The fashion industry is one of the biggest contributors to global greenhouse gas emissions, producing more than the shipping and aviation sectors combined. But in recent years, more and more fashion brands have been taking concrete steps to reduce their carbon footprint and align with the goals of the Paris Agreement. One of the most popular ways to do this is by joining the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi), a global framework that helps companies set ambitious and measurable emissions reduction targets.
What is SBTi and why is it important?
SBTi was formed in 2015 as a collaboration between the UN Global Compact, the World Resources Institute, the World Wide Fund for Nature and the CDP (formerly the Carbon Disclosure Project). It aims to help companies align their emissions reduction strategies with the latest climate science and the Paris Agreement, which seeks to limit global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.
SBTi provides sector-specific guidance and validation for companies that want to set science-based targets, which are defined as targets that are consistent with the level of decarbonization required to keep global temperature increase well below 2°C compared to pre-industrial temperatures. SBTi also requires companies to report their progress annually and publicly disclose their targets and performance.
By joining SBTi, fashion brands can demonstrate their commitment to climate action and gain credibility and trust from their customers, investors, suppliers and stakeholders. SBTi also helps brands identify and manage climate risks and opportunities, as well as drive innovation and competitiveness in the market.
Which fashion brands have joined SBTi and what are their targets?
According to SBTi, as of November 2023, there are 261 apparel and footwear companies that have either set or committed to set science-based targets, representing a 45% increase from the previous year. These include some of the biggest names in the industry, such as Nike, H&M, Gap, Levi’s, Kering, LVMH and Burberry.
The targets vary depending on the size, scope and ambition of each company, but they generally cover both direct and indirect emissions from their operations and supply chains. For example, Nike has committed to reduce its absolute scope 1 and 2 emissions (from its own facilities and purchased energy) by 65% by 2030 from a 2015 base year, and its scope 3 emissions (from its products, transportation, distribution and end-of-life) by 30% by 2030 from a 2016 base year. H&M has committed to reduce its absolute scope 1 and 2 emissions by 40% by 2030 from a 2017 base year, and its scope 3 emissions by 59% per ton of product by 2030 from a 2017 base year.
Some brands have also gone beyond SBTi and pledged to achieve net-zero emissions by a certain date, meaning that they will balance any remaining emissions with carbon removals. For example, Burberry became the first luxury fashion brand to receive SBTi approval for its net-zero emissions target in August 2022. The British label aims to reduce its absolute scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions by 46% by 2030 from a 2019 base year, and reach net-zero emissions by 2040.
How are fashion brands achieving their targets and what are the challenges?
To achieve their science-based targets, fashion brands have to implement various measures across their value chain, from design and production to distribution and consumption. Some of the common actions include:
- Switching to renewable energy sources for their own operations and encouraging their suppliers to do the same
- Improving energy efficiency and reducing waste in their facilities and processes
- Using more sustainable and recycled materials and reducing the use of water, chemicals and packaging
- Promoting circularity and extending the lifespan of their products through repair, reuse and recycling
- Educating and engaging their customers and employees on sustainable consumption and behavior
However, achieving these targets is not easy, especially for an industry that is driven by fast fashion, consumer demand and global competition. Some of the challenges that fashion brands face include:
- Lack of data and transparency in their supply chains, which makes it difficult to measure and monitor their emissions and impacts
- High dependency on external suppliers and manufacturers, which limits their control and influence over their emissions and practices
- High costs and risks associated with investing in new technologies, materials and business models that support low-carbon transition
- Low awareness and willingness among consumers and stakeholders to pay more for sustainable products and services
What is the future of fashion and climate action?
Despite the challenges, more fashion brands are expected to join SBTi and set science-based targets in the coming years, as the pressure and urgency to act on climate change grows. According to SBTi, at least 73 apparel companies have committed to set near-term targets in 2023, and more are likely to follow suit.
However, setting targets is not enough. Fashion brands also have to deliver on their promises and show tangible results and progress. This requires not only technical and operational changes, but also cultural and systemic changes. Fashion brands have to rethink their purpose and values, and align them with the needs and expectations of their customers and society. They also have to collaborate and cooperate with their peers, suppliers, regulators and civil society, and create a shared vision and roadmap for a more sustainable and resilient fashion industry.
By joining SBTi and setting science-based targets, fashion brands are taking a positive and proactive step towards fighting climate change. But they also have to remember that this is not the end, but the beginning of a long and challenging journey.