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  • Writer's pictureDavid Connolly

OP-ED: Why COP26 should be the moment that changes the fashion industry forever

It's rare for a high-ranking executive at a major luxury conglomerate to issue a personal plea on the urgency of climate change and to outline specific steps that the industry needs to take to address it. It's also rare for Vogue Business to publish op-eds.

With COP26 underway and the global stakes as high as they are, we felt it was a good time to try something new. Here, we welcome Marie-Claire Daveu — chief sustainability officer at Kering, the parent company of luxury houses Gucci, Balenciaga and others, and a renowned voice on sustainability throughout the fashion industry — as she shares her vision for the role that fashion needs to play in responding to the crisis we all face. - Rachel Cernansky, Senior Sustainability Editor, Vogue Business.

Fashion is one of the most polluting industries in the world. This may be an uncomfortable truth for the industry to confront, but it is a fact, and one that must be addressed urgently.

Ten per cent of global carbon emissions is estimated to come from the fashion industry at large, while around 48 per cent of fashion’s supply chain is linked with deforestation. Huge quantities of water are consumed by the industry annually, and the world’s waterways are polluted at all stages of the value chain.

We are now in week one of COP26, and the world is looking to the conference for urgent actions and answers to tackle the most important issue of the century: climate change. At its heart, the luxury industry leads the way when it comes to global trends, and I believe that we have a responsibility to be an integral part of this conversation. I am convinced that it is not an option, but a duty to step up and be vocal.

The time to change is now

The classic fashion model of make, take and waste is unacceptable; instead, sustainability must be built into the very DNA of a company’s strategy. Sustainability is not a constraint for creativity — if you present it as such, you kill the potential. It’s an opportunity, an invitation to be better, now called for by customers and investors alike.

Within the fashion industry, there is often a fall back on sustainable capsule collections or one-off initiatives. While all of this is a step in the right direction, there needs to be a massive shift across the sector to examine every aspect of the supply chain from raw materials to end products.

We have to move past siloed thinking as an industry, and work together to enact real change. The fashion industry’s combined potential to become climate and nature positive is too great to ignore, and therefore we need to ramp up change with more urgency from COP26 onwards.

Collaboration is key

While we can hope that all countries participating in COP26 will accelerate necessary actions to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement, the fashion industry needs to unite on a global scale to ensure ambitious commitments and reduced carbon outputs.

The Fashion Pact, which was originally launched by Kering chairman and CEO François-Henri Pinault in 2019 at the behest of French President Emmanuel Macron, now has 35 per cent of the fashion and textile industry working together on common goals focused on climate, biodiversity and oceans.

Modern luxury is open and collaborative. As larger companies and conglomerates, with all the resources and privileges that bestows, we have a responsibility to share best practice. We should support and mentor small companies, share resources and open source our methodologies. Our Environmental Profit and Loss (EP&L) accounting was designed with this in mind any company can access the methodology to gain new insights into their business and pathways to mitigate their footprint. Change is only meaningful when it’s universal: we can’t do this by ourselves.

Concrete, quantitative and transparent targets

We have a responsibility not just to raise awareness but to offer concrete solutions. The best way to ensure that we are on the right path is to set ambitious, science-based targets that we, as an industry, can be held to.

The entire fashion sector should be setting net zero targets and timelines to align with a 1.5°C pathway, as well as creating clear objectives and measurable targets which can be validated by the Science Based Targets initiative.

Around 90 per cent of fashion’s environmental impact occurs in the supply chain, and while customers cannot see these impacts directly, this is where the real change can happen and where the majority of targets and actions must be directed. By focusing on a radical approach to biodiversity conservation and the multi-benefits of regenerative farming, immediate and positive change for nature and climate is possible — especially across fashion’s key raw material supply chains for cotton, wool, cashmere and leather. This will not only change the rules of the game in fashion, but regenerative agriculture is a key game changer for the future.

As part of the industry’s targets, circularity is essential to sustainable success. We need to limit our reliance on new resources and extend the life of the materials and the products themselves. With all targets, we must transparently report on progress and innovation. All stakeholders should be able to see the progress made (or failed to be made, in some cases), and this should be easy to access and easy to understand.

We need to increase the speed of change, and hopefully COP26 will be the impetus that we need to really get moving. We know that on climate change and biodiversity loss, we have less than 10 years to turn things around.

While I am optimistic, to seriously drive change, we need policy to create a level-playing field. However, we must not wait for policy to change — the fashion industry must act today. The hope is that COP26 results in concrete actions to move the Paris Agreement forward, but action from the private sector is going to be essential to its success. And while COP26 is a rallying cry for our industry to commit and recommit to being better, we must all do the hard work to not only stay on course on emissions reductions but also to restore the natural systems we have relied on for centuries. Only then can we truly be in service to our planet and to our future.

Original article: here

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