Clothing production has doubled in the past 15 years. In 2018, the fashion industry produced around 2.1 billion tons of greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) – 4% of the world’s total – leading to major environmental, health and social challenges. In 2020 in Europe, textile consumption had the third highest impact on water and land use.
Given this context, fashion industry leaders have a critical responsibility and a vital role to play to reduce their GHG emissions and ensure that the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are integrated in their operations and business models. However, the current level of supply chain transparency in the sector is very low, reminded UNECE Executive Secretary Tatiana Molcean at the Venice Sustainable Fashion Forum 2023.
A transparent and sustainable fashion industry is a shared responsibility of businesses and policymakers and can only be achieved through cooperation of all stakeholders, including consumers. Surveys show that 40-60% consumers would be ready to pay more for products with better environmental performance and want to make more sustainable choices. But this is not yet reflected in the sales of fast fashion companies.
As a global convening platform to support policy coherence and alignment across sectors, UNECE has a key role to play to support sustainability and traceability. Through consultation with hundreds of industry insiders and experts, UNECE has developed a UN-brokered toolbox to help garment and footwear makers to ensure the transparency and traceability of their value chain. The resulting initiative, called The Sustainability Pledge, encourages companies across the sector to announce their commitments to transparency and traceability.
“We engaged with approximately 100 companies across 23 countries to demonstrate the traceability of 19 fashion products across the full spectrum of the value chain, from cooperatives and producers to manufacturers, tanneries, and brands,” Ms. Molcean said. “What we need now is the application of these results at scale across the industry through concrete actions. I call on all players in the industry to join this collective effort and take concrete measures to improve traceability and transparency, share relevant information with customers and thus move the needle towards sustainable fashion.”
Harmonized standards and criteria are critical for a shared understanding of sustainability at the global level and to enhance trust in claims. This is why The Sustainability Pledge provides policymakers and companies with tools to identify, prevent and mitigate sustainability risks.
Beyond the normative framework, The Sustainability Pledge also explores innovative solutions, such as blockchain and DNA markers, to track and trace fashion products, bridge the gap between the downstream and the upstream parts of the value chains, and to provide customers with the information they are increasingly seeking to guide their choice.
New legislation on sustainability is important to drive the sustainable development agenda, but it needs to take into account the needs and capacity of the thousands of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) that make up the majority of the sector, including in the developing world.