MyClimate, a foundation based in Zurich, was established in 2006 to help companies achieve carbon neutrality. MyClimate calculates CO2 emissions for companies and their products to determine if there are any measures that can be taken to reduce them or offer offset options. What does this mean exactly? Kai Landwehr, spokesperson and marketing director at MyClimate, answered our questions about the contribution that the fashion industry can make in climate protection. He also discussed the industry’s progress, challenges, and the dangers associated with greenwashing.
How large is the carbon footprint for the fashion industry, Mr. Landwehr?
Kai Landwehr: The fashion industry is a major emitter of carbon dioxide, much more than air travel. According to current figures, about 10% of global CO2 emissions can be attributed to the textile industry. Globally, the production of wool and cotton, as well as long-reaching supply chains, are very energy-intensive. Additionally, the half-life of cotton is very short. The footprint of fast fashion is enormous.
MyClimate assists companies to reduce their carbon footprint. How does this collaboration work?
Kai Landwehr: The basic pattern of cooperation is the same: We begin with an as-is analysis, and then calculate the corporate carbon footprint. You can also look at only one collection’s footprint or a single product’s. At the beginning of the process is the analysis and determination of a data collection that breaks down the amount and location of CO2 emissions. This data is the basis for all measures to reduce CO2 emissions or compensate them. It starts by calculating CO2 emissions, then proceeds to determine the savings potential.
We offer a portfolio of 145 climate-protection projects in 40 countries for those who wish to be compensated. Companies can either support a project as a whole, or individual projects – so if someone produces in India they can also choose climate protection projects there.
Companies are increasingly launching climate-neutral products, and advertising them as especially sustainable. Aldi’s first climate-neutral sneaker is an example. It was discovered that the compensation was only for the CO2 emissions. The product’s CO2 emissions were not decreased at all. Isn’t it a grave danger that greenwashing is occurring?
Kai Landwehr: There is always a risk of this. The fact is that you can’t produce a product without CO2 emissions. It is important to optimize the processes to reduce emissions. This is an option. These are long-term strategies. It takes time to make large savings. It makes perfect sense to offset given the current climate. It is an immediate action that has an immediate impact and can be combined with the goal of reducing emissions year after year. If we continue to reduce emissions and compensate for it in ten years, that is a problem.
Even if some people call it an indulgence payment, compensation serves its purpose.
Yes, there are companies that compensate but also want to reduce. They will eventually have to do this anyway. I think society has quickly learned to recognize greenwashing. Companies that continue to put products on the marketplace at a rapid pace that no one needs are not considered credible. It is also a problem that companies who do something to protect the climate are often accused of greenwashing. It is important that companies take action. Many measures are slow-moving.
How can you calculate CO2 emissions from the global supply chain? Where do the data come and are they available in sufficient quantities?
Kai Landwehr: These calculations can be done using standardised methods. It all depends on how complex the calculations are and how much one wants to do them – Scope 1 through Scope 3 from direct to indirect emissions. There are also established methods for calculating clothing. The quality of the data used and the method used to obtain it will determine the accuracy of the calculations. The conditions required to be able to label a company as ‘climate neutral’ are extremely precise. You don’t need to know everything if you want to have a rough idea.
Particularly fashion companies have a bad reputation for not understanding their supply chains. What should you do?
Kai Landwehr: It all depends on how well your supply chain is managed! In the past five to six years, fashion has seen a lot of change. The complexity of the supply chain makes it difficult to reduce costs.
Which stage are fashion companies at right now? Are they recognizing the need to take action?
Kai Landwehr: Many people have realized that things are improving and have begun to wake up. Vaude and Patagonia have dealt with this topic for many years. Others are now starting to address it because they realize that climate protection cannot be ignored. It’s more than just about meeting customer expectations. Investors and politicians are also demanding it. Many are feeling the pressure.
Let’s look at the legislation. What new regulations regarding climate protection are companies currently facing or will they soon face?
Kai Landwehr: Many countries have already implemented mandatory CO2 pricing. This includes Scandinavia and Sweden for a very long time. From now, mandatory C02 reporting is required in Switzerland. Many things are also taking place at EU level. In client meetings over the years, this has been our mantra: Legislation will require these measures sooner than later. This is becoming more concrete.
What type of investments can one expect from a fashion brand that has its headquarters in Germany and production in Far East?
Kai Landwehr: The operations account for only 10 to 15% of C02 emissions if I look at them. This becomes exciting when you get down to the product level. It takes only cents to offset a cotton shirt in a climate-neutral manner. If I want to label the product as climate-neutral, a down jacket could cost me one or two euros.
Are there any examples of products or collections that are climate-neutral?
Kai Landwehr: Eterna is one example. Their shirts are also climate neutral. Vaude’s Tettnang site production has also been climate neutral for many years.
It was stated that reductions can take time. Is there a way to reduce costs quickly?
Kai Landwehr: Companies can make savings quickly when it comes to employee mobility and business mobility. It is easy to switch from fossil fuels to green electricity. It is possible to achieve a lot in the beginning, and you can also include employees. It is more difficult to change the supply chain processes. However, it is possible to pay attention to resource consumption, water conservation, and solar power. You can also focus on how many collections are offered per year, their delivery times, and logistics. Consequently, fast-fashion suppliers will have difficulty achieving climate sustainability per se. They can also use recycled fibers, offer repair services and pursue circular models. This has a significant impact on the environment.
You can also include repair services and rental models in the as-is analysis?
Kai Landwehr: It is possible. I’m sure companies offering such models already include the CO2 savings in their calculations. These services are not only sensible, but they can also be quantified.
How does one recognize serious climate protection projects. Which certificates are you working with?
Kai Landwehr: There are many project standards. We use, for example, the Gold Standard. You can also document the annual savings in registers. There are also other standards, such as the Verified Carbon Standard or Plan Vivo. We use the Verified Carbon Standard (or Plan Vivo) for our reforestation projects.
It is difficult to accurately assess the label “climate neutral” because of all the standards. Is there a need to standardise more?
Kai Landwehr: It would be nice to see more standardization under the Paris Climate Agreement.
Which challenges are you seeing for the fashion industry in order to be climate neutral?
Kai Landwehr: It is difficult to achieve climate neutrality because of the way that fashion works. There are many obstacles to overcome, including the complexity of supply chains, raw materials and the sheer number of collections. The materials level has seen a lot with recycled materials. There is also great potential for the circular economy. This can make a significant contribution to the solution in the coming years. However, the fundamental understanding of trends and seasonality, short-lived ness, and fast cycles is moving in the wrong direction. It is particularly difficult to reconcile the concept of fast fashion with climate neutrality.