As an industry, we are faced with many issues and challenges when it comes to sustainability. As one company, it is impossible to have all the answers and solutions. Luckily, there are organisations like the Global Fashion Agenda (GFA) that combine the knowledge and resources from different organisations and authorities on sustainability-related topics. To drive sustainable change in the right direction we all need to focus on the issues that matter, and share the right knowledge and tools. Because if each company concentrates individually on the same topics, real progress can be made collectively. That is what the GFA Monitor 2022 is about – and we created a summary for you to know what these topics are.
Fashion has entered a new era - the majority of fashion leaders recognise the importance of sustainability and the need for change.
This shift in mindset is overdue; less than 8 years remain to align the industry with the 1.5-degree pathway and achieve the Sustainable Development Goals as laid out by the United Nations. Systemic issues remain, and progress is too slow.
The use of conventional virgin resources and emissions must be significantly reduced.
Systems must be established to pay a living wage to all garment workers.
“Fashion has the potential to drive positive social and economic development for garment workers, their families, and their communities by upholding human rights, creating secure working conditions, paying fair wages, and promoting wellbeing”.
Circular design principles and circular business models will play a major role in achieving carbon and waste reduction targets - circular efforts should be adopted and accelerated by all fashion brands.
Why sustainability in fashion?
There are many reasons why sustainability and fashion need to be united. The fashion industry is a massive contributor to global CO2 emissions. In 2018, the apparel and footwear industry contributed the same quantity as France, Germany and the United Kingdom combined: 2.1 billion tons of emissions. That is 4% of the global total. The fashion industry is also one of the most significant and resource intensive industries, and is an industry projected to grow. By the year 2030, global garment production will have increased by 63%, which can be compared to 700 billion shirts.
The industry employs more than 70 million people along the supply chain, most of whom are women (nearly 75%). Unfortunately, the industry is not known for its strong human rights, social equality, and fair working conditions. Today's business model of the industry is far from fully sustainable, and that is why a big change is still needed to reach the Sustainable Development Goals.
"A sustainable business model is a source of value creation and improved resilience"
Lately, the industry is advancing towards a sustainable, inclusive, and resilient direction. The reason could be the growing adoption of the International Accord for Health and Safety in the Garment and Textile Industry and the introduction of due diligence laws at the brand level. A sustainable business model is a source of value creation and improved resilience. But there is a clear need for guidance on which issues to prioritise and how to act to achieve tangible impact fast.
About Global Fashion Agenda
Global Fashion Agenda (GFA) is a non-profit organisation that has been active since 2009 and organises the yearly Global Fashion Summit in Copenhagen. It is an organisation that fosters industry collaboration on sustainability in fashion to drive impact.
Visit https://globalfashionagenda.org/about-global-fashion-agenda/ for more information.
GFA Monitor 2022
The GFA Monitor is a co-creation with Global Fashion Agenda's Impact Partners and stakeholders that gives expert insight from multiple organisations and specialisation within different areas. More than 30 partners and organisations are behind the result of the report (Ellen MacArthur Foundation, Higg, Textile Exchange, Fashion Revolution etc.). The monitor's purpose is to guide the fashion industry to continue in the direction of becoming sustainable. We have created a summary with the important messages of how you, as a brand, can be a part of the journey.
The report has a clear message: "...less than eight years remain to align the industry with the 1.5-degree pathway and achieve the Sustainable Development Goals…". This is one of the opening statements of the GFA Monitor 2022 which illustrate the urgency for the change. The report is created to provide the leaders in the fashion industry with guidance to achieve the goal of a net-positive industry by 2050.
To accomplish a net-positive fashion industry, that gives more than it takes, the GFA Monitor pleads to fashion leaders to join forces with their peers and partners across the fashion value cycle to create a systemic change on five fronts:
Respectful and Secure Work Environments
Better Wage Systems
Smart Material Choices
In the GFA Monitor 2022, each front is presented in separate chapters with action areas in different sections, which we also re-create in this summary.
1. Respectful and Secure Work Environments
Human rights abuses still exist throughout the fashion value chain of 70 million employees. Some improvements have been made and issues like low wages have been addressed, although many employees still don't receive a living wage or fair compensation and continue to live in poverty. Four key areas are identified to implement actions within to achieve respectful and secure work environments:
Implementation of responsible purchasing practices and increased transparency of working conditions to promote workplace health and safety.
Driving equality and empowerment both at the corporate level and throughout the fashion value cycle, e.g., by sanctioning discrimination, addressing (gender) wage gaps, and ensuring equal access to training opportunities.
Improving the terms of employment by building stronger systems for the protection and representation of garment workers; especially more vulnerable groups at risk of unauthorised subcontracting and forced labour.
Developing better social protection of workers, supported by collective bargaining agreements, to promote the long-term resilience of the industry.
Actions the GFA Monitor suggest to build a more inclusive and equitable fashion industry involve actively supporting equal opportunities, annually disclosing diversity data, working with unions to raise awareness for the issues, and conducting risk assessments. Adopting strict zero-tolerance policies on gender-based violence and strict measures to prevent sexual harassment. Maintaining fair contract terms supports sustainability and human wellbeing, therefore brands and manufacturers should take increasing responsibility for garment workers employed by subcontractors to promote better terms of employment. And lastly, safeguarding workers' rights, regarding the risk of forced labour, and secure fair working hours.
More action points can be found in the GFA Monitor 2022.
Principles of Fair Labor & Responsible Sourcing - Fair Labor
Fair Working Hours Guide - Fair Wear Foundation
2. Better Wage Systems
Today's wages are far below what is considered 'living wages' in most garment-producing countries. A living wage is what workers need to reach a decent standard of living and is a universally recognised human right. The wage system is complex, many fashion brands usually do not control workers' wages, and the brand alone will not be able to achieve a better wage system. However, they must act in lockstep with retailers, suppliers, trade unions, governments, and NGOs. The change is required in four areas:
Adopting more reasonable purchasing practices that reflect direct and indirect labour costs in supplier payments and support long-term partnerships with manufacturers.
Enabling the implementation of the right to freedom of association and promoting an environment in which collective bargaining agreements help ensure reasonable wage growth.
Promoting wage parity by putting mechanisms in place to enable all workers to partake in wages and benefits that have been negotiated, regardless of gender, race, and nationality.
Promoting wage protection and security, e.g., by adopting digital wage payments (wire transfers) and implementing responsible order exit processes and policies.
Actions are needed to be taken to achieve a better wage system. For example, an accomplice needs to be planned to reflect the needs of all stakeholders, workers and local communities, investors, brands, and suppliers. Promoting freedom of association and collective bargaining can enable suppliers to compete on quality and innovation. Furthermore, establishing equal wages for equal work (no discrimination) and frequently collect wage data and report the progress.
More action areas can be found in the GFA Monitor 2022.
The Five Principles of Responsible Purchasing Practices - Better Buying Initiative
Higg Facility Social & Labor Module - Higg, SAC
Living Wage Estimates - GLCW
3. Resource Stewardship
As mentioned in the beginning, the fashion industry contributes to 4% of the global CO2 emissions annually, and is also the third-largest user of freshwater. In the industry, chemicals are used in every step of textile manufacturing, which are toxic for the workers and can also be harmful in the end-of-life stage. Continued trajected emissions will increase global temperatures, extreme weather, and consequences for humans, businesses, the planet, and its biodiversity. A net-positive fashion industry requires a holistic resource stewardship approach, and actions are needed for four impact areas:
Increasing energy efficiency and the use of renewable sources to divert coal use, curb emissions to air and limit global warming.
Driving towards less extractive sourcing models and adopt regenerative solutions to lower the impact on land and protect biodiversity.
Pursuing a context-driven approach to water stewardship that aims to mitigate shared water risks and contributes to positive basin outcomes and value creation at scale.
Eliminating hazardous chemicals and ramping up sustainable chemical management to minimize the risk to water, land, and people.
To achieve the targets, the report suggests that the industry must increase energy efficiency and renewable sources to limit global warming and stop using coal that contributes to emissions in the atmosphere, for example, by phasing-out all non-renewable energy sources throughout the supply chain. The industry also needs to improve transparency and enable tracking of decarbonisation impacts and energy consumption. We need to be more water-efficient and address the shared water challenges over the entire value cycle, from fibre to consumer. And we should eliminate hazardous chemicals by tracing and developing a greater understanding of the inputs across the value cycle.
More action points can be found in the GFA Monitor 2022.
AWS Standard 2.0 - Alliance for Water Stewardship
4. Smart Material Choices
A third of a brand's environmental footprint can be attributed to the choice of raw materials.
Using suitable fibres and materials is the key to limiting the biosphere's far-ranging implications. The fashion industry needs to decrease CO2 emitted during the textile fibre stage. During material production, the emissions need to be reduced by a minimum of 45 % by 2030 to meet the global warming goals of 1.5°C. To achieve this, the fashion industry must go beyond scaling the use of preferred fibres and pull these four key levers that will disrupt the current trajectory and reduce the footprint of materials production:
A shift from virgin fossil-fuel based to recycled synthetics (the combination of the two is 62 % of total fibre production), focused on both pre- and post-use waste streams and supported by an accelerated movement to scaled textile-to-textile recycling systems.
A nature-positive approach to the production of plant-based fibres (30 % of total fibre production), including wider use of regenerative practices, resulting in improved species biodiversity, soil health, natural carbon sequestration, and other co-benefits.
Wide-scale responsible forests and water management, use of clean energy in pulping and fibre creation as well as the production and uptake of next-generation alternatives to man-made cellulosic fibres (6 % of total fibre production) which must consist of increased recycled fibres in addition to sustainable virgin feedstocks.
The adoption of stringent standards for animal welfare and regenerative grazing and land management, supplemented by deforestation and conversion-free programmes for animal-derived fibred (2 % of total fibre production).
The first step is to move the industry from the linear model to a circular model characterised by three principles: eliminating waste and pollution, circulating products and materials, and regenerating nature. Phase out the synthetics' dependency on fossil fuel, such as polyester, which is made from oil and is very energy intensive. The use of preferred fibres needs to increase, primarily sourcing 100 % sustainable cotton by 2025. The industry must collaborate with farmers to adopt regenerative practices that employ indigenous techniques (e.g., highly efficient irrigation systems). evelop standards for sustainable animal fibre production that cover animal welfare, land management, and social requirements.
More action points can be found in the GFA Monitor 2022.
Sorting for Circularity - Fashion For Good
Sustainable Cotton Challenge - Textile Exchange
Higg Materials Sustainability Index - Higg, SAC
5. Circular Systems
We must move from today's linear model "take, make, waste" to a net-positive circular model. About 36 billion pieces of clothes are thrown away annually, while 95% of these could have been rescued or recycled. The circular economy is growing, and for the fashion industry, that benefits both people and the planet. Fashion today is designed for linear consumption, resulting in low-price garments with low durability and short lifespans. Fashion brands must stop this path of wasteful consumption and instead start designing pieces for a long lifespan and reusing and recycling. The circular business model could increase the average number of uses from 25 to 45 by 2030 and, at the same time, reduce carbon emissions by 25%. Changes are needed in four key impact areas:
Designing products in a way that these can be used more, remade, recycled, and after maximum use and cycling, in the case of cellulosic fibres, safely composed. Where materials are required, these should be sourced from safe recycled and renewable feedstocks.
Unlocking the environmental and the economic potential of circular business models for fashion – which allow companies to make revenue without making new clothes – such as rental, resale, repairs, and remaking.
Engaging in pre-competitive collaboration and joint investments to ready the entire fashion value cycle for textile-to-textile recycling at scale.
Ensuring a just transition from linear to circular practices for all actors in the fashion value cycle, with specific attention paid towards lower-income groups.
Product developers, designers and textile engineers must embrace a changing mindset, disrupting business as usual to achieve the circular system by, for example, designing clothes to eliminate waste during production and manufacturing by adopting zero-waste pattern cutting and 3D digital sampling. We need to start designing clothes suitable for a circular business model that will keep the clothes and the materials in use longer. The industry should increase the revenue from circular business models such as resale, rental, and repair, which keeps products and materials in use for longer. And increase the use of materials from recycled or regeneratively produced feedstocks. Lastly, reduce total virgin material consumption by 2030 and start investing in infrastructure to increase textile-to-textile recycled inputs.
More action points can be found in the GFA Monitor 2022.
Circular Design for Fashion - Ellen MacArthur Foundation
Circular Fashion Partnership - Global Fashion Agenda
Financing the Transformation in the Fashion Industry - Fashion for Good, BCG
It’s up to you
Sustainability can feel overwhelming as a complex, never-ending story with many new developments, laws, regulations, and documents to deep-dive in. But hopefully, with help from this summary, you will feel a little calmer. And if you don't (and even if you do) The Sustainability Club will help you in the orientation and find a way suitable for your brand or organisation. Real change will come if everyone is working on these topics and if you need support, you can contact us here. Finally, a win-win-quote from the CEO of GFA, Frederica Marchionni:
"Dear fashion leaders, please join forces with your peers to create a meaningful change for a prosperous fashion industry. Indeed, if you do, everyone wins."
Written by Linn Löfling, sustainability intern at The Sustainability Club
Global Fashion Agenda https://globalfashionagenda.org/about-global-fashion-agenda/
The GFA Monitor 2022 https://globalfashionagenda.org/resource/the-gfa-monitor/