Make The Label Count

We are in a dual crisis; a climate and a nature crisis. As the UN secretary general Antonio Gutteres put it so well, this is code red for humanity.

Let’s start with the Earth and ecosystems, because that is where we must begin all our conversations. In ecology there exists the concept of the sliding baseline. It’s a tragic term coined by the oceanographer Callum Roberts. Every generation takes their current ecological circumstances as their reality. They don’t know to enquire about the birds, and the butterflies and the small fish or the flowers that were there before but are now lost. Each generation inherits a more degraded version of nature. This speeds up. Eventually we are left with nothing.

The fashion and textile industry is an ecosystem too. It has been consistently degraded until we can’t remember how much we’ve lost. Occasionally we get glimpses; we remember that this could and should be an ecosystem of producers, designers, manufacturers working within the limits of nature. We are reminded that human livelihoods and social sustainability are as important as technical plans to decarbonise. But most of the time we accept a degraded and degrading system as reality.
We have long argued that people who buy fashion – I do not like the term consumers, as it is reductive – should have more information and be more strongly connected to the garments they buy. Labelling is part of preventing that slide into complacency. Done right, it could be much more. Through regenerative agriculture, through better science about the production of natural fibres we should be able to reflect this ambition through the labels. We can Make the Label Count but only if we base all the underpinning methodology on science, real, fact based evidence.

We are in danger of doing the exact opposite. 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. 

But it goes 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.

We must correct course, and we must do it now. We have seen poor, incomplete and skewed science promising the world solutions before. We all remember the distorted information used in the automotive emissions scandal and in the case of green biofuels. These are not just ugly chapters, they double the workload elsewhere. It can take a generation to get back on course. 

We do not have the time.

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 cuts we need to ensure a liveable planet.

This is the time to be authentic and to follow the science. To keep 1.5 alive, or anywhere close, we must not just drastically cut emissions, but we must regenerate soils and oceans and forests and allow them function as carbon sinks. We must restore our ecosystems to health so that they can function.

This is what the science tells us. We don’t negotiate with the science, we don’t distort the science, we just use it to form our pathway. This echoes what the great youth climate leaders are telling us when it comes to global carbon emission reductions and we need to hear them in this industry too. Making the label count is a wider issue than jostling for customer attention, or trying to latch on to an enthusiasm for sustainable fashion. It is about linking this garment to the science and protocols that will deliver us a liveable planet. There is that much at stake. 

It is time to Make the Label Count.