COP26 - Can profit and sustainability align to reduce the textile industry’s carbon footprint?

COP26 is currently taking place in Glasgow, bringing almost every country together to reach agreements on how to tackle climate change. 

Textile Exchange, along with 50 fashion and textile companies, are pushing for a trade policy at COP26 that incentivises the use of environmentally preferred materials. But, can profit and sustainability really align on a global scale?

The fashion industry is responsible for 10% of global carbon emissions, more than international flights and maritime shipping combinedIn line with the Paris agreement, it is the industry goal of a 45% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from textile fibre and material production by 2030.

Global textile production shows no sign of slowing down, and the textile industry is no closer to reducing its carbon footprint, or meeting the Paris agreement goal by 2030. 

Textile Exchange are calling for preferential tariffs on materials such as recycled fibres, organic cotton, modal etc. This, in turn, would incentivise more brands to use environmentally friendly materials without taking a hit on profit or raising the RRP. What’s more, is that it could also level the playing field for companies that source environmentally preferred materials to compete against companies who do not. The similar price points would encourage more consumers to buy from ethical businesses.

‘Patagonia has enjoyed a 17% reduction in product carbon intensity as a result of scaling recycled polyester, recycled nylon, organic cotton, and other environmentally preferred materials’ Matt Dwyer, VP Product Impact and Innovation

Whilst sustainable brands such as Patagonia have seen an encouraging decrease in carbon emissions since using environmentally preferred materials, if demand increased globally, could the production of environmentally preferred materials keep up?

One example is that whilst organic cotton production is better for the environment, it requires a lot more land than conventional cotton. According to WWF, in the biggest cotton producing countries (India, US, Pakistan, China) 2.4% of the farmable land is already used for growing cotton. By opting for a less effective method such as organic cotton would require 25% more land. 

Another example is Recycled Polyester (rPET), produced by PET plastic water bottles, which is recycled into fibres and blended into fabrics. ALPLA indicated that the production of rPET produced 79% less carbon emissions compared to virgin PET. However scaling the production of Recycled Polyester, would mean relying on the supply of plastic water bottles. So, even though you are reducing carbon emissions through not producing virgin polyester, we can’t rely on the production of PET to reduce carbon emissions. 

Whilst environmentally preferred materials face challenges to scaling up globally, Textile Exchange has provided a practical solution to our governments to tackle reducing carbon emissions in the fashion industry. There is no one solution, but aligning profit and sustainability, incentivising brands to use more environmentally preferred materials is a positive path forward towards a more sustainable future. 

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Molly James

Writer’s Bio: Molly is our Conscious Living Buyer, a graduate in International Development with Spanish and a lover of anything with Peanut Butter.

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