Fashion Continues Climate Commitment, White House Sends Mixed Messages

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With Climate Week in full swing, major apparel brands are stepping up their sustainability commitments even as the White House sends mixed messages about its stance on the Paris climate accord.

Though Donald Trump said in June that he would be pulling the U.S. out of the Paris climate accord, the matter seems far from closed. At the time, Trump said the Paris deal would cost the U.S. nearly $3 trillion over the next few decades and more than 3 million manufacturing jobs, and that it would have undermined the country’s competitiveness.

After a meeting of ministers from more than 30 countries taking part in the agreement on Saturday, The Wall Street Journal reports attendees as saying the U.S. had indicated it could be convinced to stay in the agreement. Meanwhile, a White House spokesperson said the president has not changed his mind regarding the climate accord—but neither was he ever that set on withdrawing from it in the first place.

“There has been no change in the U.S.’s position on the Paris agreement,” said deputy press secretary Lindsay Walters. “As the president has made abundantly clear, the U.S. is withdrawing unless we can re-enter on terms that are more favorable to our country.”

And while it’s true that Trump did say at the time that he was willing to negotiate this deal or forge a new agreement, many saw his statements as final and discussions futile—especially given that other countries involved seemed less than enthusiastic about going to back to the drawing board.

[Read about the industry’s response to Trump’s decision to exit the climate accord: Apparel’s Response to the US Paris Agreement Exit]

But both Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and national security adviser H.R. McMaster spend yesterday making the rounds to the Sunday morning talk shows, underscoring the president’s willingness to work with other nations on climate goals.

Tillerson said the U.S. is looking for “ways in which we can work with partners in the Paris Climate Accord. We want to be productive. We want to be helpful.”

The problem is, thus far there has been no indication of exactly what the president is looking for in terms of concessions.

While government officials continue their talks, the apparel industry is welcoming more members into the Science Based Targets Initiative.

On Monday, six top apparel companies, including Eileen Fisher, Gap Inc., Guess, Nike, Levi Strauss & Co. and VF Corporation, announced they are joining the initiative that has set emission reduction targets to limit warming below 2 degrees Celsius. The new companies join other apparel brands that have implemented reduction targets, including Asics, H&M, M&S and Walmart.

As a partnership between the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP), WWF, World Resources Institute (WRI) and the UN Global Compact, The Science Based Targets Initiative works with apparel leaders to transition to a low carbon economy and offers guidance with emission reduction targets.

Businesses that pledge to the initiative have two years to create science-based targets, which are then evaluated by the initiative’s team. So far, more than 300 companies, including 15 from the apparel industry, have committed to reduce their emissions and the initiative has approved 72 science-based targets that meet its strict criteria.

“The fashion industry is known for innovation and these companies are using that spirit to tackle climate change,” said Cynthia Cummis, WRI’s director of Private Sector Climate Mitigation and member of the Science Based Targets initiative steering committee. “For apparel brands, up to 90 percent of emissions come from the value chain, and companies share many of the same suppliers, so setting ambitious value chain targets will open up a great deal of opportunity for collaboration, innovation and efficiency across the industry.”

[Read more on apparel’s environmental progress: Hugo Boss, Adidas, Gildan Top the Dow Jones Sustainability World Index]

In addition to minimizing emissions, apparel companies that join are required to create “scope 3” value chain targets, so they can monitor emissions used in their supply chains. The requirement is an effort to get apparel companies to track emissions upstream and downstream of their operations, which could be detrimental to their environmental goals.

Levi’s aims to achieve a 25 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 for its offices, retail and distribution, minimize greenhouse gas emissions by 5 percent for shipped products by 2020 and make 20 percent of its energy purchases from renewable resources by 2020.

“Levi Strauss & Co. knows that transitioning to a low-carbon future is vital to the health and well-being of the people who make and wear our iconic products. That’s why we are committing to set science-based targets in reducing our own emissions as well as emissions throughout our value chain,” said Anna Walker, senior director of Global Policy and Advocacy, Levi Strauss & Co. “By doing so, LS&Co. and our communities will continue to thrive for the next 160 years and beyond.”

So far, the initiative has approved targets for two fashion companies—Kering and M&S.

Kering, the French luxury conglomerate with brands like Balenciaga and Gucci, committed to reduce emissions from upstream distribution and transportation, fuel and energy use by 50 percent per unit of value added by 2025, from a 2015 base-year. The company also committed to minimize emissions from purchased goods and services by 40 percent per unit of value added within the same period.

British retailer M&S also committed to minimize absolute emissions from operations by 80 percent by 2030 and reduce value chain emissions by 13.3 megatonnes of carbon dioxide between 2017 and 2030. In addition to these targets, the retailer has a long-term vision to achieve 90 percent absolute emissions reductions by 2035 from a 2007 base year.

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