Are clothing brands achieving sustainability?

Over the past five years, most major apparel companies have set sustainability goals and explained how they intend to achieve them. Some publish annual reports on their progress. But it is not easy to know if a company is sustainable because there is no clear definition or standardized data.

Garment companies typically define sustainability narrowly, focusing on environmental impacts, i.e. avoiding the depletion of natural resources. By this measure, the big brands are progressing. However, nonprofits that monitor compliance often take a broader perspective, looking at economic, social, and environmental factors.

Good On You is a sustainability rating platform for fashion companies. It rates brands on the following scale: ‘Excellent’, ‘Good’, ‘It’s a start’, ‘Not good enough’ and ‘We avoid’.

Good On You is a sustainability rating platform for fashion brands.

Founded in Australia, Good On You defines itself as “…the world’s leading source of fashion brand reviews…and uses expert analysis to give each brand an easy-to-understand score.”

It is in line with United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 12 to “ensure sustainable production and consumption patterns”. In addition to environmental effects, Good On You examines how companies treat employees, contractors and animals.

I share below what brands are saying about their sustainability efforts and their Good On You ratings.

Assessing brand sustainability

Kering, a Paris-based luxury fashion conglomerate, has made strides in sustainability. Its brands include Gucci, Saint Laurent, Balenciaga and Alexander McQueen.

Kering’s environmental income statement guides its sustainable business model. It assigns a monetary value to its environmental footprint throughout its supply chain. The company aims to reduce negative environmental impacts from raw material sourcing, manufacturing and transportation by 40% between 2015 and 2025.

In 2013, Kering created a Materials Innovation Lab, a library of samples of sustainable fabrics and textiles that its creative teams could access to choose materials. In 2021, Kering announced that none of its brands would use animal fur, starting with the fall 2022 collections.

The company also plans to reduce its carbon emissions by 50% by 2025. It maintains a carbon offset program through REDD+, an effort to combat deforestation. In 2019, Kering committed to making its brands carbon neutral by offsetting annual greenhouse gas emissions. Since 2017, audits show an annual reduction of several thousand tons of carbon dioxide emissions.

Good On You rates Alexander McQueen, Gucci and Saint Laurent as “It’s a start” and Balenciaga as “Good”.

LVMH, also based in Paris, is a luxury goods company with brands in six sectors: wine and spirits, fashion and leather, watches and jewelry, and perfumes and cosmetics – including Louis Vuitton, Christian Dior, Givenchy, Bulgari, Tiffany, Moet Hennessy and Tag Heuer.

The LIFE program — “LVMH Initiatives for the Environment” — is the conglomerate’s initiative program for improving environmental performance. Its jewelry brands are committed to responsible sourcing of raw materials.

Louis Vuitton, Dior and Givenchy said they would reduce greenhouse gas emissions from their supply chain by a certain percentage, but did not provide evidence that they were meeting their target.

Good On You rates Louis Vuitton, Dior and Givenchy as “Not good enough” because they use few environmentally friendly materials.

Stella McCartney. This London-based clothing, footwear and accessories brand has pioneered ethical and sustainable design and manufacturing. It promotes cruelty-free processes and manufacturing and aims to achieve full circularity with renewable or recyclable raw materials.

It is committed to preventing deforestation in its supply chain and continuously monitors compliance with its policies by its suppliers. It measures and reports direct and indirect greenhouse gas emissions.

Good On You rates Stella McCartney as “Good”.

Levi’s. Based in San Francisco, Levi’s is committed to recycling and reselling its jeans. It is on track to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from its operations and supply chain and appears to be on track to meet its targets. The manufacture of denim jeans is very water intensive. Levi’s has attempted to reduce water consumption throughout its supply chain. It has also implemented an animal welfare policy.

Good on You rates Levi’s as “It’s a start.”

Nike. Each year, Nike publishes an impact report detailing its sustainability efforts. The goals are to eliminate waste in the manufacturing process, reduce water consumption in the supply chain and improve working conditions for workers. It has a deadline to phase out hazardous chemicals by 2025 and is on track to meet it.

Good On You rates Nike as “It’s a start”.

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