Climate action needs to be independent of four-year terms. After experiencing varying support from the government for climate action, more brands are eager to accelerate carbon emission reduction plans on their own—and consumers are starting to expect it, too. But consumers are also wary of greenwashing, and brands are increasingly skeptical about implementing expensive initiatives with hard-to-measure impact.
That said, it’s not as daunting as it seems. Any company can take matters into its own hands by leveraging science-based solutions to eliminate carbon emissions in a meaningful and measurable way—and it doesn’t need to be expensive. Here’s how.
1: Leverage existing tools and methods for measurement
If we’re looking at a company that creates physical products, the first step in reducing their carbon footprint is to truly understand the emissions—both where they come from and their potential impact on the environment.
The internationally accepted methodology for emissions analysis is to track emissions by scope. There’s Scope 1, which includes emissions that we can control like flights and fleet vehicles. There’s Scope 2, which are emissions we don’t control but affect owned operations, like electricity for an office. And then there’s Scope 3, which are the emissions produced by the entire supply chain. If a company provides professional services or digital products, their emissions will primarily fall into Scope 1 and 2. On the other hand, brands that create physical goods will have the majority of their emissions coming from Scope 3.
Larger companies tend to hire external sustainability consultants to complete an audit of their supply chain, lending accuracy and validation to the measurement process. But the fixed costs of these audits are not only prohibitive for small to medium-sized businesses ($50,000–$100,000), they also divert cash resources away from areas where it could make more of an impact. In fact, audit costs will oftentimes exceed the cost of supply chain improvements or carbon offsets for a brand.
Using the 80-20 rule—also known as the Pareto Principle—to measure emissions can help brands estimate their footprint based on factors that contribute the most, like materials, shipping modes, country of origin, energy sources and production volume. Climate Neutral’s Brand Emissions Estimator can help guide companies in the right direction, plus it’s affordable and can be completed in about a day by someone who manages production.
To understand the impact of our own textile and apparel supply chain, our team at Ministry of Supply approached this process by using estimation tools and conducting a bottom-up, extensive analysis of our core suppliers and materials. We found these two results to be within 20% of each other and the majority of our emissions came from two critical areas: raw materials (fabric) and logistics (shipping from factory to warehouse to customer).
2: Don’t underestimate the power of recycled materials
Raw materials production accounts for nearly a quarter of global GHG emissions, with over 75% of that coming from steel, cement, and plastic production—in that order—and that’s usually the majority of where a product’s emissions come from.
Recycling can bypass the emissions generated by extraction of raw materials and energy-intensive refinement processes. For example, using recycled polyester instead of plastic can cut emissions by 50% and using recycled aluminum can cut emissions by 85% as crude oil and ore don’t need to be extracted, nor massive amounts of heat or electricity used for separation.
Usually, recycled alternatives already exist in supply chains and can be a 1-1 replacement in the case of many metals and plastics. In the textile industry, recycled polyester is becoming cheaper and more durable—to the extent that it’s indistinguishable from virgin PET.
3: Stop air shipping ASAP
Pre-pandemic, supply chains were fully tapped-out and resorted to unsustainable shipping methods. In the apparel industry specifically, many brands resorted to air shipping to meet fast-fashion expectations. A glut in transoceanic air freighters and tempered consumer demand caused brands to leverage sea shipping—and that’s a good thing in terms of emissions. Faster shipping methods not only cost more, but can also exponentially increase emissions.
For example, shipping goods from Asia to North America typically costs $1/kg for sea freight and $3-4/kg for air-freight for the same route. The carbon emissions, however, are nine times higher for air freight compared to sea shipping because planes in simple terms require more fuel to stay in the air and fly fast.
Fortunately, logistics providers are experts and can help brands navigate the right choices. Freight forwarders like Flexport offer multiple speed and cost options and extensive analysis of shipping emissions (they even have APIs, if you really want to geek out). UPS also offers calculated offset emissions with Carbon Neutral options for direct-to-consumer shipping.
It starts with a commitment
Beyond these approaches, there are also additional options for brands to explore, such as investing in validated offset projects or implementing fundamental supply chain improvements in factories, like energy efficient machinery. And brands that go the extra mile to offset their non-reduced emissions can become Climate Neutral Certified—building awareness for climate action through better products and manufacturing.
If a brand really commits to learning more about its own emissions and takes responsibility for proactively researching available options to reduce their carbon footprint, progress can—and will—be made.
Gihan Amarasiriwardena is the co-founder and president of Ministry of Supply, a Climate Neutral Certified apparel company.