At the recent Stella McCartney AW20 show in Paris guests were gifted a sampling. Wrapped in paper and tied with string, a note was attached which read: “We should all be carbon neutral now. We are absorbing the CO2 emitted by the show to make this a completely carbon neutral experience. Planting this tree is part of the solution.”
Left - The samplings given out at Stella McCartney's AW20 fashion show in Paris
How many of these young trees made it off the Eurostar and into the ground we’ll probably never know, but it is another example of fashion’s current obsession with tree planting to seemingly balance out the rest of its environmental impact.
New trees have become part of some quantum, climate change, environmental maths equation and, seemingly, the answer to many of our climate change woes. It’s an easy solution to carry-on-as-you-were by simply chucking money at the problem and hoping re-greening, by randomly planting new trees, is the band aid needed.
The Committee on Climate Change says the UK will have to plant 1.5 billion trees if it is to meet its pledge to reach net zero emissions by 2050 – and this needs to “happen quickly”. UK woodland cover needs to increase from 13 per cent to 17 per cent. It recommended that 30,000 hectares be planted every year, but if other carbon-reducing targets are not met, it said this will have to go up to 50,000. In 2018, the UK planted 13,400 hectares of woodland.
In the recent Labour 2019 manifesto, it said, if elected, it would plant 2 billion trees in the next 20 years. That would have been the equivalent of 100 million trees a year; the equivalent of three trees planted every second, day and night. These numbers are staggering and make the whole thing look too simplistic and far fetched. Where would they all go? It's as though all these trees will just magically appear not to mention. Done. Fixed.
European footwear brands such as Womsh, Faguo, Yatay have all made planting trees part of their brand ethos and USP. Yatay promise for every pair of shoes sold a tree will be planted in a specific area in Bore, Kenya and since 2014, Womsh has created and preserved 46 tennis courts of equatorial forest and offset 74 tonnes of carbon dioxide emission, equal to the consumption of more than 10 milions sheets of paper.
Romain Teissedre, Faguo Communication Manager, says, “From the beginning, Nicolas and Frederic, (the founders) wanted to be positive for the planet. They choose trees because it's the best way to offset CO2. It encourages wood use too. We think that it's better to use wooden materials instead of plastics or glass, because it continues to offset CO2. We symbolise that with a coconut button on all of our products.” he says.
“For each collection, we know how many Faguo products we will produce, so we ask our plant nursery workers (Naudet Pépinières) to find projects in France who want to forest or re-forest their land.” he says. “If they engage to care about the plantation and put a wood Faguo panel in front of the forest, then Faguo pay for all the plants in the field. Naudet Pepinières wait for the right season to plant and decide if they plant conifer or broad-leaved trees.”
Right - Italian sneaker brand Yatay informing customers how many tons of CO2 has been absorbed by their tree planting
Faguo has planted 1.5 million trees in France since 2009 in 270 Faguo forests.
“It's great, but not enough." says Teissedre. "We need to install a more circular fashion to reduce our emissions. The beginning must be using recycled material!” Sixty-five per cent of Faguo products are made with recycled materials right now. It will be one hundred per cent by 2024 they say.
“Planting a tree is good, but the most important act is reducing our footprint.” he says.
A whole industry of socially responsible companies have sprung to facilitate this new mania in tree planting from the fashion industry. Offset Earth helps companies and individuals offset their carbon footprint by supporting carbon reducing projects around the world including tree planting. Olly Rzysko is an advisor and Co-founder for Offset Earth. Having worked in retail (specifically clothing/fashion) since he was 20 he knew the impact it was having on the environment and also the power it has to make a difference, quickly. He donates his time to Offset Earth having been really inspired by Elliot, Alex and Lucy, who founded it in 2019.
“The fashion industry, like most industries, is unable to completely remove its carbon footprint overnight, it may never be totally possible.” says Rzysko. “All the while our dwindling global carbon budget continues to drain faster than ever before. What we need to do until industries are fully decarbonised is pay to offset the footprint as it will increase the amount of time we have to live more sustainably.” he says. “You can do the offsetting by planting trees, protecting rainforests, and installing wind and solar farms.
“At Offset Earth we don’t count tree planting as carbon reduced, the tree has not yet grown yet so the carbon has not yet been reduced. The trees we plant will absorb a lot of carbon though, and this calculation is often averaged over a 25 year growing period. Many tree varieties will keep on growing after this, and the carbon they sequester continues to accelerate. For Offset Earth planting trees is a backbone of what we offer - it’s what really ignites the imaginations of our susbscribers, plant 12 trees a month for £4.50.” says Rzysko.
Is there anything consumers should look for or be suspicious of?
“You should look to find information on how the climate projects are being verified as to what they are doing. The projects we support are all verified by Gold Standard, an independent certification body, that raises the standard of the project to an exceptional quality. Other standards include Verra, Climate Action Reserve and Climate, Community & Biodiversity.” he says. “Often you wont be buying carbon offsets directly from them, so if you’re going through another company then ensure you’re happy with the level of transparency and thoroughness of the information, that has links to plenty of sources.”
How can consumers trust that these trees will be planted and cared for? “The actual project operator that is planting the trees needs to be well established and known for responsible reforestation. Our reforestation partners work with local governments and plant in newly nationalised parks, protecting them in perpetuity. There should be a monitoring period over 30 years in place, where an independent auditor ensures the stated number of trees are healthy.” he says.
Left - Map on Faguo's website showing where and how many trees have been planted in France
“If the entire (fashion) industry offset its carbon footprint it’d be a staggering boost to our global climate goals, but it is just one part of the solution.” says Rzysko. “The reason we need to use this tool is because it’s available today and is something most businesses can get behind without too much effort. The bigger picture is to remove the carbon footprint of the industry, and that will be slow to change. However it needs the spotlight at all times to ensure we’re all marching in the right direction.”
Fashion app, Mallzee recently launched a Swipe To Plant initiative, partnering with non-profit organisation One Tree Planted - a non-profit dedicated to global reforestation - to turn every swipe made on their free Mallzee apps into tree planting funding. The week long green initiative focused on highlighting the sustainable fashion ranges available on the shopping app whilst also helping fund reforestation globally. In addition to helping consumers find their favourite fashions, Mallzee strives to reduce wastage in the fashion industry by partnering with retailers to improve their product selections and stock ordering through pre-release product testing.
Tree planting is fantastic, and nobody is going to say the world has too many trees, but it feels too easy and simplistic an answer in combating the impact of the fashion industry. Just carrying on regardless and saying you’ve planted part of a forest feels like the environmental equivalent of sticking a plaster over a gaping wound. Many brands are doing great things and are transparent in their efforts, but consumers can feel blinded by the numbers and what it all means. It's also clearly cheaper to plant trees in some countries over others due to land prices and labour costs. This trend is a positive one, but it does feel like some brands are jumping on the brand wagon and how much of this is checked, monitored and also cared for, with so much passing onto third parties, is ripe for abuse. Forget the wood, consumers need to see the trees.
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Kicking off the recent round of SS20 men’s fashion weeks the luxury Italian giant, Prada, opted to show its men’s collection in Shanghai rather than Milan and Saint Laurent chose Malibu, California instead of Paris. The light-tactic Eiffel Tower was replaced by palm trees and Keanu Reeves - very Point Break - as the male models took to a catwalk that followed the lapping waves of the Pacific ocean.
These trips to far flung destinations, under the pretence of targeting that geographical audience, had become something of a signature of women’s Cruise shows over the past few years. A distraction from the rather boring clothes, brands such as Louis Vuitton, Dior and Chanel scoured the globe for the most glamourous and social media friendly backdrops and flew the fash-pack on one giant jolly in-between the usually rigid calendar of traditional global fashion weeks.
Left - Greta Thunberg, 2019's environmental superhero
Taking a brand and its audience to locations not usually set up for fashion’s extravagance is expensive and indulgent, not to mention costly to the environment. These people won’t be travelling economy. Add everybody from the brand, the models, the buyers and the press and the numbers start to drastically stack up and those carbon emissions multiple.
It seems to go against everything fashion is trying to be at the moment. Fashion is trying to show its less wasteful side and is jumping on the sustainable ‘we-really-care-you-know’ bandwagon and it will be interesting how they will be able to justify these types of extravagant shows in the future. Admittedly, there’s always been travel in fashion, and getting people to see things in one place is an important part of fashion, but it’s this travel for travel’s sake that seems to feel out of step.
The Scandinavians have lead the way on this and Sweden’s ‘flygskam’, or flight shame, movement first came to prominence in the summer of 2017 when the singer-songwriter Staffan Lindberg wrote an article co-signed by five of his famous friends, in which they announced their decision to give up flying. Among the famous Swedes opting for other forms of transport were ski commentator Björn Ferry, who said last year he would only travel to competitions by train, opera-singer Malena Ernman (the mother of climate activist Greta Thunberg), and Heidi Andersson, the eleven-times world champion arm-wrestler. Finland has spawned its own version of the expression, calling it ‘lentohapea’.
When the 16-year old Greta Thunberg joined London’s ‘Extinction Rebellion’ protest this Spring she took the train. She also travelled by rail to the World Economic Forum in Davos and the climate summit in Katowice, Poland.
This Swedish trend is having an impact. Passenger numbers at Sweden’s 10 busiest airports fell 8% from January to April this year, following a 3% fall in 2018, according to Swedavia, which operates them.
A survey by the World Wildlife Fund found 23% of Swedes have abstained from traveling by air in the past year to reduce their climate impact, up 6 percentage points from a year earlier. New words entering the Swedish language include ‘tagskryt’ (train bragging) and ‘smygflyga,’ or fly in secret, to describe those not quite over their budget airline addiction.
People are choosing to take the train for environmental reasons. The stats are clear with trains drastically reducing the levels of CO2 emissions. The average CO2 emissions of 285 grams per air kilometre, compare with 158 for cars and 14 for trains.
Researchers at Chalmers University of Technology in Gothenburg, in 2018, found that Swedes' per capita emissions from flying between 1990 and 2017 were five times the global average. Emissions from Swedes' international air travel have soared 61 per cent since 1990, the study said.
The number of journeys on Sweden’s national rail network increased by 5% last year and 8% in the first quarter of this year, according to Swedish Railways. Sales of Interrail tickets to Swedes increased by 45% in 2018 – and are expected to rise again this year. Passenger numbers at state train operator SJ jumped to a record 32 million in 2018 due to “the big interest in climate-smart travel,” they said.
Consumers are demanding that companies and brands lead by example. Klarna, the giant Swedish payment provider, has decided to have its global kick-off in Berlin for the year with all attendees travelling by train.
The budget airlines will be watching this trend, seeing whether it spreads beyond Scandinavia, is not it is lip service and whether younger people will really give up those cheap get aways for staycations or longer train journeys.
Fashion brands will start to acknowledge this trend and reduce unnecessary travel. I predict brands will start to do more things virtually and online.
While, in the UK, the Eurostar has made travelling by train cool - they’ve just added their third daily departure to Amsterdam - the rest of the British rolling stock is more hit and miss to say the least. While many people are trying to stop Britain’s second high-speed rail line, HS2, it could be the environmental argument that pushes it through to the end.
Time is money and with planes being faster, more direct and often cheaper, it’s going to take a seismic shift and a mental rethink to get everybody to feel the flying shame and get onboard - quite literally - with this new trend.