Within the fashion supply chain, the processing stage is where the combined environmental impact of water, energy and chemicals can be largest. Yet many fashion brands have not extended their efforts to include this stage.

To make progress and reduce fashion’s environmental impact, the Pulse of the Fashion Industry 2018 report outlines the implementation of existing resource efficiency programmes that build on the experience and expertise from more advanced players, which can prove especially beneficial for small to mid-sized companies.

Implementing collaborative programmes

Opportunities to improve the environmental footprint exist in a company’s own operations. Most savings come from energy and water consumption e.g. by changing from conventional to renewable energy sources and beginning to measure energy or water consumption. Furthermore, environmental degradation and human health risk has placed the use of chemicals under close scrutiny from several regulators, putting tight restrictions on usage and import in place. There are also several efficiency programmes available that address these issues in the supply chain and a collaborative approach between brand and manufacture is important for driving the change and implementing the agreed-on measures.Both will enlarge their commitments to each other, while saving scarce resources.

One such initiative that highlights the benefits of supply chain and resource efficiency within the processing stage is the Clean by Design project, initiated by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). This holistic efficiency programme focuses on ten best practices for saving energy and water, all of which are easy to implement, involve low initial investment and yield high financial returns, usually within one year. 

It has already been rolled out in over 200 fabric mills of all ages and sizes in various countries and implemented in the supply chains of players such as Target, Burberry, Gap, Kering and Levi Strauss & Co. The programme has brought about annual savings of more than seven million tonnes of water and the equivalent of 90 thousand tonnes of coal, which combined equals €18 million in annual operating cost savings.

Kering has implemented the Clean by Design practices in its Italian fabric mills and realised annual savings of €39,000 per mill after just two years. Furthermore, the programme phased out Kering’s use of fuel oil entirely, eliminated 7,850 tons of CO2 and reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 12% per year.

“Clean by Design is the classic win-win initiative that companies say they are seeking, significantly reducing the environmental footprint while saving real money. We commonly see double-digit reductions in energy and water use, with average costs savings of €1,6 million over five years in each participating mill - not to mention that these savings are delivered with minimal up-front costs and payback periods typically less than a year.”– Linda Greer, Senior Scientist, NRDC

Download and read more in the Pulse of the Fashion Industry 2018 report, published by Global Fashion Agenda and The Boston Consulting Group, pages 41-57 and in the CEO Agenda 2018.