As the European Union begins to roll out plans to revive its economy after the body blow inflicted by the coronavirus pandemic, several apparel, textile and footwear organizations have affirmed that the only good post-COVID-19 recovery for the fashion sector is a “green” recovery.
Following the European Commission’s recently published European Green Deal, the Policy Hub, a joint project from the Sustainable Apparel Coalition, the Federation of the European Sporting Goods Industry and Global Fashion Agenda, in collaboration with Boston Consulting Group, has issued a proposal that outlines seven key principles that it says are vital for driving the industry toward a carbon-neutral circular economy.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has shaken the global economy,” Baptiste Carriere-Pradal, chair of the Policy Hub, said in a statement. “The apparel, textile and footwear industry is no exception. This crisis coincides with sustainability programs and commitments have increasingly becoming the industry norm and steps toward achieving a circular economy and carbon neutrality are taken.”
Short-term measures, which should take place within the next 12 months, the proposal says, include leveraging short-term government support to “drive green engagement and commitments” through instruments such as conditional loans. The European Commission and EU Member States should also provide tailored support for companies linked to the circular economy, in particular small and medium-size enterprises, through increased funding to support re-skilling, as well as incentivize greener choices through potential incentives such as VAT reduction for circular business models.
In the medium to long term—that is to say, within five years—the Policy Hub says, European authorities must support innovative low-carbon activities to grow the renewable energy market on the continent. Goals outlined in the European Green Deal, including a minimum 50 percent emission toward a 55 percent reduction target for 2030 and carbon neutrality by 2050, the proposal notes, must stay “at the top of the agenda,” and delaying these goals by weakening corporate responsibility commitments “should not be an option.”
To reduce its reliance on external raw materials and resources, improve its profitability and competitiveness and create job opportunities, the EU should help scale up textile-recycling technologies and establish the necessary infrastructure to build collection and sorting capacity. Developing a set of harmonized end-of-waste criteria at the EU level could help ensure that secondary raw materials and post-consumer waste are recognized as resources rather than grist for the landfill or incinerator.
Bolstering the European market for recycled materials can also help the EU edge closer to its climate goals, the Policy Hub adds, since recycled materials produce fewer carbon emissions than their conventional counterparts. Tools such as the Higg Materials Sustainability Index, the brainchild of the Sustainable Apparel Coalition, can provide “additional insights” into the impact of other materials on the environment. For better clarity, the EU should include definitions of “circular” and “sustainable” products in the product policy framework while leaving enough wiggle room to adapt to future innovations.
Finally, the Policy Hub says it welcomes the European Commission’s transparency ambition, as stated in the EU Circular Economy Action Plan, as well as its desire to define a Product Environmental Footprint (PEF) methodology to substantiate green claims. But it also calls for increasing efforts in this area, buoyed by a joint effort between industry and government bodies to mobilize new funds, partnerships and pilot projects to create greater transparency for consumers through accessible, easy-to-digest information.
“Shifting the economy to a more circular one requires all hands on deck and is a collaborative effort by citizens, industry and policymakers who can build upon both existing commitments and new initiatives together,” Carriere-Pradal said.
These seven principles, said Amina Razvi, executive director of the Sustainable Apparel Coalition, offer more than a strong foundation for the development of the EU’s recovery plan. They can also guard against supply-chain disruptions induced by climate change.
“Based on industry expertise, these short and medium-term measures can effectively guide a robust legislative agenda that drives true sustainable change,” Razvi said. “The measures, if enacted, will promote more resilient supply chains and help address the current crisis and the ongoing climate crisis.”
And high-level pledges are one thing, but following through can be quite another, said Jonas Eder-Hansen, public affairs director at Global Fashion Agenda. Policy making, however, can help maintain momentum.
“Guided by ambitious target-setting, the industry has taken important steps towards achieving circularity,” he said. “However, more companies are needed for this initiative to realize its goal—and the companies already committed must enhance their efforts. Policymakers have an important role to play and can take their cue by aligning with the seven key principles outlined in the proposal.”