Five takeaways from The Sustainability Gap report
Transparency is key. Fashion’s business model needs an upgrade. And brands need to get to work. Those are some of the takeaways from Business of Fashion’s ”The Sustainability Gap” report.
29 Mar 2021

Sustainability has been at the forefront of the fashion discourse for some years now and when speaking about fashion it is inevitable to also address sustainability. This has led to fashion brands raising the issue more frequently than ever, stressing its importance and marketing their efforts and achievements in the subject. But does all the talking actually hold up?

This question could be compared to a Gordian knot. There is a huge amount of information about sustainability and what companies are doing, but with no existing framework of reporting it can be really hard to evaluate the data. And often the information is vague nor made public. But the short answer to the question is no, it does not.

This is examined in the report ”The Sustainability Gap”, released by Business of Fashion earlier this week. The report is the first release part of a bigger series that makes up the ”BoF Sustainability Index”. The index, and the report, is conducted by BoF and their sustainability council with executives and experts from the fashion and textile industry, from all over the world. 

The report is examing the industry’s five biggest public companies within three different categories — ”luxury”, ”high street” and ”sports”. The companies in question have then been benchmarked against quantitative targets which have been set up by BoF and the council, the report is based on information that has been publicly available until the 31st of December, 2020. This first report explores how the companies are progressing within transparency, emissions, water & chemicals, materials, workers’ rights and waste.

Here we break down five learnings from the report that Scandinavian companies can extrapolate and assimilate to their businesses within fashion and lifestyle. 

Less talking, More doing

Brands are often willing to address and make statements that they are, or going, to take action to reduce their social and environmental impact, nevertheless the findings in the report show that the companies are not doing enough to meet their own goals. The clock is ticking and with less than 10 years to actually deliver the goals and avoid catastrophic climate change, there is an urgent need to start doing. 

Decreasing the greenhouse gas emissions

The fact that the fashion industry is one of the biggest polluters on the planet has been known for quite some time now. This is also the category in the report where companies are putting the biggest efforts, in adjusting their businesses to a more environmentally friendly approach. Almost half of the companies examined by BoF already have science based-targets that align with the Paris Agreement when it comes to greenhouse gas emissions. But even though the goals are there, the emissions are not decreasing in line with the targets. This points out that there is a correlation between financial growth and financial impact.

Transparency is key in an effort to reduce environmental and social impact

The journey a garment goes through, from a natural resource to become a finalized product is complex and convoluted. The transparency-category in the report is one of the categories where the companies have proven to make the biggest progress. But, with that being said there is still a long way to go. A big chunk of the information companies collect is often self-reported and never verified by third parties. Without having accurate information, or qualitative information, about their supply chains, companies will have a hard time reducing their environmental and social impact.

Fashion takes more than it gives

Today a majority of clothes and garments are made using fossil fuels and polyester, based out of oil, is the most used textile-fabric. Next after polyester comes cotton, a material that is problematic both in terms of environmental- and human rights aspects. It is clear to say that fashion has a big problem when it comes to the use of materials. It all goes back to one big issue – fashion relies on a fully extractive business model. The task of transforming this business model is a tough one, but there are signs of change. For example, materials that have been certified to have a better social and environmental impact is getting a lot of attention and there is a small shift from using virgin polyester to using recycled polyester. But to fully adopt this mindset, will require commitment and investments.

From linear to circular

The problem of over-production is a growing issue within the fashion industry and it is an issue that is not only related to fast fashion. Every year around 40 million tonnes of textile is sent to landfill. This issue has made companies talking about circularity where this extractive business model would turn into a circular one. It means that old clothes would become new ones, prolong the longevity of garments or make clothing that would be recyclable. The idea of becoming more circular is something that will need innovations and investments. Today some companies offer some sort of resale, retake or rental, but it is not clear what actually happens with the garments in the end. 

Read more and download the full report here.