The good news is, according to a panel with execs from Allbirds, Puma and Reformation at last month’s Global Fashion Agenda event in Copenhagen, the technology to do so already exists: brands just have to be willing to put the work in.
Allbirds: turning carbon emission into a carbon sink
According to Hana Kajimura, head of sustainability at New Zealand-founded shoe brand Allbirds, all of the information that businesses need to rethink their manufacturing processes already exists in their supply chain.
“It’s fairly straightforward as long as you know who’s making your stuff, and they know what’s in it,” Kajimura said.
“From there, the big data gaps that come to mind for me are around energy consumption… and around raw materials, and understanding at the farm level, or the factory level, the emissions created in producing them.”
Allbirds, which almost exclusively uses wool in its products, realised a while ago that sheep release methane into the atmosphere every day: making wool a high carbon footprint material.
However, the business works together with its farmers to implement regenerative agricultural practices across its farms: while Allbirds’ sheep release carbon, the surrounding farmland is sucking up that carbon and transferring it from the atmosphere back into the ground where it belongs.
“With that vision, our wool supply can actually be a carbon sink, and contribute a great deal to reaching net zero, or being net positive,” Kajimura said.
“We’re not there yet, but we can point to the individual carbon footprint of each farm and we’re making progress.”
Puma: When deciding your focus, look to your data
Allbirds has the advantage of being a relatively new, small company that created its supply chain with the vision of being sustainable from the start.
Sports brand Puma, on the other hand, is currently working through its global business to reduce its total emissions by 30 per cent by 2030, and has already achieved an 88 per cent reduction in its own supply chain emissions relative to sales.
The key to this monumental task, according to the business’ senior head of corporate sustainability Stefan Seidel, is data.
“If you want to reduce [your footprint], the first thing you need to know is what to [focus on], and you need data in the first place to see that,” Seidel said.
“For us, we were able to work out that electricity was making up around 60 to 70 per cent of our scope one and two emissions. So that’s where we started.
“It was pretty obvious that if we moved to renewable electricity in our offices, stores and warehouses globally, we could dramatically reduce our emissions, so that’s what we’ve done.”
Puma was recently awarded an A- for its sustainable efforts by not-for-profit the Carbon Disclosure Project, compared to an fashion industry average of C. In order to improve its score, which started off as a C some years ago, the business needed to have a good handle on where it sat on its ESG journey, and where it was heading.
“It’s been a long journey, and data has helped us to see where to focus, but it hasn’t necessarily helped us to precisely calculate what to do – so we’ve been talking to experts, like the Leather Working Group and the Better Cotton Initiative, to get better data,” Seidel said.
“Data really is the starting point to all of this.”
Reformation: Serve as an example
Sustainable womenswear brand Reformation, which posits itself as the ‘second most sustainable clothing option besides being naked’, has been carbon neutral since 2015.
The next step for them is to be climate positive, and to help other brands become climate positive, according to Kathleen Talbot, chief sustainability officer and VP operations.
“We spent the last several years really trying to figure out, in very tactical ways, what [being climate positive] meant,” Talbot said.
“And we published our internal commitments and roadmap of exactly how we think we can [be climate positive by 2025], and translated it into a B2B guide showing how to become a climate positive business.
“[We wanted to] share the resources, the lessons we’ve learned along the way, and the steps to do it so that any brand that’s interested can check it out. It’s really meant to be your first pass resource.”