Top fashion brands are drenched in oil

Stand.Earth report gave Fs to 20 companies, including American Eagle Outfitters, MEC and Prada

Illustration by Benoit Tardif

News in September that Lululemon would be knocking Hudson’s Bay off the podium as the new official outfitter for Team Canada at the next four Olympic Games got a lot of “lululovers” excited.

Environmentalist activists weren’t quite as thrilled. A few weeks prior, environmental organization Stand.earth issued a scorecard assessing 47 fashion companies on the steps being taken to eliminate fossil fuels from manufacturing, materials and shipping processes. Team Canada’s new outfitter had a poor showing, with a D-.

“Lululemon’s continued dependence on fossil fuels poses a significant investor and brand risk, and is inconsistent with its values,” said Muhannad Malas, senior climate campaigner at Stand.earth, in a statement. The Vancouver-headquartered yoga-pant maker has “a critical opportunity to rise to the top and become a climate leader by committing to ditch coal and invest in a rapid transition to renewable energy,” he added.

Lululemon has made commitments to cut the intensity of its carbon emissions, but only three companies assessed – REI, Asics and Mammut – committed to curbing absolute emissions across their supply chains by 55% or more by 2030.

The scorecard measures performance in five areas: climate commitments and transparency, renewable and energy-efficient manufacturing, renewable energy advocacy, low-carbon clothing materials, and greener shipping.

No company earned a perfect score, but sportswear brands were clearly in the lead, with Mammut earning a B- (the highest overall), followed by Nike (C+), then Asics, Puma, Levi’s and VF Corporation (maker of The North Face and Timberland) tying with Cs.

Patagonia, Adidas and Canadian outdoor outfitter Arc’teryx were also in the top 10.

Twenty companies, including American Eagle Outfitters, Esprit, Everlane, MEC and Prada, received Fs.

Textile production is considered one of the world’s most polluting industries, churning out more tonnes of carbon dioxide per year than international flights and shipping combined. A large chunk of the clothing manufacturing occurs in China, India, Bangladesh and Vietnam, countries heavily reliant on coal power plants, which increases the carbon footprint of every garment.

On the climate advocacy side, H&M, Levi’s and VF Corp. earned points for using their influence to caution Cambodia against plans to increase coal-fired power and to encourage support for renewable energy in Vietnam.

“Fashion companies in Vietnam contribute to the majority of national exports,” said Nguy Thi Khanh, executive director of the Green Innovation and Development Centre. “As an important energy user, the fashion sector plays a crucial role in accelerating energy transformation.”

The fabrics themselves are another big hurdle. More than 60% of textile fibres are now synthetic, and fossil-fuel-derived polyester has overtaken cotton as the most popular clothing fabric. Several sportswear and fast fashion companies assessed – including Lululemon, Under Armour, Zara and Uniqlo – were flagged in the report as facing “major challenges in transitioning to low-carbon materials since fossil fuel-derived fabrics like polyester make up a large proportion of their materials mix.”

“If we want to continue to have the Winter Olympics, we have to transition off fossil fuels to renewable energy as rapidly as possible,” said Malas. “The runway is getting shorter for companies to move from commitments to actions.”

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