Towards sustainable fashion: what does the Science-Based Targets guide for the clothing and footwear industry?
The fashion industry is responsible for 2-8% of global carbon emissions.
More than 70% of emissions come from upstream activities, in particular the production, preparation and processing of energy-intensive raw materials.
Considering these figures, there is a clear need to find solutions to mitigate the environmental impacts associated with the fashion industry. Energy, for example, plays a key role in the decarbonisation pathway of fashion companies, with 63% of the industry's potential for further emissions reduction:
- 45% of further emission savings can come from energy efficiency solutions
- 39% can be made possible by the transition to renewable energy sources
- The remaining 16% refers to the electrification of energy consumption
The importance of the energy transition, along with the choice of preferred over traditional materials, is underlined by the Science Based Targets Initiative (SBTi), an initiative that supports companies from all sectors in setting science-based emission reduction targets.
Specifically, according to the guidelines for the fashion sector, the main ways to reduce the environmental impacts of the textile and fashion industry based on science are:
Implement energy efficiency and the use of renewable energies along the entire value chain
Replacing commonly used materials with alternatives with a lower environmental impact
In addition, the guidelines provide a set of criteria and recommendations to define and implement emission reduction targets consistent with global climate goals.
How to set science-based emission reduction targets in the fashion industry?
The guidelines are designed to encourage apparel and footwear companies to set ambitious science-based greenhouse gas emission reduction targets for both their business operations and the supply chain. Specifically, the document aims to:
- Provide clarity and a credible approach for the definition of SBTs.
- Identify barriers to the definition of SBTs and provide recommendations to address them.
- Define and illustrate best practice examples.
- Highlight opportunities for collaboration between companies in reducing emissions.
To be eligible for target validation, companies must complete a GHG emissions inventory in accordance with the GHG Protocol Corporate Standard, the GHG Protocol Scope 2 Guidance and the GHG Protocol Corporate Value Chain (Scope 3) Accounting and Reporting Standard.
Scope 1 and Scope 2 emissions are the starting point for defining SBTs and within the guidelines, criteria are listed that must be met by companies regarding: the GHG inventory and the scope of science-based targets, the time frame of reference, the level of ambition, the reporting of emissions and the recalculation and validity of targets. Here are some of the criteria within the guidelines:
- Targets must include company-wide scope 1 and scope 2 emissions, as defined by the GHG Protocol Corporate Standard
- Targets must cover all relevant greenhouse gases as required by the GHG Protocol Corporate Standard.
- Targets must cover a minimum period of 5 years and a maximum of 15 years from the date the target is submitted to SBTi for official validation
- The scope 1 and scope 2 targets will be consistent with the level of decarbonisation required to keep the global temperature increase well below 2°C compared to pre-industrial temperatures (although companies are encouraged to make greater efforts towards a 1.5°C trajectory)
- The company is required to publicly report its company-wide GHG emissions inventory and progress towards published targets on an annual basis
- Targets must be periodically reviewed and, if necessary, recalculated and revalidated at least every five years
- Companies with approved targets must make them public on the SBTi website within six months of the date of approval. Targets that are not announced within six months must go through the approval process again, unless a different publication period has been agreed with SBTi
The guidelines also include criteria for scope 3 emissions:
- Companies must complete an emissions screening for all relevant scope 3 categories as set out in the GHG Protocol Corporate Value Chain (Scope 3) Accounting and Reporting Standard
- If a company's relevant scope 3 emissions represent 40% or more of total scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions, a reduction target must also be set for scope 3 emissions
- If a scope 3 target is required, companies must set one or more emission reduction targets and/or supplier or customer involvement targets that collectively cover at least two-thirds of total scope 3 emissions
- Emission reduction targets must cover a minimum period of 5 years and a maximum of 15 years from the date the company's target is submitted to SBTi for official validation. The document encourages companies to develop long-term targets up to 2050, in addition to the required medium-term targets
- Long-term targets for scope 3 can be considered ambitious if they meet one of the following criteria: absolute emission reduction targets that are consistent with the level of decarbonisation needed to keep the global temperature increase below 2°C compared to pre-industrial levels; economic intensity targets that lead to emission reductions of at least 7 per cent per year per unit of value added
Finally, the Science Based Targets Initiative has defined a simplified target validation pathway for small and medium-sized enterprises, i.e. non-controlled and independent companies with fewer than 500 employees. In particular, SMEs have two options for target setting
- Short-term targets: short-term targets are absolute targets for the reduction of scope 1 and 2 greenhouse gas emissions that should be achieved by 2030, starting from a pre-defined base year. SMEs often lack the resources and capacity to set targets for scope 3 emissions. For this reason, SMEs are not required to set short-term targets for these types of emissions. However, they must commit to measuring and reducing scope 1 and 2 emissions.
- Net-zero targets: In order to set a net-zero target, SMEs must first set short-term targets. Net-zero targets include: long-term science-based targets, which are absolute targets for the reduction of scope 1, 2 and 3 GHG emissions that should be achieved by 2050, starting from a pre-defined base year; a commitment to neutralise any emissions once the long-term science-based target has been met.
Case studies: examples of emission reduction targets approved by the Science-Based Targets Initiative
A number of medium to large-sized companies in the textile and fashion industry have set emission reduction targets approved by the Science-Based Targets Initiative, including:
- Levi Strauss & Co. (LS&Co.), one of the world's largest apparel companies and a global leader in jeans, pledges to reduce absolute greenhouse gas emissions (scope 1 and scope 2) by 90 per cent by 2025 compared to the base year of 2016. Furthermore, Levi Strauss & Co. commits to reduce absolute scope 3 emissions from purchased goods and services by 40% by 2025 compared to the base year of 2016.
- Kering, a well-known global luxury group, commits to a 90% reduction in scope 1 and scope 2 emissions by 2030, compared to the base year of 2015. Kering also commits to a 70% reduction in scope 3 emissions per unit of value added by 2030 compared to the base year of 2015. In addition, the group recently announced a commitment to reduce its total greenhouse gas emissions by 40% by 2035, with 2021 as the base year.
- Active Brands: Norwegian sportswear and equipment brand commits to reduce its scope 1 and scope 2 GHG emissions by 42% by 2030 compared to the base year of 2021, and to measure and reduce its scope 3 emissions. The brand also commits to reduce its scope 1, 2, 3 emissions by 90% by 2050 compared to the same base year. These reduction targets were approved using a simplified target validation procedure reserved for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).
Fashion is an industry that has a significant impact on climate change and, therefore, concrete steps must be taken to mitigate its environmental impacts.
To this end, the Science Based Targets Initiative (SBTi) has developed 'Apparel and footwear sector Science-based targets guidance', which encourages companies in the sector to set ambitious science-based targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This guidance provides criteria and recommendations for setting and implementing emission reduction targets consistent with global climate goals.
Encouragingly, some companies in the fashion industry, such as Levi Strauss & Co. and Kering, have already adopted ambitious targets to reduce GHG emissions along the entire value chain. However, it is important to emphasise that the transition to more sustainable, low-carbon fashion requires a collective effort and collaboration between companies, governments, organisations and consumers.
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