But do those who are genuinely sustainable exist? In our opinion, no, and precisely based on this presumption, greenwashing has become a more or less explicit tool for those who claim to be greener than anyone else. Lately, however, all chickens come home to roost, as evidenced by what is happening to the Fashion Pact, the former Higg Index, and the system of emission offsets
Three clues make proof. First: the controversial Higg Index has been replaced by Worldly in a rebranding operation. Second: Hermès, Selfridges, and Stella McCartney have exited the Fashion Pact. Third: the green offsets, used by many companies for their sustainability claims, would not be as effective and have come under fire. The proof is that efforts toward the common goal of sustainability are still far from being truly effective.
There is a long way to go; according to some, it has only just begun, and, above all, it must enter a phase of greater certainty, authority, and authenticity. Starting from a basic assumption: let genuinely sustainable people cast the first stone. Since no one is, much better to roll up our sleeves, each in their own specific area of action.
Let those who are genuinely sustainable cast the first stone
The Fashion Pact was presented at the G7 in Biarritz in 2019. It is a project to advance sustainable fashion and it was spearheaded by François-Henri Pinault, CEO of Kering, at the request of Emmanuel Macron. It was part of the One Planet Summit created in 2017 when the US pulled out of the Paris Accords. The Fashion Pact grew to involve over 250 brands, representing more than 30% of the fashion and textile industry in volume terms.
But then, on 23 May 2023, the Fashion Pact board appointed Helena Helmersson, who heads the Swedish fast fashion giant H&M, as co-chair. In other words: the company is pressured for its opaque practices. At the same time, Hermès, Selfridges, and Stella McCartney left the group. Action and reaction, one would think. And yet, Helmersson is unperturbed: ‘A certain degree of member fluctuation is normal for industry initiatives of this kind,’ she comments to MF Fashion.
‘There are a number of reasons why companies may abandon a programme. For example, costs, team capacity, or different priorities’. Not only that: he announced that ‘by the end of the summer, we will disclose more information about the initiative, our progress and our members’, including new entries.
The restyling of the Higg Index
Just as the Fashion Pact is dealing with the impact of illustrious drop-outs, the controversial Higg Index has to rebuild its virginity. It has done so by changing its name to Wordly. This was candidly admitted by Jason Kibbey, CEO of the new version of the index, who said that the blizzard over the Higg Index was one of the reasons behind the rebranding.
Worldly will continue to pursue the controversial index, which holds an exclusive licence, but will be free to work for principals other than the SAC – Sustainable Apparel Coalition (which holds an equity stake in Wordly). “We are not moving away from the Higg Index in any way. We continue to be the exclusive host,’ Kibbey tells Vogue Business, confirming the mere rebranding action. The difference is that Worldly now aggregates the data for the Index, which SAC manages. The make-up is there, but what will the results be?
Compensation that’s the problem
As if there was still not enough confusion on the subject, here comes research conducted by the British newspaper The Guardian, the German weekly Die Zeit, and the non-profit investigative journalism organisation SourceMaterial. Completed in January 2023, it says that 94% of offset credits are probably ‘phantom credits’ and do not represent real carbon reductions. These credits were purchased by internationally renowned companies (not only in fashion) to offset their emissions and to be able to call their products ‘carbon neutral’ or ‘climate-friendly’.
Verra, a Washington-based NGO that has issued more than a billion carbon credits, railed against the investigation. Meanwhile, however, its CEO, David Antonioli, has resigned. In the UK, The Guardian writes that the local Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) will scrutinise those who use terms like ‘carbon neutral’, ‘net zero’, and ‘nature positive’ in order to crack down on greenwashing.
In other words, those who claim to be ‘carbon neutral’ will have to prove it with facts. Also, as a consequence of the investigation, Gucci, which had announced in 2019 that it had become ‘completely carbon neutral‘ (partly thanks to the use of Verra offsets), removed the declaration from its website.
Fashion focused on sustainability, OK: but why? Reports on progress, industry alignment, and policy goals are at odds and do not coincide. For now, what seems to be the case is that there has been confusion between authentic and accurate sustainability, especially by those who have the temptation always to be the first to cast the first stone.
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