The past few weeks I got sent links to articles in well established magazines that both pushed a rosy picture of sustainable fashion, as well as a depressing one. Ironically, the some of the SAME COMPANIES were featured in both. For example, Prada scored a F in one of the articles, while the other touted Prada for making their nylon fabrics out of plastic waste. What gives?
A couple of things:
1) The less rosy article by Fast Company is based on Stand.earth's methodology. Their methodology is focused on how well brands are attempting to shift their supply chains away from fossil fuel. So instead of scoring brands against an average, or against each other (which is what most methologies do), they score brands against one hard yardstick.
2) The more rosy W Magazine article is focused on touting brand's innovations to combat myriad sustainability issues, from GHG emissions to microplastics to ethical sourcing.
What's my take? I like Stand.earth's concept of focusing on fossil fuel use. They are correct in stating that- generally speaking- manufacturing tends to be the highest emitter of GHGs, and the majority of that is based on the energy used. Some greenwashing does happen when there is no evidence of changing the hotspots in GHG emissions. In addition, changing your supply chain is incredibly complicated because of all the pieces involved; brands that are trying to shift to renewable energy at every step of their manufacturing and shipping should be lauded.
On the other hand, sustainability (as I've explained to a lot of non-sustainability people) is much more than carbon accounting. The environment is a dynamic, non-linear system; fossil fuel is tied to water scarcity, land use, and biodiversity. Cotton, for example, is much more water intensive than many other fabrics, and organic cotton is better in this regards. At the same time, some may argue that synthetics have a longer lifespan than cotton. I could go into this incredibly complicated topic much more, but will save that for another post.
And to add to all of the above, sustainability's meaning has expanded in recent years to include social elements as well. It's not necessarily wrong for brands to try and pick the ones that resonate the most for their product and customer. Because honestly, sourcing cotton from regenerative farms that provide living wages is a way more engaging story than auditing far off overseas factories on their energy efficiency.
Both articles however point to the concept that brands are innovating at a rapid pace, while not doing enough at all. The truth is, none of us are doing enough, which is why we're in this mess in the first place. While it's great to applaud the innovative steps we take, and therefore raise enthusiasm and curiousity, ultimately we need to take approaches like stand.earth for a more robust measurement against reality's yardstick. I'd love to see a future where we take a measurement approach for all sorts of sustainability issues.