Good COP/Bad COP
Welcome to the third instalment of Cradle, the newsletter crafted for our industry and for opinion formers, policy makers and everyone in-between. With our dual message of urgent action and high ambition, Cradle has always aimed to be timely, but we didn’t realise just how pivotal this dual message would become.
ays before the beginning of the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow, the world learnt that planned emissions cuts (those carbon budgets presented to COP in the form of Nationally Determined Contributions) would deliver just a paltry extra 7.5% cut to global emissions, when reductions of 55% are needed to avert dangerous (and potentially catastrophic) global temperature rise. This leaves us asking, where is the ambition? Where is the commitment?
Despite the difficulties, there are however many things that can still be achieved at COP26 through real, honest dialogue where actions are based on the science and not the politics and spin. For example, if industrialised nations are held to account and pay up (as promised) to help majority world nations deliver their NDCs we start to move closer to the Paris goals. There is real work to be done in implementing the rulebook of the Paris Agreement and we would love to see a pact created in Glasgow of binding, real emissions cuts.
As a priority industry for greening for the EU zone, fashion and textiles is of course represented at the summit, and we are positive that there can be progress in our sector, in this issue of Cradle we recap our four-point plan around emissions in this sector – but again ambition and real commitment are needed. Those are the driving characteristics of youth leaders working internationally on ecological and social change.
Also in this issue we ask how our industry can step up and support these leaders and the projects that guarantee real change. We hope you enjoy this edition, and look forward to hearing your response to the concerns raised.
The Cradle Essay
Make the Label Count campaign calls for EU to prevent proposed greenwashing clothing labels
You will no doubt be familiar with the EU’s plan for eco-labelling of clothing. From 2023, all clothes and shoes sold in the EU will be assigned a colour-coded label. This follows a course set by the traffic light labelling system on food products in some territories denoting green (for healthy) through to red (unhealthy), but in this case aims to offer a guide to planetary health. That is the aim but as Professor Ingun Grimstad Klepp the renowned sustainable textiles expert from Consumption Research Norway (SIFO) commented recently ‘The aims [of the EU’s eco labelling plan] are super. The outcomes will be the problem’.
Professor Klepp was speaking at the recent launch of Make the Label Count, an international coalition supported by Eco Age and many others from the natural fibre industries who have come together to challenge the use of flawed methodology based on incomplete life cycle analysis that underpins the proposed Product Environmental Footprint (PEF).
This model will ultimately promote unsustainable choices to consumers as it erroneously downgrades sustainable natural fibres. At the campaign launch event, Professor Klepp also addressed the way that assumptions continue to be made in favour of fossil fuel-based fibres when in fact there are substantive research gaps in terms of durability and longevity of garments.
At Eco-Age, we have long championed the introduction of sustainability labelling on garments. We see eco labelling as a critical tool to enable sustainable consumption and to embed real circularity. Unfortunately it quickly became clear that the EU’s pathway to labelling is severely compromised by flawed methodology. Left unchecked, under this system fossil fuelled fashion (ie made from oil based synthetics) will be given a higher eco rating than natural fibres, as the substantive part of their impact will not be accounted for.
Dalena White, Make the Label Count co-spokesperson and Secretary General of the International Wool Textile Organisation told the media: “If proposed clothing labelling legislation should exclude things like renewability, microplastic pollution and biodegradability, consumers will question whether they’re being told the truth about the sustainability of a garment or the real impact of their purchasing decisions on our planet and people.”
At the event, Make the Label Count co-spokesperson and Eco-Age founder and Creative Director, Livia Firth used her keynote speech to issue a powerful warning that “To build that label on a base of misinformation and skewed science at this point would be unforgivable. It could potentially unleash billions more items made of non-biodegradable petrochemical plastic polymers on to a patchy global waste system that is already unable to cope.”
She added that it went even further than that, “These decisions scale: they effect where investment goes. ESG funds so badly needed to help tackle the climate crisis, could end up underpinning more pollution. These decisions also have a bearing on millions of lives in the cotton fields of the global south for example.”
From the outside, Make the Label Count can look like a campaign about fairness and injustice and indeed there is an issue here in terms of creating a level playing field for natural fibres, but the simple fact must surely be that a clothing label based on flawed methodology will not accomplish the goal it was created to. It will not provide the consumer with more sustainable fashion and it will not lighten the impact of fashion on the ecosystem, indeed it may well increase it.
Meanwhile when you factor in the urgency of the global backdrop; a climate and nature crisis of unprecedented proportions – it is clear that we do not have time for a mistake of this magnitude. We cannot afford to drive more fossil fuel production for fashion. As we acknowledged in previous issues of Cradle, this takes us in completely the wrong direction. At the heart of this campaign is the battle to act on the science and to tackle the rise in global temperatures by cutting emissions. The most efficient way of doing this, and the only effective way given the timescale is to leave fossil fuels in the ground.
Paola Migliorini, from the EU DG Environment stressed at the Make the Label Count launch that we are only mid-way through this process signalling that there is scope for intervention. We hope so. We also hope there is scope to address a number of assumptions and errors, in particular the argument highlighted that there is a large amount of people who have inputted to the PEF process as if to suggest the democracy of the process. Professor Klepp pointed out, ‘There are a lot of people involved, yes. But they are representatives of the biggest brands on earth. It is actually a democratic problem, because it is so technical that so few people have access to the knowledge’.
Therefore one of the purposes of the European Commission must also be to truly democratise this issue and socialise the purpose and opportunity of fact based eco labelling. There is so much at stake here that this job is urgent and of critical importance. As Livia concluded, “If we make a mistake on labels, we lose our moral authority to combat all other types of greenwash too. There is an epidemic of greenwash in our industry*. Overclaims on sustainability will damage all of us because we will simply fail to deliver on the emissions cuts we need to ensure a liveable planet’.
Make the Label Count is our chance, and yours, to make sure we do not fail.
*Look out for the next issue of Cradle when we will bring news on the steps we’re taking to tackle greenwash in the fashion industry.
ECO LABELS: A short history of eco labels.
The origins of today’s proposed eco label for clothing lie in Dolphin friendly tuna and US cotton.
Last month, in association with our partners, Eco-Age launched The Renaissance Awards filmed in Florence – the cradle of the first Renaissance – using augmented reality and transmitted to a global audience. The awards movie focused on the authentic empowerment of young leaders.
Our film and process took a broader view than fashion, showing how young people across the world are reforming and building capacity for great change in science, in sport, in health and in social resistance. We catalogued a transference of power and authority that is the most effective tool to delivering climate and nature goals. We recommend that this becomes a bedrock of fashion’s transition to a green and equitable industry.
In our last issue of Cradle, we set out our mini manifesto highlighting four things that need to happen in the fashion and textiles industry in order for the fashion industry to tackle emissions and pursue a genuine Paris-pathway (ie limiting global temperature rise to well below two degrees). In summary we demand the following: showing how young people across the world are reforming and building capacity for great change in science, in sport, in health and in social resistance. We catalogued a transference of power and authority that is the most effective tool to delivering climate and nature goals. We recommend that this becomes a bedrock of fashion’s transition to a green and equitable industry.
1. We want deeper and better regulation.
2. Cut coal now.
3. Reverse a ‘dangerous dependency’ on synthetic fibres.
4. Challenge methodology that gives fossil fibres a free pass.
However at Eco-Age, all our modelling goes beyond carbon and we never work on sustainability without including the framework of social sustainability. Cutting emissions in incredibly important, but we must also ask how we take a holistic view of the entire industry and create one that delivers both a liveable planet and workable industry (ie sustains decent livelihoods for the longterm across the supply chain). Post Covid the ‘build back’ rhetoric is understandably strong in fashion. But we need to take this opportunity to build differently. For that reason we are adding a 5th key deliverable for this industry:
5. Give young leaders a real stake in this industry.
Because while the fashion industry has long built its reputation on nurturing the next generation – something folded into the very structure of fashion in the form of Next Gen fashion shows, incubator labs, bursaries and so on – there is ironically very little going on to embed the next generation in the fabric of the industry. Youth remains commoditised, employed primarily when fashion wants to ensure an ongoing consumer base. The bid to mirror the ethics of millennial consumers for example has led to some superficial change. But this is not enough and it does a disservice to a global population that is far more attuned to the climate and nature crisis, and often far more expert.
In short this industry needs to stop viewing youth populations as consumers alone. It also needs to be alert to tokenism, and the pernicious form of greenwashing, ‘youthwash’ that involves placing the occasional young person front of centre on stage or in a campaign but without giving that person agency. At COP26 many youth leaders (who by the way, are extremely experienced in climate negotiations) have found it a struggle to get accreditation for the major meetings. They are underfunded (often working multiple jobs to fund their own attendance at climate summits) and marginalised. We must do better. In the fashion industry we should set goals and divert resource to making sure that young climate and environmental leaders are front and centre of our own race to zero. In turn this means sharpening our own commitments and delinking from the oil and coal industry (as per our manifesto).