the Textiles & Apparel Working Group here.
The importance of forests – both globally and personally
Forests are often referred to as ‘the lungs of the Earth’ – they are critical for our survival and host to an abundance of benefits for our planet, the wildlife and communities that occupy it. Rainforests are home to a biodiverse array of plant and animal life. In fact, biologists estimate that between 50% and 80% of the world’s biodiversity is found in rainforests, yet they only cover around 6% of the Earth’s land surface. Moreover, many plants used in medicine are found in tropical rainforests.
Crucially, approximately 2.6 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide – one-third of the CO2 released from burning fossil fuels – is absorbed by forests every year.
On a more personal level, forests help to ensure that the air we breathe and the water we drink is clean. Spending time in forests can reap numerous benefits and in the 1980s, the term ‘shinrin-yoku’ originated in Japan, meaning ‘forest bathing’. Forest bathing is seen to offer an eco-antidote to stress and anxiety and to encourage reconnection with nature. The science has since, unsurprisingly, reinforced this claim that time immersed in nature is good for us.
Fashion’s role in deforestation
Mass-produced palm oil and timber have long since rung alarm bells about deforestation, but the intersection of the fashion industry and forests has not always been so clear. Whilst the rainforest and the runway may not conjure up immediate links – they are more interconnected than one might think.
Fashion’s impact on forests is twofold – Over 200 million trees are logged and turned into cellulosic fabric every year and, on top of this, huge areas of forest are cleared annually to make way for cattle pastures to provide both beef and leather. In the Amazon specifically, cattle ranching is a huge driver of deforestation. Brazil, home to the majority of the Amazon rainforest, is one of the world’s top producers of bovine leather and the cattle ranching necessary for this is responsible for 80% of all deforestation in the region.
If tropical deforestation were a country, it would be the third biggest CO2 emitter and research shows that in 2020, 48% of fashion’s supply chain was potentially linked with deforestation. In 2017, Global Fashion Agenda estimated that the fashion industry is projected to use 35% more land for fibre production by 2030 – this amounts to an additional 115 million hectares.
Tree planting initiatives
Tree planting initiatives are commonplace nowadays, be that at the checkout of an online store indicating ‘we plant a tree for every purchase’ or even as viral Instagram trends claiming to plant a tree for every pet picture shared. Aside from the fact that the credibility of these initiatives is sometimes unclear, it is important to consider how effective tree planting might be overall.
Though such initiatives have good intentions, Scientists at Kew Gardens warned that tree planting was often being presented as an easy answer to the climate crisis, and a way out for businesses to mitigate their carbon emissions, but it is not this simple. Misplaced trees can actually do more harm than good by introducing invasive species, displacing native biodiversity, disrupting water cycles and decreasing carbon storage.
Research indicates that restoring natural forests is the best way to remove atmospheric carbon – specifically, natural forests are 40 times more effective than tree planting for storing carbon. Moreover, natural regeneration can provide a home for more species, as well as being significantly cheaper than tree planting.
If tree planting isn’t a failsafe answer to the rampant levels of deforestation taking place today, we must urgently address these rates in the fashion industry and beyond. Forests are being destroyed at the expense of biodiversity, Indigenous Peoples and the climate.
At COP26 in Glasgow, over 100 world leaders (representing countries with more than 85% of the world’s forests) made a commitment to reverse deforestation and land degradation by 2030. In November 2021, the European Commission published a proposal for a regulation on deforestation-free products which aims to impose stricter regulations within the EU market on goods associated with deforestation, including leather.
Increasing numbers of commitments would indicate that change is on the horizon, but we cannot delay action on this pervasive problem.
Find out more about Fashion’s impact on the environment in our Fashion CEO Agenda.