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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A large bulk of the fashion industry is feeling pretty smug with itself. The just-gone G7 summit in Biarritz, France, a meeting of the world’s largest economies, saw French President Emmanuel Macron, accompanied by Economy and Finance Minister, Bruno Le Maire, Minister of Labour, Muriel Pénicaud, and Deputy Minister of Ecological and Solidary Transition, Brune Poirson, launch the ‘Fashion Pact’. An initiative to minimise the environmental impact of the fashion industry, the Fashion Pact, signed by various fashion companies and brands, made numerous commitments regarding sustainability, renewable energy and biodiversity.
Left - Tall glass of Pinault?! The 'Fashion Pact' launch at the recent G7 summit
Making plenty of noise, and, while anything in the right direction, particularly while the Amazon rainforest is burning, is welcome, it’s worth looking at some of the detail.
Thirty two companies representing around 150 brands and roughly 30% of the fashion industry committed to:
“100% renewable energy across own operations with the ambition to incentivise implementation of renewables in all high impact manufacturing processes along the entire supply chain by 2030.”
“Protect the oceans: by reducing the fashion industry’s negative impact on the world’s oceans through practical initiatives, such as gradually removing the usage of single-use plastics.”
“Restore biodiversity: by achieving objectives that use Science-Based Targets to restore natural ecosystems and protect species.”
“Stop global warming: by creating and deploying an action plan for achieving the objective of zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, in order to keep global warming below a 1.5°C pathway between now and 2100.”
These all feel like the least they can do. Words like ‘gradually’ and ‘ambition’ make most of this wishful thinking. But, waiting until 2050 to achieve zero greenhouse gas emissions is laughable. Most of the signatories will be dead by then. It’s 31 years away!!! Who’s to say any of these companies will still be in business?
We live in a very stressful and confusing time. Environmental paralysis is understandable amongst consumers not sure exactly what they can do to combat climate change. But, waiting until 2050 to ‘possibly’ make that new handbag zero carbon emissions ain’t one of them. Green lip service is becoming increasingly frustrating and brands are going to have to give definite and distinct decisions while updating consumers on progress and fact based information much faster than this. People want to see something.
The brands involved include adidas, Bestseller, Burberry, Capri Holding Limited, Carrefour, Chanel, Ermenegildo Zegna, Everybody & Everyone, Fashion3, Fung Group, Galeries Lafayette, Gap Inc, Giorgio Armani, H&M Group, Hermès, Inditex, Karl Lagerfeld, Kering, La Redoute, matchesfashion.com, Moncler, Nike, Nordstrom, Prada Group, Puma, PVH Corp., Ralph Lauren, Ruyi, Salvatore Ferragamo, Selfridges Group, Stella McCartney and Tapestry.
In April 2019, ahead of the G7 meeting, Emmanuel Macron gave François-Henri Pinault, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Kering, a mission to bring together the leading players in fashion and textile, with the aim of setting practical objectives for reducing the environmental impact of their industry. And the Fashion Pact was born.
This goes someway to explain the most noticable luxury absentee from the list, the LVMH group. LVMH, Kering's main luxury competition, announced in May that it was partnering with Unesco on a five-year deal, allowing the fashion houses in the group access to “a network of experts at the regional level and in different disciplines to drive the development and success of their initiatives to protect biodiversity” and secure transparent supply chains. They’ve also recently cemented a tie-up with British designer Stella McCartney to lead their charge in sustainable luxury.
The majority of these brands don’t know what the eco-future looks like, but they know they need to start making the right noises yet want to continue to generate billions of dollars in yearly turnovers. Signing up to things like the ‘Fashion Pact’ focuses minds, but the time frame makes it a case of we’ll start tomorrow, which goes against the current urgent 'Climate Emergency' feeling felt within the wider population.
Kering issued a statement saying, “Private companies, working alongside nation states, have an essential role to play in protecting the planet. With the Fashion Pact, some leading players in the fashion and textile sector are joining forces for the first time to launch an unprecedented movement. A collective endeavour by its nature, the Fashion Pact is open to any company that wants to help to fundamentally transform the practices of the fashion and textile industry, and to meet the environmental challenges of our century.”
If these luxury companies worked as quickly as they did when chucking money at Notre-Dame, after its fire, then we’d really be getting somewhere. Pinault found €100m (£90m) down the back of the sofa and the Arnault family stumped up €200m within hours of the flames being put out.
Governments will need to bring in legislation much sooner to force these companies to do more. We’re going to look back at this period of history and wonder how we got through it sanely, but what we know is, we have to start today.