Skip to main content

California’s Apparel Industry May Have to be Carbon Neutral by 2045

On Monday, California governor Jerry Brown signed into law a moon-shot bill that commits the Golden State to drawing 100 percent of its electricity from carbon-free sources by 2045.

Co-sponsored by state senator Kevin de León, the bill known as SB 100 also requires California to obtain 60 percent of its power from renewable energy by 2030, up from the previous target of 50 percent. The state currently gets around two fifths of its electricity from renewable sources such as hydropower, solar and wind, according to a 2017 analysis from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

“California is committed to doing whatever is necessary to meet the existential threat of climate change,” Brown said during the signing, which preceded the Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco this week. “This bill, and others I will sign this week, help us go in that direction. But have no illusions, California and the rest of the world have miles to go before we achieve zero carbon emissions.”

Brown’s ambitions didn’t stop there, though. Later on, he also signed B-55-18, an executive order that calls for the state to achieve full carbon neutrality, also by 2045.

What this means for brands, retailers and suppliers that operate within the world’s fifth largest economy is still unclear. Despite a steady attrition in jobs—from 100,000 in the mid-’90s to 46,200 in 2015, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics—Southern California remains America’s largest garment manufacturing hub. Apparel is the region’s second-largest manufacturing employer after transportation equipment.

Related Stories

The state is also home to textile mills such as Lafayette Textiles Corp. in Vernon, Texollini in Long Beach and Huston Textile Company in Sacramento, all of which would presumably have to rein in their not inconsequential carbon footprints.

Since B-55-18 doesn’t have legislative heft and can be easily reversed, however, there are doubts about how binding it actually is. Until it’s codified into law, the order is more of an aspirational guideline than an enforceable mandate.

And California has some time to shape up before the clock runs out.

“It’s going to create momentum toward that end goal, even if it doesn’t specify how to achieve that end goal,” Tim O’Connor, senior director of Environmental Defense Fund’s energy program in California told Scientific American. “Setting the policy and the vision, especially on something where we’ve got a 27-year runway, is the first step in achieving that final result.”

One brand that might be ahead of the curve is cool-girl outfitter Reformation, which operates its own factory in Los Angeles. Besides using better-for-the-planet materials, Reformation keeps tabs on the environmental footprint of each garment through something called the RefScale, which quantifies the water used and carbon dioxide generated during production.

Reformation currently “pays back” its impact in the form of offsets.  As it notes on its website, “basically, in exchange for the emissions and water used by our clothes, we help plant forests to naturally capture CO2 from the air, invest in clean water solutions, and purchase landfill gas offsets.”

As for its factory? “We source electricity offsets from 100 percent wind power suppliers and use LED lighting and Energy Star-rated appliances in our offices,” it said.  “We’re working to install on-site solar at our new factory—stay tuned!”

Multinational businesses that have already been whittling their greenhouse-gas emissions and purchasing renewable energy may also fare better. Gap Inc., for instance, has pledged to reduce its emissions by 50 percent by 2020. Between 2006 and 2015, Timberland achieved a 53 percent reduction in “absolute emissions” for all facilities operated globally and employee air travel. And H&M, whose own operations run on 96 percent renewable energy, has committed to be “climate positive” across its entire value chain by 2040 “at the latest.”

Likewise, Nike says it wants to halve its carbon footprint, with a 2025 goal of using 100 percent renewable energy in its owned and operated facilities. “Today, all our owned distribution centers in North America are powered by renewable energy,” it wrote on its website. “We are still working to bring renewable energy to our largest logistics footprint in Memphis, TN.”