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Clothing retailers and brands double down on sustainability steps after reporting on the progress of the last eight years

Consumers want to shop sustainably

Clothing retailers and brands are doubling down on action to improve their sustainability as a new report shows what the clothing and textiles sector has achieved in the last eight years – and what it plans for the coming decade.

Brands and retailers that sell clothing in the UK market and are signed up to the Sustainable Clothing Action Plan (SCAP) 2020 Commitment showed today they have exceeded two of four 2020 targets, by reducing their carbon and water footprints. But they have not yet achieved two further targets for reducing waste.

Fashion brands, retailers and textile recycling companies were among those that signed up to the SCAP targets. The scheme saw signatories’ carbon footprints reduce by 21.6% and their water footprint reduce by 18.2%, both ahead of a 15% targets. The footprint targets are for reducing the whole-life impact of clothing sold in the UK by signatories to SCAP per tonnes of clothing sold. At the same time, the use of more sustainable fibres grew from almost zero in 2012 to more than 100,000 tonnes in 2020. 

But a further target, on reducing waste to 15% of clothing produced, had not been met prior to the pandemic, and is not thought likely to have been achieved as recycling and collections have decreased during the pandemic. Waste footprints were judged to have reduced by 2.1% against a targeted 3.5% reduction, while the level of clothing in household waste reduced by 4%, lower than the 15% target reduction.

The SCAP programme and its successor programme, Textiles 2030, were put in place in recognition of the fact the fashion and textiles industry has the fourth largest impact on the environment – after housing, transport and food. Currently greenhouse gas emissions from textile production, says non-governmental organisation Wrap, are twice the level needed to restrict global warming to 1.5 degrees by 2030, while 330,000 tonnes of clothing go to landfill and incineration every year. 

How retailers are acting now to improve their sustainability 

Now retailers and brands with a 60% share of the UK clothing market – from John Lewis and Ted Baker through to Asos, Boohoo and Primark – have signed up to Textiles 2030. Textiles 2030 targets are to cut carbon emissions by 50%, and to zero by 2050, while cutting the water footprint of new products by 30%. Its programmes are around improving the lifespan, recyclability and reuse of clothing, as well as a move towards the closed loop recycling of textile fibres. 

Dunelm, for example, will launch 100% recycled cotton bedding next spring, while JD Sports is reducing its carbon emissions. Having already moved to 100% renewable energy, it is now advocating for the use of renewable energy across its supply chain. Mint Velvet is swapping conventional materials for more sustainable alternatives in order to further reduce its carbon and water footprint. 

Dr David Moon, director of collaboration and change at Wrap, says: “The leanings and success of the Sustainable Clothing Action Plan have provided the foundations for Textiles 2030. SCAP was the first voluntary agreement of its kind to measure and act within the UK textiles sector and the knowledge we have gained from this agreement has underpinned what needs to happen to make Textiles 2030 even more impactful.

“Sector-wide change is essential if we are to achieve climate targets and a circular economy in materials, so we have been collaborating with businesses, Governments and other stakeholders to develop Textiles 2030. The public, investment managers and policy makers are all demanding practical action, sustainable products and evidence of outcomes.  We need more companies to show their commitment to action through Textiles 2030, continuing and evolving the legacy of SCAP.”

Sue Fairley, head of sustainability sourcing and quality at New Look, says: “As a key pillar of New Look’s transformation strategy, we are constantly striving to make meaningful changes to our business operations and products to make them more sustainable. We recognise that textile waste is a huge issue in our industry and one that has grown considerably over the recent years. Whilst there is no single solution to the problem, we believe that, by bringing together stakeholders from across different industries, together we can make the progress we need to help drive circularity within the fashion industry. Joining Textiles 2030 has enabled us to do just that and we are excited to be in a position to help lead the charge and shape the industry to become more sustainable.”

Joanne Poynor, head of product legislation and sustainable development at Next, says: “Next is proud to be part of Textiles 2030, to support our approach in making a sustainable difference that can be measured and importantly sustained to deliver a reduction in impacts as well as work to embed circularity within our business. As a Textiles 2030 founding partner and a signatory to the predecessor Sustainable Clothing Action Plan, we recognise the value in collaboration with industry partners, sustainability experts as well as academics and government to drive real change to achieve the aims of the commitment and deliver more than any brand could achieve alone. This includes developing real solutions to drive circularity through product design and customer engagement to really close the loop and reuse products or their materials again and again.”

Rosie Howells, head of sustainability at boohoo group, says: “We are proud to be working with other retailers and experts who share the ambition to make our industry more sustainable. Textiles 2030 is a really important initiative and this week of action will help us to raise awareness of the role we all have to play in reducing our impact on the planet’s resources. We will need innovative and creative solutions to reach our goals and I am excited to see where this collaborative journey takes us.”

Today’s update comes in Textiles Action Week, when events include a webinar on changes in fashion and textiles, to be held tomorrow, a workshop on mending and customisation hosted by Primark and Habits for Life on Thursday, as well as textiles sorting facility tourists for signatories to Textiles 2030 in London, Mansfield and Greater Manchester. 

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