F.Ashion accounts for 10% of the world’s carbon emissions and is the second most polluting industry in the world. But in an increasingly climate-conscious society, it is increasingly trying to present itself as sustainable in order to attract customers.
A big goal is reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and over the past two decades, many brands have joined a scheme called the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP), an independent body that awards environmental performance ratings.
However, the Guardian can exclusively reveal how the impact of the fashion industry on the planet is being hidden. Thanks to the way the scores are calculated, household names like H&M and Nike can claim an overall decrease in annual carbon emissions – and receive high scores from the CDP – despite their actual emissions increasing.
It’s about the fine print. These fashion brands report their gross global emissions, but these are calculated against total revenues. This means that as long as their emissions increase less than their income increases every year, total emissions are evaluated as a decrease. In the 2020 Nike Climate Change Report, he describes how “emissions increased 1% year-over-year, which was offset by revenue growth of 7% year-over-year, resulting in a more than 5% decline in emissions by revenue. in [financial year 2019]”.
Despite the increase in emissions, the CDP scored Nike A-. H&M also self-reported increases in “gross global emissions” in 2017 and 2018, but as those emissions increased less than revenue, it experienced an overall decrease and even received an A- each year.
The link between emissions and revenues is just one of the tools provided by the Greenhouse Gas Protocol, which defines the framework for reporting emissions. How emissions are broken down, into Scope 1, 2 and 3, is also key to understanding how brands can appear to be reducing their total emissions.
Scope 1 emissions are those that come directly from the company that burns fossil fuels. Scope 2 emissions are those that come from energy purchased from public service providers. Scope 3 emissions are all other indirect emissions that occur along the value chain. For the CDP report, companies provide “combined gross global emissions Scope 1 and 2” and independently report whether these have increased or decreased in the face of increased revenues.
Nike’s Scope 1 emissions, the metric tons of CO2 produced by the company’s burning of fossil fuels, have increased every year since 2016. It includes retail, distribution and office space, among other things. The sportswear manufacturer said it emitted 17,975 tons of CO2 in 2015, rising to 47,398 in 2021, an increase of 163%. H&M increased from 10,723 in 2015 to 11,973 in 2021, down from a high of 13,380 in 2020.
Basically, many companies exclude Scope 3 emissions, which are classified as either upstream or downstream, which means they don’t take into account the pollution produced by their supply chain. Although Nike tracks these emissions, it does not provide a gross total. Business travel is calculated as upstream emissions of Scope 3, which means that the impact of its employees’ flights is not included in its “gross global emissions”. Nike did not respond to a request for comment, but previously said Scope 3 emissions such as business travel are not included in its future sustainability goals.
H&M takes into account and targets its Scope 3 emissions. In a statement to the Guardian, the company said: “Scope 1 and 2 emissions represent less than 1% of our reported emissions, and while they are important, they are not ours. working target to reach our 56% reduction target. This will not be enough. Our main target is Scope 3. We see significant opportunities to grow in a way that respects the boundaries of the planet. ” The company made a profit of € 1.36 billion (£ 1.14 billion) in 2021.
Experts are dismayed by the industry’s self-proclaimed progress, warning that focusing on increasing efficiency rather than reducing absolute emissions, known as relative decoupling, puts the planet at risk.
“Celebrating the success of this kind of relative decoupling is a recipe for disaster,” said James Dyke, associate professor of earth system sciences at the University of Exeter. “Global warming will stop when we stop pumping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Nike, which has a few million more in the bank, doesn’t change things. “