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France Taps Pinault to Spearhead Fashion Sustainability Pact

French President Emmanuel Macron is tapping Kering SA chief executive officer Francois-Henri Pinault to lead a global fashion-industry sustainability drive, seeking to reduce the heavy environmental footprint of one of the country’s most lucrative businesses.

France wants brands from around the world to commit to progress on issues including ocean health, biodiversity and climate change during this summer’s Group of Seven summit in Biarritz. Specific targets could include eliminating disposable plastics within three years or converting to renewable energy sources by 2030, Pinault said in an interview at a conference in Copenhagen.

“All of the major actors are working on these issues,” said Pinault, whose Paris-based company owns luxury labels including Gucci, Saint Laurent and Balenciaga. “The problem is that doing everything separately we don’t have the impact that we should.”

As governments and consumers have become increasingly concerned with the fashion industry’s harmful impact on the environment, some brands have banned the use of controversial materials like fur or deployed new materials like mushroom leather for handbags.

LVMH, which owns Louis Vuitton and Dior, this week announced a partnership with Unesco on protecting key ecosystems for supporting the luxury industry, like the habitat of black bees whose honey is used in its Guerlain skincare products.

Still, progress on improving fashion’s environmental and social impact isn’t moving fast enough to counteract the rapid growth in production, according to a report by consultancy BCG and sustainable-fashion groups last week. The worldwide apparel and footwear market’s expected growth, pegged at around 5 percent a year through 2030 by Euromonitor analysts, risks “exerting an unprecedented strain on planetary resources” by raising annual production of fashion to more than 100 million tons, the report said.

Unsold Goods

Macron’s government also floated a plan to outlaw the widespread practice of destroying unsold clothes and luxury goods, with Deputy Ecology Minister Brune Poirson saying at the conference that the practice will be banned in France.

“Too many companies feel OK with just throwing away or destroying the shoes or the clothing that haven’t been sold,” Poirson said in a speech. “You can’t do this anymore.”

While mass-market apparel brands often mark down goods until their shelves are cleared, luxury labels have long preferred to burn some unsold items or bury them in landfills rather than risk damage to their image that might come from having them spotted in discount bins. Faced with outcry from consumers and investors last year, Burberry Group Plc said it would stop destroying products.

“The fact that this is how we’ve always done it doesn’t mean we should continue,” Pinault said. “Even if we don’t have solutions for everything, let’s commit.”

Reporting by Robert Williams.