Is Carbon Neutral Fashion Just Hot Air?

There has been a lot of talk about “Carbon Neutral Fashion” lately. The keyword “sustainability” remains a focus and go-to phrase for the ecologically fashion minded, but “Carbon Neutral” has taken front stage. Big designer brands like Gucci, Missoni and Ermenegildo Zegna are making bold statements and signing international treaties. But what does it all really mean?

It was back in May 2019 at the Copenhagen Fashion Summit that François-Henri Pinault, CEO of Kering (owner of labels including Gucci, Saint Laurent and Bottega Veneta) introduced the idea of an International Fashion Pact. It was French president Emmanuel Macron that had conceived the idea and entrusted Pinault to creating a “coalition” of fashion brands to work together to set sustainability targets and standards.

Pinault announced, “It’s an official mandate. We must create a coalition. I want to invite CEOs to join the movement and become involved via the Fashion Pact.”


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In an industry that is notoriously competitive and secretive, the idea of working together would have been absurd in the past but considering the urgent state of our planet and climate, the response was immediate. Companies and brands such as PVH (owner of Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger), Chanel, Tapestry (owner of Coach and Kate Spade), Nike, Alexander McQueen, Prada, Hermès, Ermenegildo Zegna, Burberry, Gap, Zara, Nordstrom, and Capri Holdings (owner of Michael Kors, Jimmy Choo and Versace) have all signed. Although Stella McCartney left the Kering group for a rival competitor, the brand joined the pact without hesitation.

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The Fashion Pact which was then presented at the G7 Summit Aug 24, 2019, aims to work on three major objectives drawing on the Science-Based Targets initiative:

  • Stop global warming:by creating and deploying an action plan for achieving the objective of zero greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) by 2050, in order to keep global warming below a 1.5°C pathway between now and 2100.
  • Restore biodiversity:by achieving objectives that use Science-Based Targets (SBT) to restore natural ecosystems and protect species.
  • Protect the oceans:by reducing the fashion industry’s negative impact on the world’s oceans through practical initiatives, such as gradually removing the usage of single-use plastics.

Therefore, after the announcement, from May to September while fashion brands were preparing their new collections for the upcoming fashion week, they were thinking “How can we be creative and fashionable, yet ecological?”

It was in a Sept. 3, 2019 article, that Emily Farra, Senior Fashion News Writer at Vouge reflected upon the “discarded water bottles, press notes, invitations, flowers, and décor” found at the end of a fashion show and posed the provocative question: What’s the Carbon Footprint of a Fashion Show? The answer was: No One Really Knows.

One week later, New York designer Gabriella Hearst announced that her runway show would be completely “Carbon Neutral.” This would be done by analyzing each element of the show; from design to installation, from catering to transport, limiting the use of power and accumulation of waste – all in an effort to reduce the carbon footprint of the production.

A carbon footprint is a calculation of the carbon emissions produced during any given activity (driving, flying, manufacturing etc.) After all efforts to reduce emissions have been implemented, a final calculation is determined. To compensate for these emissions a company or individual can buy offset credits which are essentially donations to organizations that work on reforestation and a range of projects improving environmental quality around the globe.

In Hearst‘s case, with calculations made by Eco Act they were able to determine the total carbon footprint and accordingly offset by sustaining a non-profit in Kenya that provides communities with more efficient stoves. She also made a donation to the Our Children’s Trust, a youth advocacy group fighting for climate change.

According to carbonfootprint.com,the average carbon footprint of an individual in most industrialized countries is 11 tons per year. (To offset this 11 tons, it would cost a mere $87.92.)

Just days after Hearst announced her Carbon Neutral fashion show, Marco Bizzarri, CEO of Gucci announced in a press release that the company would commit to 100% carbon neutrality. He wrote, “A new era of corporate accountability is upon us and we need to be diligent in taking all steps to mitigate our impacts, including being transparent and responsible for our GHG emissions across our supply chains.”

In efforts to reduce carbon footprints, fashion brands are booking local models rather than flying international celebrities to shooting locations.

Since the Fashion Pact was presented, there are now 56 companies representing 250 brands (as of Oct. 2019) which have pledged to make changes and implement strategies that will cut down on GHG emissions.

How are fashion companies making real changes for climate change?

In addition to offsetting calculated GHG emissions, fashion companies are confronting the problem of climate change, some of which are:

  • Sourcing ecological and environmentally friendly produced raw materials and textiles
  • Dedicating research to the use and creation of low impact materials and packaging
  • Managing and recycling waste and discarded material
  • Limiting over production
  • Using recycled materials
  • Determining best logistics for efficient transportation
  • Hiring local workers and consultants at manufacturing locations
  • Hiring local models and consultants for show and ad production
  • Using recycled materials in building sets and stages
  • Using recycled materials and upcycling buildings when creating new retail locations
  • Supporting initiatives to help young designers and artisans
  • Educating the consumer about the impact of their choices

What can the consumer do?

  • Ask how something is made and where it comes from
  • Buy from brands that are committed to real change
  • Trade or swap
  • Rent or borrow when possible
  • Support local artisans and designers

Returning to the original question: Is Carbon Neutral Fashion Just Hot Air?

They say, “Actions speak louder than words.” Time will only tell if these actions will result in real change and improvement for our planet.


Read the Full Fashion Pact here

The original supporters of the Fashion Pact:

ADIDAS, ARMANI GROUP, AUCHAN RETAIL, BALLY, BESTSELLER, BURBERRY, CALZEDONIA GROUP, CAPRI HOLDINGS LIMITED, CARREFOUR, CHANEL, CELIO, DAMARTEX GROUP, DECATHLON, EL CORTE INGLES, ERALDA, ETAM GROUP, ERMENEGILDO ZEGNA, EVERYBODY & EVERYONE, FARFETCH, FASHION3, FIGARET, FUNG GROUP, GANT, GALERIES LAFAYETTE, GAP Inc., GEOX, GROUPE BEAUMANOIR, GROUPE ERAM, GTS GROUP, H&M GROUP, HERMES, INDITEX, KARL LAGERFELD, KERING, KIABI, LA REDOUTE, LADY LAWYER FASHION ARCHIVE, MANGO, MATCHESFASHION.COM, MONCLER, NANA JUDY, NIKE, NORDSTROM, PAUL & JOE, PRADA S.p.A., PROMOD, PUMA, PVH Corp., RALPH LAUREN, RUYI, SALVATORE FERRAGAMO, SELFRIDGES GROUP, SPARTOO-ANDRE, STELLA MCCARTNEY, TAPESTRY, THE VISUALITY CORPORATION.

Additional members:
AUCHAN RETAIL, BALLY, CALZEDONIA GROUP, CELIO, DAMARTEX GROUP, DECATHLON, EL CORTE INGLES, ERALDA, ETAM GROUP, FARFETCH, FIGARET, GANT, GEOX, GROUPE BEAUMANOIR, GROUPE ERAM, GTS GROUP, KIABI, LADY LAWYER FASHION ARCHIVE, MANGO, NANA JUDY, PAUL & JOE, PROMOD, SPARTOO-ANDRE, THE VISUALITY CORPORATION.


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Celia Abernethy

Celia is the founder and managing editor at MilanoStyle.com. Originally from New York, she now spends her time between Milan and Lake Como sharing her discoveries and experiences living in Italy. Follow @CeliaAbernethy on Twitter