Apparel brands must dump their wasteful image… and fast. Debbie Shakespeare, RBIS Avery Dennison, offers practical tips to help the industry cut its Scope 3 emissions.
Behind the glitz and glamour, the fashion industry has a grimy problem. It generates up to 10% of global carbon dioxide output1 – more than international flights and shipping combined. Waste is an issue too, with 92 million tons2 of textile waste produced annually. Consequently, sustainability has become a top priority for most fashion brands. COP273 has again highlighted the urgent need for net zero commitments and a slew of legislation in the EU and North America will soon make supply chain transparency and carbon reporting for apparel items a legal requirement.
One of the biggest challenges is identifying the most impactful ways to reduce Scope 3 emissions and report on progress. Scope 3 emissions are the indirect emissions that occur upstream and downstream along the value chain of purchased goods and services, raw materials and how they are produced, right through to use and disposal at end of life. According to McKinsey4, Scope 3 emissions can account for as much as 98% of the total carbon footprint of fashion retailers. And while some brands and retailers have voluntarily reported their Scope 3 emissions, many can’t pinpoint how to start reducing these elements of their carbon footprint.
Practical ways to tackle Scope 3 emissions:
Source recycled textiles
To reduce Scope 3 emissions, brands will increasingly seek out sustainable and circular materials in the products they choose to manufacture and stock, for instance, sourcing more environmentally friendly textiles, such as post-consumer recycled products. Even garment care labels can be made from recycled materials, so it’s worth scouring the market for suppliers who can provide eco-options.
Encourage shoppers to return & recycle
Retailers can introduce ‘take back’ of items for resale or reverse logistics and recycling at the end of life. This will require collaboration; creating partnerships with local resellers, recyclers, or reverse logistics providers, to ensure the garments sold don’t end up in landfill. Retailers are considering providing a future coupon for customers sending back garments for resale, which creates an immediate ROI.
Data is a necessary step toward achieving carbon neutrality and connecting a garment to a circular supply chain. As it stands, brands are often not providing the data required to achieve the next step in a garment’s life without sending it to landfill. Instead, governments are having to intervene with new legislation. For example, Extended Producer Responsibility5 (EPR) schemes on clothing and textile items are providing a real opportunity to ensure the sector’s good practices are financially supported.
With the right technology – for instance, digital product passports accessed by connected tags on garments – brands can communicate about product specifications to meet the needs of any incoming legislation and inform customers of how to recycle each item. This will also help commercial textile recyclers, by giving them composition information ensuring garments are recycled in the right way. Avery Dennison already provides digital care labels with QR codes that link to atma.io6 a data-rich online connected product cloud, to help brands communicate with their consumers and recyclers at every stage of the garment life cycle.
Streamline supply chain operations
Tighter supply chain operations can also drive down transportation emissions and textile waste. It’s possible to reduce overstocks through RFID or digital tracking of products to ensure stores only receive what is needed, according to the Just in Time model. Research by Auburn University7 states apparel retailers without RFID had 65% inventory accuracy, while with RFID, the rate improves up to 99%.
Cutting out unnecessary transportation will immediately reduce Scope 3 carbon emissions. Instead of air freighting samples around the world, there are digital tools that enable an online approval process. It’s also better for the environment to use ocean freight for raw material and inventory movements, instead of air freight. Although slower, the carbon footprint is far lower.
It will take concerted collaboration and valid data points if supply chain partners are to reduce/eliminate carbon impact in their operations and the materials they purchase. Supply chain transformation will only be possible once retailers and brand owners, working with their suppliers and stakeholders, can capture, record, and report emissions throughout the entire supply chain, both upstream and downstream.
Design with 3D garment technology
Adopting 3D garment technologies can reduce environmental damage caused by initial stages of product development and sample management. In digital apparel design, modifications and changes can be done virtually, without producing any waste. 3D has made great advances in design by allowing designers to quickly visualise how garments will look without needing a physical sample. In fact, companies that have used 3D for design reported declines of 50% in the number of samples needed8 and the costs involved.
Unless drastic action is taken, the apparel industry’s global emissions will increase by 50% by 2030.9 Against this backdrop, it should come as no surprise that laws to cut textile waste and emissions are being passed around the world at pace.
I’m confident that digital ID technology will enable businesses to meet their commercial, compliance, and ESG goals, particularly where Scope 3 is concerned. Solutions need to be adaptable, giving customers, partners, and end-consumers the opportunity to maximise the potential of digital product passports, as these will be central to traceability and compliance in the future.
The best way for Scope 3 emissions to be scaled down is through the entire fashion industry committing to the circular economy, adopting digital product passport technology to do so. If we can extend product life cycles and minimise waste, we’ll be on course to massively reduce fashion’s carbon impact.