Luxury is setting the pace for sustainability

Posted on: March 10, 2020

Chief Sustainability Officer and Head of International Institutional Affairs, Kering


Colorful spools of fabric
Photo: Zalepuga/Shutterstock

The fashion industry must be ahead of the curve in tackling the climate and biodiversity crises

This is being described as the “super-year”, with 2020 seen as pivotal – when binding decisions will be made on climate and nature by the world’s governments at international policy meetings.

These decisions on the Earth’s global commons will have irreversible outcomes. They will either lead to the restoration of nature and help maintain healthy functioning ecosystems to support society in the years to come, or they will propel the climate change and biodiversity crises forward. 

This is also the year where we must define what true business leadership looks like. 

We all know that the fashion industry is detrimental to nature. It uses vast amounts of natural resources and raw materials, and the industry’s manufacturing processes leave an extensive footprint in its wake. 

Global emissions associated with textile production surpass those of shipping and international flights combined, totalling around 1.2 billion metric tons of CO2 every year. Yet fashion is on a trajectory that, if it continues at its current pace, is expected to cause the industry to grow by 81 percent by 2030. 

A sustainable business model for fashion seems unachievable given these daunting facts. But there is real hope that fashion’s outdated and unsustainable systems will be replaced.

In the past few years there has been a shift in the industry: brands have become more conscious and concerned about their environmental and social impacts. In parallel, consumers, non-governmental organizations and investors have been demanding transparency on these impacts, and employees also have far higher expectations. Fashion brands also need to prepare for greater disruptions brought about by climate change and the increasing scarcity of raw materials.

Luxury has long driven the changing trends in fashion, but it is now similarly influencing the uptake of sustainability. The industry is demonstrating a pathway to developing a more inclusive growth model, where fashion reduces its collective environmental impacts and protects biodiversity.

This is about producing “better” so that sustainable best practices are in place all along the supply chain. It means sourcing sustainably and moving towards a regenerative cycle, with less waste and more closed-loop solutions. Collaborating on innovation worldwide, and scaling it up, is critical. 

Luxury also has the influence to convene the industry to achieve more effective and widespread collaboration. Mandated by French President Emmanuel Macron, Kering Chief Executive François-Henri Pinault brought together the leading players in fashion and textiles during the G7 summit last August to focus on practical objectives for reducing the industry’s environmental impact under the Fashion Pact

Already more than 250 international brands, representing more than 30 percent of the industry, have joined the pact. It is a historic and unprecedented collaboration across all sectors of fashion and provides a window into the industry’s real commitment to pursue change.

Mr. Pinault’s visionary leadership at his own company has put a progressive foundation in place, setting a high benchmark for sustainability in luxury. Meanwhile, Kering’s commitment to open sourcing has supported the adoption of sustainable best practices in the industry.

Early this year, Kering shared the progress it has made over the past three years towards its environmental and social targets. These targets touch every part of its business activities – from where the company sources raw materials through the manufacturing and production of goods to its stores and clients, where it is examining consumer use and the end life of its products. Kering has set a deadline of 2025 to achieve these targets and is well on its way.

Measuring the total environmental footprint right to the end of the supply chain, and transparently reporting on it, is necessary for any meaningful success in sustainability. Kering pioneered the Environmental Profit and Loss account as a tool not just to understand its impacts but to chart the progress it is making to mitigate them and establish accountability with its stakeholders.

Kering was the first company in fashion and luxury to set science-based targets (SBTs), vital to ensure that climate change efforts are grounded in science. It has achieved a 36 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions across its operations and supply chain since 2015 – reducing them by 77 percent in its own operations alone – and is on track to meet the 50 percent cut laid down in its SBT.

It has also committed to implement a science-based target on climate to make its actions consistent with a global pathway to keeping the rise in temperature to no more than 1.5C over pre-industrial levels. 

Working on the ground with suppliers is also fundamental in driving sustainability forward, ensuring raw materials are sustainable and traceable, and guaranteeing best practices in animal welfare. Among many raw materials targets, Kering has achieved purchasing 100 percent of the gold for its jewellery and watches from responsible sources, and done it ahead of schedule.

Kering has made some breakthroughs and scored some excellent wins, but sustainability is a never-ending pursuit. Much of its next successes will be based on innovative solutions that it is working on with start-ups. 

Science and next-generation technology, along with collaboration, will determine the progress that the fashion industry makes towards sustainability. Science has already sounded the alarm for urgent action on the climate emergency, and fashion needs to be ahead of the curve. 

It is the duty of fashion businesses to be both leaders and citizens of the world. This should not be seen as a burden. It is absolutely certain that sustainability drives cutting-edge innovation, increases resilience and creates high value. These, in turn, are the levers of positive change not only for the fashion industry but for the future that our world requires.

This piece was originally published for the GEF-Telegraph Partnership.

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