Fashion Has The Power To Shape A 2°C World

By Dawn McGregor, Debra Tan 18 December, 2018

With fashion emitting more carbon than every country but US, China & India, CWR's McGregor & Tan question why it is not under the same scrutiny as coal

Fashion’s impact on climate change is HUGE; if business continues as usual, the industry will account for a whopping 11.7% of the 24GtCO2e target budget for a 1.5°C world by 2030
So why are No Coal fund managers not calling for a sell down of fast fashion stocks? How can consumers continue to shop now that they know they are contributing to climate change?
The industry is self-disrupting but not fast enough; fashion needs a climate strategy & whether you are a fashionista, designer or the average consumer, you have the power to shape a 2°C world

There has been some brutal news and big wakeup calls over the last couple months. Basically, we have reached a record high in 2017 of Green House Gas (GHG) emissions of 53.5 gigatonnes of CO2 equivalent (GtCO2e). According to the UNEP Emissions Gap Report 2018, we need to be at 40GtCO2e for a 2°C world by 2030.

It’s time the fashion industry & consumers took responsibility

The point of this article though isn’t to lament on the gap – you can read our opinion on that here. We want to bring attention to the fact that the fashion industry matters for the climate (as strange as that may sound). Actually, it’s time the fashion industry and consumers took responsibility – fashion absolutely has the power to shape a 2°C World – here’s why…

Fashion emits more CO2 than the UK + France + Australia + Canada

The fashion industry is estimated to have emitted 1.75Gt of CO2 in 2015, a number extrapolated from the Pulse Of The Fashion Industry 2017 report. This means that fashion’s carbon emissions are greater than the total energy-related carbon emissions of the UK, France, Australia and Canada for the same year. Who would have thought it was this mega?

Fashion’s carbon emissions to rise by 60% by 2030…

… = total energy-related carbon emissions of Indonesia, Pakistan, Thailand, Vietnam & HK

Worryingly, the Pulse report warns that fashion’s carbon emissions are expected to rise by around 60% by 2030 to a total of 2.8Gt. For perspective, this increase of 1.05Gt in the next 12 years is equivalent to the total energy-related carbon emissions of the whole of Indonesia, Pakistan, Thailand, Vietnam and Hong Kong in 2015 as per the IEA. These numbers are shocking!

For reference, BBC’s recent article puts cement industry at 2.2Gt, saying that if it were a country, it would be the third largest emitter in the world.

Fashion would be the fourth, behind the energy-related carbon emissions of China, the US and India.

Fashion is noticeably absent; focus is on “No Coal”

2.8Gt from the fashion industry by 2030 will be 7% of the 40GtCO2e target budget for a 2°C world by 2030. The target budget for a 1.5°C world is even lower at 24GtCO2e by 2030. In other words, fashion will be a whopping 11.7% of the 1.5°C budget if business continues as usual.

If business continues as usual…

…the fashion industry will be a whopping 11.7% of the 24GtCO2e target budget for a 1.5°C world by 2030

According to the UNFCCC, total greenhouse gas emissions from textile production alone stood at 1.2Gt annually. Apparently, this is greater than emissions from all international flights and maritime shipping combined of 1.1Gt.

So while coal, energy, deforestation, transportation and agriculture are singled out as the bad boys of climate change, fashion is noticeable absent. But how can fashion not be at the big bad boy table with such impact?

Surely insurers like Swiss Re which are starting to say no to insuring coal should do the same to fashion?

Also, why are sovereign fund managers like NBIM and SEB, who are leading the global charge on No Coal, not calling for a sell down of fast fashion stocks? Surely insurers like Swiss Re which are starting to say no to insuring the coal industry should consider doing the same to the fashion industry?

There is a clear case of double standards. Surely it is high time we called fashion as it is – dirty and thirsty plus a growing threat to the world as we know it. Campaigning against the fur trade is a mere scratch compared to the biodiversity losses that the industry will be responsible for if emissions grow unchecked.

Surely consumers care (if they knew)?

How can consumers continue to shop knowing that they are directly contributing to the detriment of our climate, to the events shaking our worlds – like the California wildfires that scientists have linked to climate change? Was that pair of jeans or shirt really worth it?

Did you actually wear that pair of jeans or that shirt, or is it lying in the back of your wardrobe?

Continuing with consumers, there is then the issue around use. Did you actually wear that pair of jeans or that shirt, or is it lying in the back of your wardrobe? If you did, how many times have you worn it? Do you think you’ve made its purchase worthwhile knowing now the climate implications?

We ask as a recent survey found that 83% of consumers have purchased an item they have never subsequently worn, with 22.5% saying to have done this on 10 or more occasions. Meanwhile, 11% admit they don’t wear over half of the clothes in their wardrobe. This is not the way to go about creating a 2°C or below world.

But maybe consumers are doing this, simply because we didn’t know better. But if we did, would it make a difference to our shopping habits? It’s time climate change became fashionable.

Likely even higher if we included all GHG emissions for leather, wool & fur!

What’s worse is that the 2.8Gt by 2030 is just the fashion industry’s projected carbon emissions. Given that livestock farming is a large contributor of other GHG emissions like methane, surely these gases should also be included to get the true GtCO2eq number for the industry?

Cattle, sheep and goats the source of leather hides, wool, cashmere and pashmina are amongst the highest emitters of GHG. On the topic of fashion raw materials, there are also other reasons for why fashion should go circular mainly water use & pollution.

Fashion for a 2°C climate – smarter, circular & unusual – it’s possible

Clearly we urgently need to get smarter & go circular – all of us, brands, manufacturers, investors & consumers. And it’s not just in the interest of the climate but for business too. More than USD500 billion in value is lost from the current fashion system every year from under-utilised clothes and the lack of recycling.

Another compelling statistic is that by 2030 there will be a decline in earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) margins of more than 3% points if business as usual continues. This would translate into a profit reduction of approximately USD52 billion for the industry.

The good news is that some people are already getting smarter & moving circular

The good news is that some people are already getting smarter and moving circular – though we can do with moving faster, making more scalable solutions and disrupting BIGGER. Anyway, onto the good news, a United Nations Charter for Sustainable Fashion will be set-up and be led by Stella McCartney (she knows her stuff).

“Business needs to take more ownership”

Key speaker at Chatham House-HSBC event

Closer to home; we were (Dawn) on the panel at the launch of the “Clean Production Group” by RESETcarbon and Sustainable Textiles, which was launched to scale clean production by providing essentially a one-stop-shop service provider for producing cleaner textiles by leveraging off the two group’s expertise. At a recent Chatham House-HSBC event, one of the key speakers said “business needs to take more ownership”. Well, with such-one-stop shops, business will find it hard to avoid this ownership.

There was also the Fashion Asia 2018 summit in Hong Kong two weeks ago. The event, titled, “Fashion Challenges Forum”, had more discussion on sustainability than the year before. Dr Bernard Chan (HK Under-Secretary for Commerce & Economic Development) said, “Fashion is a facing paradigm shift”. While he was not talking only on sustainability and environmental issues, they were part of the message.

But there are also some hard realities – only a handful of people from the forum thought Asian consumers care about sustainability

But there are also some hard realities. At the forum, when the audience was asked who thinks Asian consumers care about sustainability, only a handful of hands went up – out of at least 60/70 people. Another was from the McKinsey session, when the presenter said that 300 fashion brands have plans to enter India in the next three years.

India, like China, is a mega fashion producing country but also like China, has severe water challenges. Already many restaurants in Pune, are serving only half glasses of water in response to India’s water crises.  Would Indian consumers buy clothes that is accelerating climate change and increasing their water stress?

The industry is self-disrupting but not fast enough

McKinsey’s recent report “The State of Fashion 2019: A year of awakening” warns that “The ones that will succeed will have come to terms with the fact that in the new paradigm taking shape around them, some of the old rules simply don’t work.”  It encourages brands to have the courage to “self-disrupt” their own identity and take an active stance on social issues and sustainability.

But while three of the report’s 10 trends relate to sustainability, there is zero mention of climate change in the 107 pages. How can the industry be sustainable or responsible about social issues when tackling climate change is not even on their radar?

The fashion industry needs a climate strategy

Fashion’s impact on climate change is HUGE; and climate change is already impacting Asia’s water resources and the latest reports findings do not help. The fashion industry needs a climate strategy, preferably one that does not put Asia’s already limited water resources at risk!

Whether you are a fashionista, designer or the average Joe consumer, you have the power to shape a 2°C world

We want to leave you with this: fashion clearly has the power to change our climate so you (whether a fashionista, designer or the average Joe consumer) have the power to shape a 2°C world. Or even better, a 1.5°C world where we would still have coral reefs and polar bears will still have a home. So let’s make this your last Christmas as usual.


Further Reading

  • Time To Get Radical – Alarm bells are ringing for climate change but we are still wedded to the ‘norm’ and on track to miss even the 2°C target. With time running out and serious implications for Asia’s water resources, China Water Risk’s Debra Tan calls for more flashes of brilliance
  • 3 People-Green-Tech Chinese Initiatives – To win its War on Pollution, China is also turning to technology to engage the public. China Water Risk’s Dawn McGregor & Yuanchao Xu share three such technologies & their success so far
  • YouTube: The Dark Side Of Going Viral – We are already addicted to the internet, YouTube, Netflix, apps and still forecasts show major growth. China Water Risk’s Woody Chan unwraps the darkside of our runaway data use
  • To Tea Or Not – Black, Green Or Milk? – Tea is the second most drunk beverage after coffee but what does it mean for water, for carbon? Does the type of tea matter? Plus, see what consumers can do to reduce impact
  • Youth & Water – 3 Key Takeaways from Egypt & Stockholm – China Water Risk intern Alex Whitebrook shares key takeaways from his recent trips for the World Youth Parliament for Water. See what’s on their minds
  • Fashion Headlines This Festive Season – With lots happening in fashion over the last quarter, China Water Risk’s Dawn McGregor shares what is making her hopeful but also fearful. Plus, see what she says is forcing the industry to develop a new relationship with pollution
  • 85 Voices: Insights From Chinese Textile Manufacturers – Hear from China’s textile manufacturers on their challenges and what help they need to transition to a clean and circular model. This is an opportunity for the global fashion industry. China Water Risk’s Dawn McGregor shares key takeaways from our new survey report
  • Fashion’s New Cycle – With 12,000 garments entering landfills every hour, the USD3 trillion fashion industry is ripe for a disruptive overhaul. FINCH Designs’s co-founder Heather Kaye shares how this Chinese brand is doing this through their swimwear made from recycled PET
  • The Status Of Fashion’s Redesign – Fashion, an industry not often associated with climate change & technological innovation has been redesigning itself to change just that. With growing global focus on the environment China Water Risk’s Dawn McGregor takes a look at the status of this redesign
  • Fast Fashion: Sucking Aquifers Dry? – Groundwater is over-extracted to grow cotton. As the world’s largest importer of cotton, is it China’s fault? Or is fast fashion to blame? China Water Risk’s Tan explores trends in the growth across major brands, China’s imports & global cotton production
  • Future Fashion & ‘Beautiful China’ – Together Forever? – With fast changing regulatory landscape moving against pollution from the textile industry, is there really room for fast fashion in a ‘Beautiful China’? China Water Risk’s McGregor on why it’s time for fashion to become beautiful inside and out

Dawn McGregor
Author: Dawn McGregor
Dawn leads China Water Risk’s projects in the textile space, as well as conducts research and analyses on broader water risk and its disclosure. She is also responsible CWR’s communications and extensive network. She showcased these skills at World Water Week, where she has twice been lead rapporteur presenting key findings in the closing plenary, as well as contributing to conference’s conclusion papers. She has also delivered keynotes at various industry conferences, corporate events and investor forums in China and around the world. Dawn previously worked in a global investment bank analysing and mitigating non-financial risk in Asia Pacific. This included crisis management, business resiliency and geo-political risk assessment. She now continues her work in risk assessment with a new focus of China and water. Dawn has a background in science with a degree in Biology and Business, which she chose with the view of bridging the scientific world with the corporate & public sector to create synergistic opportunities. Dawn was born and bred in Hong Kong and has lived in France, England as well as Singapore & Beijing.
Read more from Dawn McGregor →
Debra Tan
Author: Debra Tan
Debra heads the CWR team and has steered the CWR brand from idea to a leader in the water risk conversation globally. Reports she has written for and with financial institutions analyzing the impact of water risks on the Power, Mining, Agricultural and Textiles industries have been considered groundbreaking and instrumental in understanding not just China’s but future global water challenges. One of these led the fashion industry to nominate CWR as a finalist for the Global Leadership Awards in Sustainable Apparel; another is helping to build consensus toward water risk valuation. Debra is a prolific speaker on water risk delivering keynotes, participating in panel discussions at water prize seminars, numerous investor & industry conferences as well as G2G and academic forums. Before venturing into “water”, she worked in finance, spending over a decade as a chartered accountant and investment banker specializing in M&A and strategic advisory. Debra left banking to pursue her interest in photography and also ran and organized philanthropic and luxury holidays for a small but global private members travel network She has lived and worked in Beijing, HK, KL, London, New York and Singapore and spends her spare time exploring glaciers in Asia.
Read more from Debra Tan →