If fashion industry leaders actually want to mitigate climate change, they need to overhaul their sector. A new report from McKinsey & Company crunched the numbers and found that the global industry’s current trajectory isn’t sustainable.
The report, “Fashion on Climate: How the Fashion Industry Can Urgently Act to Reduce Its Greenhouse Gas Emissions,” authored by McKinsey in partnership with the Global Fashion Agenda, showed that “the global fashion industry produced around 2.1 billion metric tons of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in 2018, equaling 4% of the global total.”
If the industry maintains the current pace of decarbonization initiatives, by 2030 it will miss the 1.5°C pathway by 50%, according to McKinsey. In order to limit global warming to the 1.5°C global warming scenario described by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the industry must intensify abatement efforts, the report said.
“The immediate focus of accelerated abatement should be upstream operations, where around 60% of emissions savings are possible, in particular from increased use of renewable energy, through collaborative efforts supported by brands and retailers,” the report authors advised. “Actions relating to brands’ own operations have the potential to deliver around 20% of the reduction, with the remainder coming from changes in consumer behavior.”
Fortunately, many of the actions required to get there could be delivered at a moderate cost, the report pointed out. “Around 90% of the accelerated abatement can be delivered below a cost of around $50 per metric ton of GHG emissions,” McKinsey found. “Around 55% of the actions required will lead to net cost savings on an industry-wide basis. The remaining actions will require incentivization in the form of consumer demand or regulations to deliver abatement.”
Concerted action from industry participants is needed in three key areas, the report says:
- Reducing emissions from upstream operations. Manufacturers and fiber producers could deliver 61% of the accelerated abatement by decarbonizing material production and processing, minimizing production and manufacturing waste, and decarbonizing garment manufacturing.
- Reducing emissions from brands’ own operations. The main contributions brands could make to emission abatement are to improve their material mix, increase their use of sustainable transport, improve their packaging, decarbonize their retail operations, minimize returns, and reduce overproduction.
- Encouraging sustainable consumer behavior. A more conscious approach to fashion consumption, changes in consumer behavior during use and reuse, and brands introducing radically new business models could contribute 347 million metric tons of emission abatement in 2030. Examples: more circular business models that promote garment rental, resale, repair, and refurbishment; a reduction in washing and drying; and an increase in recycling and collection.
“Given their potential to act as the main drivers of accelerated abatement, brands and retailers face a call to collaborate with others in the value chain to invest for long-term social and environmental benefits,” the authors say. “Not only can they effect change in their own operations, but they can also support decarbonization efforts elsewhere in the industry and help consumers make more sustainable purchasing choices.”