14 Apr 2020

What role does carbon offsetting have in the fashion industry?

What role does carbon offsetting have in the fashion industry?

Understandably consumers currently have a different set of priorities, but before COVID-19 consumer trends were definitely shifting. The Global Confidence Survey 2020 found that 81% of consumers strongly agree that brands should do more to conserve the environment, and the UN introduced the first global alliance for sustainable fashion in 2019, with the aim to bring about environmental and social change within the fashion industry. 

With more fast-fashion brands producing ‘conscious collections’, using responsibly sourced materials, such as ASOS, Zara and H&M, the industry appears to be shifting to meet consumer expectations. However, is this enough? What else should these large fashion corporations be doing to reduce their impact? 

One option could be offsetting the emissions of their supply chains. 

It is important to stress that this is being suggested not as a plaster over the problem but as a tool to be used alongside absolute emissions reductions within the supply chains of these companies, across their scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions.  

Why is offsetting necessary?

The Paris Agreement in 2015 set a target; to keep temperatures below 1.5 degrees of warming since pre-industrial levels. We are currently at 1 degree and increasing fast. 

The fashion industry is one of the fastest-growing industries, as well as one of the biggest polluters contributing an estimated 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions (UN 2020). It is also the second-largest consumer of water of any industry. 

Waste is another issue with 150 billion items of clothing produced in 2018 worldwide whilst it is estimated that 50% of fast fashion is thrown away each year. This means that approximately 12.8 million tonnes of clothing end up in landfill.⁠

What is carbon offsetting?

In its crudest form, carbon offsetting is the idea that you can emit carbon and then pay someone else to not emit, thus cancelling out your own emissions. 

This could be done through two different market streams - the voluntary market and the mandatory offset market. 

The mandatory market is laid out by governments and companies have to reduce their carbon emissions through the purchase of a certain number of offset credits. The mandatory market first developed under the Kyoto Protocol in 2005. 

The voluntary market is commonly associated with businesses or individuals buying carbon credits or other means equivalent to 1 tonne of CO2. They are under no obligation to do so but is done so voluntarily as a means of offsetting their carbon footprint. 

So what are the options?

At Almond, we have reviewed the various offset options available currently to both individuals and businesses. We believe that the best solution is through a focus on natural solutions - trees! This should be combined with a movement away from the carbon credit system.

Trees are the planet's natural way of controlling carbon dioxide via the process of photosynthesis. The planting of new trees is essential, as is the maintenance and protection of existing forests. 

Another offsetting option that Almond strongly supports is carbon capture and storage (CCS) via technological means. CCS involves physically removing CO2 from the atmosphere and storing it securely (usually underground). Nature based solutions, although vital, cannot be relied on completely and will need a helping hand if we are to limit warming to under the target 1.5 degrees. 

Next steps?

Footprint reduction is vital in the fight against climate change both for individuals and for brands, and it is important to hold larger brands accountable for the footprint they hold. 

At Almond, we strongly feel that footprint transparency and the use of offsetting can help both consumers and businesses understand their impact better and create positive environmental action in the form of absolute reduction. 

Offsetting has had its criticisms but in the case of the fashion industry, I feel there is a strong argument for the need for brands to use it as an important tool as they navigate changes towards a zero-carbon business. 

As the world begins to imagine what life may be like post-COVID-19 and the implications that this global pandemic will have globally. It is important to consider the place offsetting might have within the fashion industry if things are to begin again in a more harmonious way.

Find out more about Almond here.

About the author:

maddie-almond-impactMaddie is Research Associate at Almond Impact, having completed her MSc in Environmental Change and Management at the University of Oxford with the Environmental Change Institute. Almond is an app that helps consumers become carbon balanced through changing their purchasing patterns away from the mainstream towards more sustainable and responsible brands.

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