Burberry has a lofty new sustainability goal in sight: to become “climate positive” across its entire operation by 2040, a move it says goes beyond its current net-zero ambition.
The British luxury house has committed to reducing supply-chain emissions by 2030, an improvement from its previous target of 30 percent. It will become net-zero by 2040, 10 years ahead of the 1.5-degree Celsius pathway set out by the Paris Agreement, meaning it will pull from the atmosphere as much carbon as it generates. But Burberry will also invest in initiatives “beyond its value chain,” such as those that protect and restore natural ecosystems, promote climate resilience and empower vulnerable, frontline communities, which it says will allow it to do more good than harm.
The Burberry Regeneration Fund, in particular, will support a slate of verified carbon offsetting and insetting projects, which the brand says will enable it to store carbon, safeguard biodiversity and facilitate the restoration of critical ecosystems.
For its inaugural insetting project, which will tackle Burberry’s own direct footprint, the company is partnering with France’s PUR Projet to establish a regenerative agricultural program with wool producers in Australia. The project, it says, will work at a farm level to improve carbon capture in soils, strengthen watershed and soil health, and support biodiverse habitats.
“Burberry was built upon a desire to explore nature and the great outdoors and they have remained our inspiration for more than 150 years,” CEO Marco Gobbetti said in a statement on Thursday. “Drawing on this heritage of exploration and driven by our creative spirit, today, we are setting a bold new ambition: to become climate positive by 2040.”
Burberry, which came under fire only a few years ago for burning unsold stock to preserve its “brand value,” says it will continue to rally with nonprofits, peers and policymakers around programs that will help galvanize change in the fashion industry. The latest of these is Fashion Avengers, a coalition of global organizations that seek to inspire action toward achieving the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. As part of this, Burberry will be supporting the Forest for Change, an SDGs-inspired installation created by British designer Es Devlin for the 2021 London Design Biennale.
The company says it’s “on track” to become carbon neutral across its own footprint by 2022, which it will achieve by reducing emissions, improving energy efficiency and switching to renewable electricity sources before offsetting any remaining emissions. Burberry currently sources 93 percent of its electricity from renewable sources. Its events, including shows and presentations, have been certified carbon neutral since 2019.
Burberry’s biggest challenges, however, still lie ahead. The bulk of a company’s carbon footprint tends to lie in parts of the supply chain that are beyond its direct control and therefore more difficult to manage. More recently, Burberry teamed up with Apparel Impact Institute, a mill-improvement firm, to establish a platform for Italian manufacturers to coordinate, fund and scale environmental programs with “measurable impact.” But Burberry also scored a middling 31 percent to 40 percent in Fashion Revolution’s 2020 Transparency Index, meaning it’s publishing some information about its first-tier suppliers but it might require deeper visibility into the layers of the supply chain that are often overlooked.
All of these efforts require investment. To raise money for eligible sustainable projects, Burberry became the first luxury brand to issue a sustainability bond last September.
“As a company, we are united by our passion for being a force for good in the world,” Gobbetti said. “By strengthening our commitment to sustainability, we are going further in helping protect our planet for generations to come.”
Burberry appears to be borrowing a page from its rival Gucci, which announced in January that it would be going beyond carbon neutrality to take a “nature-positive” approach to climate-change mitigation.
The Italian luxury house had created the Natural Climate Solution Portfolio, an “evolution” of its climate strategy that it says will protect and restore critical forests and mangroves, invest in regenerative agriculture within its supply chain and, in a broader sense, “give back to nature.”
“The evolution of our strategy incorporates a series of clear climate actions that will continue to prioritize reducing our emissions and drawing down CO₂, which allows us to maintain carbon neutrality across our entire supply chain,” Marco Bizzarri, Gucci’s president and CEO, said at the time. “At the same time, we are investing in regenerative agriculture as an important pillar of our approach.”
Gucci parent Kering, too, has made biodiversity a key pillar of its carbon-neutral strategy.
“We want to reframe fashion’s relationship to nature,” Marie-Claire Daveu, chief sustainability officer and head of international institutional affairs at Kering, said at the launch of the conglomerate’s Regenerative Fund for Nature in February. “It’s important to have the vision, the strategy and the action plan, but it’s also important to have the operational tools to support the transition.”
Decarbonizing the fashion supply chain, which relies heavily on coal-fired supply chains for electricity and heat generation, fossil-fuel-derived synthetic materials such as polyester and highly polluting shipping by air and sea, won’t be easy, experts say. Neither will lip service cut it.
Brands must support solutions like slowing ships and eliminating “dirty fuels” in the short term and a decarbonization strategy by the end of the decade in the long term. They must also commit to sourcing lower-carbon and longer-lasting materials, phasing out fossil-fuel-based fibers such as polyester.
“Despite commitments to slash their emissions, the fashion industry’s supply chain saw more dirty coal, more fossil-fuel-based fabrics and more delivery by highly polluting cargo ships prior to the Covid-19 outbreak,” Gary Cook, global climate campaigns director at environmental nonprofit Stand.earth, said last August. “The industry must implement concrete, collaborative efforts to tackle its pollution problem through a combination of rapidly transitioning factories to renewables, eliminating fracked fabrics like polyester and greening up shipping.”