Carbon talks: why carbon footprint matters and what fashion can do about it


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Have you ever offset your carbon emissions?

Nowadays, carbon offsetting seems to be everywhere. Suddenly, carbon became an important business but also a personal consideration. 

Of course, carbon emissions, or rather the excess of them, isn’t a new topic. After all, carbon has been fuelling our economies for the past two centuries. And in the past decades, we have seen worrying consequences of adding more carbon to the atmosphere than our planet can handle. Thus, scientists, activists, policymakers, businesses and others started thinking about what we can do to reduce the impact. The conclusion sounds simple but it requires a fundamental change: we need to reach net-zero emissions by 2050.

But what does this mean, and what does it have to do with fashion?

Is it even possible?

Buckle up, we dive deep into carbon emissions, offsetting, and reductions. 

 

Why is everyone talking about carbon?

Carbon, in the form of carbon dioxide (C02), is a part of greenhouse gases (GHSs), which play an important role in preserving life on our planet. GHSs also include methane, nitrous oxide, water vapour, as well as fluorinated gases (which are synthetic). The reason why they are called greenhouse gases is that they create a greenhouse effect: a naturally occurring warming effect. The problem starts when we have too many GHSs in the atmosphere and the Earth starts to warm too much. The full effects of this are still unknown, but climate change (as a consequence of warming) is already a reality for many parts of the world. 

The levels of C02 in the atmosphere have increased roughly 50% since pre-industrial revolution times. Because of this, we have a dangerous increase in average global temperatures, influencing virtually all parts of the Earth’s biosphere (all life on the planet). 

In 2015, the world leaders created and adopted a document known as the Paris Agreement, during the COP21 in France. The Paris Agreement is a legally binding international treaty on climate change, intending to limit global warming below 2°C, preferably to 1.5°C, compared to pre-industrial levels. Currently, 196 countries have signed the Agreement. Limiting the warming to 1.5°C is not going to stop climate change but it will slow down the devastating effects it would otherwise have. 

Now, such an ambition requires a big cultural, political, and economic change. This is where we get to the ideas like carbon offset, reduction, and net-zero.

 

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Let’s discuss that.

 

What’s up with the net-zero?

Clearly, we have too much C02. We realise now that the only way forward is in figuring out how to lower down our emissions. In that context, net-zero is an idea where we balance out our emissions with the removal of carbon from the atmosphere. The emissions caused by human activity should be reduced as close to zero as possible, while the remaining GHGs (as they also occur naturally) should be balanced out. Therefore, we often talk about net-zero or climate-neutral businesses, organisations, and actions.

But when should we reach this net-zero state?

According to a report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), published in 2018, the global economy must achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. After this, the economy should go carbon negative: reduce more carbon from the air than emitted. That’s truly not a lot of time. At the moment, we emit between 40-50Gt of C02 every year. This means that we need to reduce our emissions by 7.6% annually for the next 10 years if we want to achieve these goals. In other words, according to the IPCC, we have a yearly “carbon budget” of about 580 GtC02, if we want to reach the 1.5°C goal.

Knowing all of this, we can start understanding why businesses are trying to implement some sustainable changes in their policies. This is something no longer reserved for a handful of companies but is becoming essential to doing a business of any kind. Postponing to adapt to the global carbon goals might actually become a financial risk for companies. 

Not surprisingly, the fashion industry is starting to have these conversations too.

 

Fashion’s carbon footprint

You might have heard that fashion accounts for about 10% of global carbon emissions. That is, according to the UN. However, other reports and studies show a different number: from 4.8% to 8%. And one of the latest reports, by McKinsey & Global Fashion Agenda, states that fashion contributes to 4% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. Confusing?

Sort of.

All of these reports, as journalist Alden Wicker explains, depend on what is measured and how. Fashion is complex, global and overlaps with other industries. The exact carbon footprint isn’t always clear but it doesn’t take long to realise that it’s a highly unsustainable industry. We produce clothes fast, cheap, and inefficiently. If we continue this way, we will not reach the 1.5°C targets. According to McKinsey, fashion might actually miss those targets by 50%, unless we do some drastic changes. 

But where do emissions in fashion come from?

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A lot of the emissions in fashion come from manufacturing and transport. Polyester, the most popular fabric in fashion, comes from petroleum, aka crude oil. Extracting and processing this fabric is energy intense. Moreover, fashion relies on long supply chains and a garment can travel to several countries and factories, before reaching us. The mentioned McKinsey report calculates that 60% of reduction in emissions could come from the way we manufacture clothes. The report continues by saying that an additional 18% of reduction could come from the way brands design, transport and sell their products. Finally, 21% of reduction could come from how we buy and consume clothes.

In other words, both businesses and individuals play a role. 

Now, different studies show a significant shift in consumer’s attitudes, which only accelerated during the COVID-19 pandemic. People now care about the environment more than ever, and might even be more loyal to brands that embrace sustainability. 

But what about the fashion businesses?

 

What can fashion do?

This is where we’re coming back to the idea of carbon offsetting. More and more brands are offering tree planting or other forms of offsetting to their consumers or are partnering with organisations and NGOs to offset their company’s emissions.

This is a good first step but it’s far from enough. Carbon offsetting means making up for the emissions by reducing them somewhere else. It’s simply not a good solution, in both financial and environmental terms. The so-called carbon credits that businesses are buying are only going to become more expensive (as the demand rises) and they are not going to exactly solve the problem we are facing. In other words, this doesn’t help our current situation where we are simply putting too much GHGs in the air. 

We need to reduce and not just offset our emissions.

And as said earlier, this requires a rethinking of the whole business model and closely looking at what changes we can do at each step.
That’s exactly what Les Izmoor is doing. Here are the things we are currently doing, to reduce our carbon footprint:

 We are producing less:  

Just like the name says, we believe that less is indeed more. Instead of big collections, we are committed to releasing only 4 new designs per year. We also do everything made-to-order, to avoid overproducing.

Our clothes last: 

In line with the previous point, the limited-edition clothes we produce are designed to last. We don’t want you to keep buying new clothes but to invest in those that you will love for a long time. For us, quality is a part of sustainability.

We are using better materials: 

We are using recycled polyester. Though not perfect, recycled polyester uses less water and energy, meaning it emits less C02. And, of course, this means that we don’t use any new resources to produce our clothes.

We are manufacturing locally: 

We are choosing to keep our supply chain as short as possible. We manufacture our garments locally, in Italy. Our factory is located less than 60 km from our warehouse in Milan. This way, we are cutting significant parts of emissions.

Finally, everyone can do something to reduce their own carbon footprint. So, let us end with some quick tips that you can apply in your daily life!

 

What can you do?

You can find different ways to cut a bit of your own carbon footprint in your daily life. For example:

1. Reduce your digital footprint

Don’t store unnecessary data in the cloud, delete junk emails, unsubscribe from unwanted emails and so on

2. Choose better transport

When possible, go by bike or foot for short distances, or use public transport. For longer trips, look for train and bus connections, and generally choose the plane if no other option is available.

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3. Buy less clothes and make them last longer

As we said, the biggest part of fashion’s footprint comes from the way we make clothes. Yet, buying less is also important. Instead, choose to wear what you already have.

Continuing on the previous point: make sure your clothes last. Learn to mend or find someone who can do repairs for you. A study shows that extending the life of clothes by just 3 months would reduce carbon, water, and waste footprints by 5-10%.

Wash your clothes less often and at 30°C, as well as switch to more gentle detergents. And if possible, avoid the drying machine. These small things will save energy and water (and thus cut your carbon emissions) and will make the clothes last longer.


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