The global apparel and textile industry, which generates over $1.5 trillion in annual revenue and used 109 million tons of fibers in 2020, is actively working to be part of the solution to the climate crisis.
More than 50 companies and organizations have joined forces to advocate for policy change at COP26 through global nonprofit Textile Exchange to incentivize the use of environmentally preferred materials such as organic cotton and recycled fibers.
Textile Exchange said it was a practical solution to help the industry achieve its climate goals with an important but often overlooked policy lever–trade policy. Cost is one of the key barriers faced by companies looking to shift their supply chain toward environmentally preferred materials, but by mitigating or narrowing price premiums, trade mechanisms can be used to incentivize the increased production and adoption of these fibers, making them more favorable than, or at least equal to, their conventional counterparts, the group said.
Using trade policy to incentivize better practice in materials sourcing is a ground-breaking use of legislation for the industry, working alongside regulations and penalties to promote positive action instead. This approach has the potential to level the playing field financially for companies committed to better materials sourcing, without the reduction in cost being felt by their supply chain or the farmers who grow the fibers, Textile Exchange said.
Environmentally preferred materials should be defined as those from certified, verified sources that can be traced from raw material to finished product, and that are connected to data-driven environmental impact reductions. Organic cotton typically has a lower carbon footprint than conventional cotton, for example, the organization said, as is the case with recycled polyester when compared to virgin polyester.
The policy request builds on the Preferential Tariff Project that Textile Exchange initiated in 2018 exploring incentives such as tax credits and/or suspension or duty reductions of an imported component or finished, certified product. It provides governments with a tangible action to remove a key barrier to scaling environmentally preferred materials–increased cost. Since nearly all major fashion producing and consuming countries have signed the Paris Agreement, it is addressed to every government present at COP26.
“With the recognition that appropriate policy initiatives may differ by jurisdiction, in this critical moment at COP26, Textile Exchange urges policymakers to consider working with the apparel and textile industry to develop thoughtful trade policy mechanisms in this area,” Textile Exchange said. “In turn, this would enable achievement of Textile Exchange’s industry goal of a 45 percent reduction in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the pre-spinning phase of textile fiber and material production by 2030.
“We must send one signal to the market with a shared definition and a cohesive movement as we double down on reaching targets for carbon emissions reductions,” Lewis Perkins, president of the Apparel Impact Institute, said. “This will only be possible through an agreed policy for preferential tariffs with preferred materials.”
Judy Adler, vice president of environment, social and governance (ESG) at Gap Inc., said sourcing more preferred fibers such as recycled polyester and organic cotton is an essential part of Gap Inc.’s efforts to reduce the impact of its products, and enabling the company to progress against its climate and product sustainability targets.
“For the fashion industry, incentivizing traceable, lower impact and alternative materials is key to driving change,” Marie-Claire Daveu, chief sustainability and institutional affairs officer at Kering, said. “Currently, there is nothing to induce uptake in trade policy and this makes no sense given the state of our planet. We need both regulation and incentives to reward positive action in fashion’s ecosystem. At Kering we encourage policymakers to rethink import duties to adapt, support and respond to the fashion industry’s pursuit of sustainability and contribution to a low-carbon economy.”
Florian Heubrandner, vice president of global textile business at Lenzing, said, “As a global company with production sites in different continents, we can only underline the importance of thoughtful trade policies to achieve the industry’s ambitious climate goals.”
Patagonia said it was pleased to support an initiative that incentivizes brands maximizing the benefit of today’s solutions in preferred materials.
“Patagonia has enjoyed a 17 percent reduction in product carbon intensity as a result of scaling recycled polyester, recycled nylon, organic cotton and other environmentally preferred materials, and we believe that the carrot of preferential tariffs on products containing these materials is a huge unlock for adoption,” Matt Dwyer, vice president of product impact and innovation at Patagonia, said.
Christophe Bocquet, fair sourcing and quality director for Chloé, cited the adoption of “environmentally preferred materials” as a pivotal moment in the luxury B Corp‘s journey toward reducing GHG emissions. “Of course, supply chain of such materials can be challenging, and we must encourage more and more farmers, growers, textile companies and designers to use organic and recycled natural fibers,” he said. “We fully support better practices incentivizing trade policies that will help the spread of environmentally preferred materials: these are strong levers enabling higher quality products with innovative design, while reducing our global environmental footprint.”