“Sustainable” vs. “Carbon Neutral”

In response to growing reports of the fashion industry’s wastefulness, many brands have adopted the philosophy of sustainability. The problem with “sustainability,” though is that it’s presenting more as a vague buzz word, rather than an action.

Many large companies have introduced “sustainable” lines and many smaller companies are building their entire brands around the idea, but there aren’t many real restrictions on what the label actually means.

The Environmental Law Institute noted recently the term “sustainability” was first introduced in environmental policy discourse in 1987 when the World Commission on Environment and Development published Our Common Future. The report defines sustainability as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

However, the leaders of the Environmental Law Institute say the term still “suffers from ambiguity that must be overcome if governmental and private-sector decision makers are to optimize the concept’s potential.”

Instead of giving concrete requirements for the use of the word sustainability, the Federal Trade Commission’s Green Guides advise marketers on making environmental claims without deceiving customers.

Unlike “sustainability,” “carbon neutral” is a more concrete term that some luxury brands are beginning to strive towards.

In June, Burberry announced plans to be more responsible when it comes to carbon emissions and has since followed up by declared that its Spring/Summer 2020 show, “has been certified as carbon neutral.” Gucci announced that it would be completely carbon neutral by the end of September, including in-house operations and outside suppliers. Gabriela Hearst also announced that it offset its Spring/Summer show emissions.

According to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the fashion industry is responsible for “around 10 percent of all global greenhouse gas emissions due to its long supply chains and energy intensive production.”

However, “carbon neutral” tends to be less about actually cutting back means of production and more about finding ways to offset emissions.

“The only way we can have zero emissions is to shut our business,” said Gucci CEO Marco Bizzarri.

In order to reach carbon neutrality, brands are funding projects such as building wind farms, truck stop electrification and planting trees.

“Credits to help fund these projects are proving a popular initiative for fashion brands that want to be more ecologically sound and achieve carbon neutrality, while still manufacturing garments and accessories, and staging runway shows,” reports The Fashion Law.

However, one major hurdle brands face if they want to become truly carbon neutral is calculating just how much greenhouse gases they produce.

According to The Fashion Law, “The inability of brands to adequately gauge their individual emissions is a critical element in the equation since carbon neutrality requires companies to determine the scale of their emissions in order to offset them.”

So the truth is fashion isn’t doing much to change its wasteful habits. Is achieving neutrality by balancing out the bad with good really going to be effective? It’s hard to tell. However, the fact that millennial and Gen Z consumers tend to be more environmentally conscious and seek brands they can connect with more holistically may be the motivation the industry needs to make substantial change.


Be the zeitgeist.

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