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  • Isha King

Carbon Neutrality... Who is she?

Updated: Dec 21, 2020

Carbon emissions are the most significant contributor to the climate crisis that can be attributed directly to the fashion industry. Efforts to reduce carbon emissions globally are needed, without a doubt, from largescale corporations including fashion firms. Despite this, emissions from the fashion supply chain are on the rise, not the other way around.

In and around fashion, we are starting to see nods to a reduced carbon footprint taking shape in the form of “carbon neutrality”. A growing list of fashion brands including Reformation, Everlane, and even Gucci and mother conglomerate Kering all mention carbon neutrality and offsetting carbon costs in their discussions of corporate social responsibility. More recently, Aritzia declared themselves completely carbon neutral, meaning that 100% of the firm’s carbon emissions are being offset in some way.

So, what does this mean? Is this greenwashing?

So, what does this mean? Is this greenwashing?

The frustrating answer, as with a lot of the dilemmas arising from the conflicting nature of sustainability and consumer culture, is “yes and no”.

A big reason why greenwashing is so prevalent in fashion is because brands that are guilty of greenwashing aren’t necessarily telling lies or complete untruths (though sometimes they are). Instead, it’s more common for brands to be exaggerating the significance of the steps that they’re taking and are getting more credit than they deserve. The reason that they’re able to do this is because we, the consumers, have a tendency to take what they say at face value and run with it. Carbon neutral? Great! That means that this brand is completely sustainable and ethical, and I can consume from them without guilt. Easy.

This is, unfortunately, not the case.

One of my favourite examples of this particular form of greenwashing was Paris Fashion Week SS20, last September. It was a pre-COVID world and sustainability was the central premise of many designers’ shows. Essentially, we got a very leafy Dior runway (thanks Maria) and declarations that the carbon costs attributed to the show were being “offset”. So, does that mean that fewer models, guests, etc. were flown in via private jet? Does that mean that the set design materials were eco-friendly? Does that mean that the collection itself was produced differently in any way? Nope.

The hypocrisy of it all was clocked by New York Times author Elizabeth Paton who noted the parade of SUVs and limousines idling outside of the supposedly “carbon neutral” fashion events. Hm.

That basically sums it up. Carbon neutrality is a pattern of behaviour where firms are throwing money at the climate problem without actually changing too much of their carbon-emitting behaviour.

I’d like to make it clear – brands taking steps towards carbon neutrality is certainly not a bad thing. It means that they’re putting dollars towards green initiatives that need them desperately and it shows a willingness to acknowledge (at least partially) the damage that this industry is responsible for on our planet. But it is not enough.

Worse than that, if we start thinking of carbon neutrality as an end solution, we risk hurtling ourselves into a path of sustainable redundancy – where as long as brands can afford to be carbon neutral, the fashion industry has our permission to continue increasing emissions overall.

I guess what I’m saying is that carbon neutrality is a STEP towards sustainability, not the whole journey. We can appreciate and reward brands that are taking these steps but we cannot accept this as the end of the road, and we shouldn’t let brands think that carbon neutrality is all they need to accomplish.

Carbon neutrality does not equate to lower emissions – and lower emissions are what we really want.

This is a complicated issue to say the least. If you have thoughts on this I’d love to chat – send us a message!

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