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France Mulls New Way to Show Clothing’s Environmental Impact

Every item of clothing sold in France may soon carry a score based on its impact on the environment.

While the labeling system, which grades garments from A to E—A for the most sustainable and E for the least—has been around since June 2018, the government could make it mandatory in as little as two years, according to local media.

The French Agency for Environment and Energy Management (ADEME), which developed the “impact environmental” system, describes it as akin to nutritional labels on food but spanning consumer products such as electronic devices, clothing and furniture. Factors that contribute to the grade include carbon emissions, water use, chemical toxicity and recyclability, though the methodology hasn’t been made public yet.

The scheme is being piloted by two brands: children’s clothing company Okaïdi and vertically integrated sports apparel and goods retailer Decathlon. The next step is scaling it up industry wide, Brune Poirson, secretary of state to the minister for the ecological and inclusive transition, told AFP.

Poirson is also behind France’s anti-waste legislation, which is expected to be signed by President Emmanual Macron. Once in effect, the law will ban the incineration of unsold products (including clothing and footwear), phase out disposable plastics from January 2021, ban microplastics in cosmetics and require microplastic filters on industrial washing machines.

“Fashion must impose its standards,” Poirson tweeted last week in support of both the law and the so-called European Green New Deal, which bears the overall goal of making Europe climate neutral by 2050.

Séverine Mareels, sustainable development director at children’s clothing brand Okaïdi, told radio network FranceInfo that the scoring system would incentivize brands to think differently in terms of waste creation and less polluting modes of transportation.

ADEME estimates that 624,000 metric tons of textiles—the equivalent of 2.6 billion pieces of clothing, household linens and shoes—are placed on the market in France every year. Today, consumers, on average, purchase 60 percent more clothing than they did 15 years ago but hold onto them half as long, according to McKinsey & Company.

At the same time, there’s a hunger for change: A July survey by YouGov for Business Insider France found that 70 percent of all French people consider themselves to be “eco-responsible.” Plus, many consumers deemed “circular champions” are clustered in places like France and the U.K. and more apt to restore their garments rather than toss them in the rubbish.