Fashion lays down its route to net zero

A coalition of stakeholders from across the climate action ecosystem have developed a roadmap aimed at steering the fashion industry on a path to a zero carbon future. By Climate Champions | June 14, 2021

Fashion is ubiquitous and it exists in our everyday lives. It’s what we put on when we get out of bed, when we go to the gym, when we go to work, when we visit our grandparents, when we go to sleep. It’s functional, enables self-expression, and provides comfort.

However, The Global Fashion Agenda and McKinsey analysis found that it’s also accountable for 4% of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, where over 70% of emissions are attributed to upstream activities such as energy-intensive materials processing, and the remaining 30% are generated by downstream activities such as transport, packaging, retail operations, usage, and end-of-use.

High-demand growth for fashion of up to 63% is anticipated over the next 10 years in some emerging markets. This follows the trajectory of the past 15 years, where global production of clothing doubled despite garment utilization dropping by 36%. Under its current trajectory, the fashion industry will miss the 1.5°C pathway by 50%.

In collaboration with the Marrakech Partnership, a vast coalition of stakeholders from across the climate action ecosystem, steered by the UNFCCC Marrakech Partnership and the Race to Zero, have developed the Climate Action Pathways: sector-specific roadmaps that will unlock the systems transformations required to achieve a zero carbon future.

The work of producing an equivalent for the fashion sector has been driven by the Race to Zero’s fashion sector team, in consultation with a wide set of fashion industry stakeholders, with significant input from the UNFCCC Fashion Industry Charter for Climate Action’s decarbonization working group.

With industry stakeholders, this is known as the milestones document, and represents known decarbonization targets, implementation initiatives and analysis from published reports, as far as possible.

The exercise has helped generate alignment on short, medium, and long-term actions and milestones required to achieve net zero emissions by 2050, has summarised decarbonization action and milestone tracking and going forward is intended to facilitate collaboration and solutioning between actors toward addressing gaps, inspiring fresh action to deliver against this “white space” where actions are considered priority.

It is intended that the document provides a mechanism for promoting and amplifying existing initiatives on the road to COP26 and beyond, without obstructing any existing implementation efforts.

Throughout the process of developing the document, we have identified four key areas of “white space” for the industry to focus climate change efforts on:


With ~70% of fashion industry GHG emissions coming from upstream activities, such as raw material production, preparation, and manufacturing activities such as weaving and dyeing, and it is estimated that ~60% of overall abatement potential lies in decarbonizing upstream operations. Other analysis shows that roughly 250 million tonnes of CO2e could be reduced through a 50% shift to renewable energy in Tier 2 and 3 producers.

Fashion Pact signatories are signing up to achieve 100% renewable energy across their own operations by 2030. Image: Unsplash.

Current gaps: energy consumption is the biggest driver of emissions in the sector, with the shift to renewable energy and increasing energy efficiency offering the highest abatement potential. Furthermore, with textiles and garment manufacturing concentrated in the Global South, there is a role for the fashion sector to play in supporting the energy transition across these respective countries.

Actions being taken: Key steps are being taken in the right direction, for example Fashion Pact signatories are signing up to achieve 100% renewable energy across their own operations by 2030, and furthermore Pact have also pledged to incentivise implementation of renewables in all high impact manufacturing processes along the entire supply chain.

In the near-term, the Apparel Impact Institute (Aii) initiative is also working in the energy space, for example they are leveraging the legacy Clean by Design (CbD) program method in their Mill Impact Initiative to increase the efficiencies of participating mills, reducing up to 10% CO2 emissions.


According to statista, the global apparel market is forecasted to grow to ~$2.25 trillion US dollars by 2025, where demand for fashion is expected to grow up to 63% over the next decade in some emerging markets. With much of the capital activity managed, shifting investment portfolios towards brands with robust environmental credentials and supporting accurate and effective environment, social and governance (ESG) assessments can redirect capital to supporting companies with stronger climate credentials and innovation.

Fashion for Good and BCG estimate a $20 billion – $30 billion per annum financing opportunity to be directed to the development of innovative technologies and business models to achieve a step change by 2030.

Current gaps: With investment historically focussed on soft-tech solutions (e.g. digital platforms), further investment is needed in hard-tech solutions (e.g. new raw materials) to support the fashion industry’s transformation.

Actions being taken: There has been an increased amount of funding in the sector’s transmission, for example the Fashion for Good’s Good Fashion Fund which scales VC funding. In addition to this, the IFC is also supporting the apparel sector with the Global Supplier Finance programme.


Driving meaningful policy change in fashion requires cross-sectoral collaboration and coordination by policy and government bodies. Roadmaps in sectors such as energy will have synergistic benefits with the fashion industry.

Current gaps: there is white space across the current policy landscape, particularly around incentivising recyclability of textiles and wider innovation. To fill these gaps, governments, companies, civil society organisations, and consumers should work together to tackle these topics holistically.

Governments and non state actors must work together to incentivise recyclability of textiles and wider innovation. Image: Unsplash.

Actions being taken: Fashion Charter’s Policy Working Group has started policy engagement with a focus across the Southeast Asian region, including Bangladesh, China, India, Indonesia, Vietnam, Cambodia and more. Other key activities in the policy space include the IFC’s Partnership for Cleaner Textiles (PaCT) programme in Bangladesh and the Policy Hub’s subject matter expertise and reports.


As a downstream industry, fashion and apparel are significantly influenced by consumers. This ranges from the buying of garments, to the washing, reusing, recycling and putting them in landfills. However, the impact of COVID-19 has impacted consumer buying behaviour, where consumers are placing greater importance on the sustainability of what they choose to buy.

Current gaps: The Global Fashion Agenda and McKinsey estimate that 23% of emissions are in the usage and end-of-use part of the value chain. Based on this report, 21% of accelerated abatement potential lies in encouraging consumer behaviours. To reduce these emissions, we can increase the use of circular business models, reduce washing and drying, and increase recycling and collective.

Actions being taken: Progress has been made across this area, including providing second hand buying and consignment platforms such as TheRealReal and the Renewal Workshop to give consumers more sustainable buying options, and therefore encouraging circularity. Furthermore, Fashion Charter in collaboration with UNEP is  developing a 1.5 degree consumer communications playbook that will be published later this year to help brands align their communications to 1.5 degree lifestyle.

The milestones document is being launched today by the Fashion Charter here. Through this document, we hope to achieve:

  • Greater visibility of existing activities and tracking gaps in the industry, with comprehensive mapping of climate commitments
  • Recognition and elevation of the ongoing work across the partners and the industry
  • Increased collaboration across partners in addressing the identified white spaces
  •  Alignment on messaging across partners across key events

“The Fashion Industry Charter for Climate Action is delighted to use the Marrakech Partnership for Global Climate Action Pathway for Fashion to help us and our working groups reflect on the current status of climate action within our industry. It is a helpful tool to reflect on the ongoing work as well as identify areas where there are gaps. We look forward to using this to deepen collaboration and alignment with relevant organisations as we continue to advance our common work and push for the right ambition” – Fashion Charter (2021)

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of collaboration to solve a global problem, analogous to the efforts required to tackle the interconnected nature of the climate challenge posed to the fashion industry.

Changing the trajectory of the fashion industry requires mass collaboration across the entire value chain: from the extraction of raw materials to the way we dispose, re-use and recycle garments.

In order to move away from the current industry trajectory (which misses the 1.5 degree Celsius pathway by 50%), government bodies and non-state actors need to engage in the dialogue now, and make commitments that can deliver the Paris Agreement. The change is an imperative and it’s one that has to happen now.

This article was written by Sophie Wilson and Gail Sucharitakul, Healthcare, Tourism and Apparel, Climate Champions.