Legislation is needed to force fashion’s hand on sustainability

Fashion sustainability

Fashion says it gives a shit about sustainability, we geddit. The greenwashing chorus has reached epic proportions with the majority of brands saying how much they care about *insert – the environment/climate-change/sustainability/recycling/ethical practices/everything and anything – here*.

The latest round of men’s fashion weeks and trade shows were full of it, but it all feels like tinkering. Fashion brands and companies have done most of the easy and cosmetic cost-saving measures. The difficult and expensive bits will be ignored or pushed onto the back burner unless they are forced to, and this is why legislation is so important.

Legislation creates a minimum and also a level playing field for all. It also means, as a consumer, you can be assured that these things should and would be adhered to and what the law is when it comes to these topics. It is a bit Nanny State, but unfortunately it’s the only way to make everybody change and conform. Just look at the tax on plastic bags and also the minimum alcohol pricing in Scotland, it changes behaviours, for the better. Taxes and laws force change and post-Brexit legislation needs to be green focused.

In June 2019, The Environmental Audit Committee published the Government Response to the “Fixing Fashion Report: Clothing Consumption and Sustainability”. The report published in February 2019 called on the Government to end the era of throwaway fashion through wide-ranging recommendations covering environmental and labour market practices. All of which were rejected.

Mary Creagh

Environmental Audit Committee Chair Mary Creagh MP – she has since lost her Labour Wakefield seat to Conservative candidate Imran Khan – said at the time: “Fashion producers should be forced to clear up the mountains of waste they create. The Government has rejected our call, demonstrating that it is content to tolerate practices that trash the environment and exploit workers despite having just committed to net zero emission targets.

“The Government is out of step with the public who are shocked by the fact that we are sending 300,000 tonnes of clothes a year to incineration or landfill. Ministers have failed to recognise that urgent action must be taken to change the fast fashion business model which produces cheap clothes that cost the earth.”

On workers’ rights Mary Creagh said: “We presented the Government with the evidence that it has failed to stop garment workers in this country being criminally underpaid, despite its claim that the number of national minimum wage inspectors has increased.

“The public has a right to know that the clothes they buy are not produced by children or forced labour, however the Government hasn’t accepted our recommendations on the Modern Slavery Act to force fashion retailers to increase transparency in their supply chains.”

The report recommended a new “Extended Producer Responsibility” (EPR) scheme to reduce textile waste with a one penny charge per garment on producers. There is no detail on when the EPR scheme for textiles will be introduced; consultation could run as late as 2025.

It also called for a ban on incinerating or landfilling unsold stock that can be reused or recycled. It was rejected with the government saying it considered positive approaches were required to find outlets for waste textiles rather than simply imposing a landfill ban.

As for mandatory environmental targets for fashion retailers with a turnover above £36 million, not accepted. Government pointed to environmental savings made by a voluntary industry-led programme but it failed to address evidence from WRAP (Waste and Resources Action Programme) that the impact of increased volumes of clothing being sold outweighs efficiency savings made on carbon and water.

A further recommendations that the fashion industry must come together to set out their blueprint for a net zero emissions world, reducing their carbon consumption back to 1990 levels was also mot accepted. The Government pointed to support for the voluntary Sustainable Clothing Action Plan (SCAP), co-ordinated by WRAP with the industry working towards targets to reduce carbon emissions, water and waste.

The EAC recommended that scheme should reward fashion companies that design products with lower environmental impacts and penalise those that do not. Also not accepted. The government said it would focus on tax on single-use plastic in packaging, not clothing.

The report called on the Government to use the tax system to shift the balance of incentives in favour of reuse, repair and recycling to support responsible fashion companies. Also not accepted.

The rejections go on. The report made 18 recommendations covering environmental and labour practices. Many are these are common sense and could be the catalyst for big changes. Relying on voluntary actions is slower and is harder to measure.

Somebody needs to pick up the mantle from Creagh and force this through a post-Brexit parliament. If the government won’t even accept even one penny on each item sold to make the producer more responsible for the end of life of a garment then it feels like they are deaf to all suggestions until we all start to shout. Creagh MP, told TheIndustry.fashion’s “Fashion Futures Forum” in November 2018. “Fashion is the third biggest industry in the world after cars and electronics. If it carries on the way it’s growing we just won’t have enough planetary resources.

It’s Copenhagen Fashion Week, this week, and it is trying to make it the go-to destination for sustainable fashion. “Highly ambitious goals are required to leverage the influence and impact of Copenhagen Fashion Week” said CEO, Cecilie Thorsmark at its opening.

Sustainability
Ganni: one of the most committed sustainable brands at Copenhagen Fashion Week

As such it has launched an action plan requiring participating brands to meet minimum sustainability requirements by 2023. If the brands don’t make the environmental cut then they won’t be eligible to show. There is a list of 17 standards to meet. Some examples are pledging not to destroy unsold clothes, using at least 50% certified, organic, up-cycled or recycled textiles in all collections, using only sustainable packaging and zero-waste set designs for shows.

All industry players – including fashion weeks – have to be accountable for their actions and be willing to change the way business is done. The timeframe for averting the devastating effects of climate change on the planet and people is less than a decade, and we’re already witnessing its catastrophic impacts today. Put simply, there can be no status quo,” said Thorsmark.

The “Sustainability Action Plan 2020-2022” presents how the event will transition to becoming more sustainable, for example by reducing its climate impact by 50% and rethinking waste systems in all aspects of event production, with zero waste as the goal by 2022.  Copenhagen is looking at every little detail, they say they will always “prioritise” selecting sustainable options for supplies, including organic, vegetarian and preferably locally sourced food and snacks, sustainable beverages, no single-use plastic cutlery, straws or tableware, the most environmentally friendly buses available and electric cars. They have stopped using goodie bags and stopped producing new seasonal staff uniforms.

Copenhagen Fashion Week’s own operations have been climate compensated and they support two Verified Carbon Standard and Climate Community and Biodiversity Alliance Gold Level projects through Rensti, respectively tree planting (Tist) and forest conservation (Kariba). They have offset the flights and hotel accommodation of Copenhagen Fashion Week’s invited international guests, its official opening dinner, its press buses (including the organic food and beverages served on the buses), logo stickers for cars and it runs a climate-neutral website.

The Scandinavians are leaders here, but other fashion weeks will quickly follow suit. As for fashion businesses, no business wants to be wasteful, it’s a cost saving to be more efficient, but the easy stuff has been done. It’s time to get hardcore and only governments will have the power. The law is the law. When standards are defined in law then there is a understandable definite. Consumers won’t trust anything else.