The Carbon Leadership Program: advancing sustainability in the apparel industry

Every industry is under pressure to become more sustainable. But it is the apparel sector that is facing some of most acute challenges. The current environmental standards are complex and inconsistent, and approaches used in the industry have proved ineffective in achieving enough progress. 

Alarmingly, our analysis of leading apparel brands reinforces that most of them have similar carbon reduction targets and problems.

Companies in the industry require significant carbon reductions from their strategic suppliers in order to meet their carbon commitments. They also need a standardized and collaborative approach to successfully engage suppliers with consistent messaging on their decarbonization journey. 

Our hotspot analysis identified that most carbon emissions are produced by large wet processing facilities. In response, we recognized the need to support this sector of the apparel industry. The Carbon Leadership Program (CLP) was born. 

Collaborating for change

Developed in partnership with the Apparel Impact Institute (Aii), the CLP is a new carbon management program for manufacturing facilities. It brings together action-oriented clothing and fashion brands and enables them to accelerate the implementation of their supply chain carbon targets in a way that develops standardized and collaborative approaches that can be replicated across the rest of the industry. 

These brands also benefit from cost sharing. For suppliers, the program sets facility-specific carbon and water reduction targets. It also provides a clear action plan for inhouse capacity building on carbon and water management through engaging workshops and technical trainings. By merging the efforts of multiple brands, we are leveraging shared insights and knowledge for the benefit of the entire industry.

In just two years, the CLP is already having a significant impact on eight major brands and involves over 100 large manufacturers with wet processes in more than ten countries around the world. We are delighted to be working with brands such as C&A, Target, Levi’s, Gap, Ralph Lauren, Nike, AEO, lululemon and many more. 

Shubham Singh, one of our Senior Consultants and project lead for the CLP shares that “one of the innovations of the CLP is the successful engagement of the manufacturers online and the use of standardized tools which enables the program to be globally scalable, time and cost-efficient.”

The program has also been extended to include Higg, the sustainability insights and measurements platform, which now features the CLP methodology. Access to the CLP on Higg will improve collection, measurement, and benchmarking opportunities for brands, and strengthen carbon reduction projects throughout the apparel industry.

How it works

The first stage of the Carbon Leadership Program is a virtual engineer-oriented benchmarking process which is completed using the standardized Carbon Tech Assessment (CTA). Designed to be finalized within just three hours by facility engineers and more comprehensive than other types of assessments, the CTA provides key insight into facilities’ current and past performance and future goals.

The CTA sets a specific potential carbon reduction figure which helps brands to prioritise the manufacturing partners with the greatest potential for improvement. Companies can also use the data gained through the questionnaires to either drive the changes they think appropriate in the supply chain or continue with the program and benefit from the support of a dedicated engineer, with bespoke strategies, training and tools to enable them to set and achieve realistic and effective carbon targets. 

These action plans clearly detail the next steps of the recommended projects, with an agreed implementation timeline. The facilities then periodically report their updates via the Higg platform on carbon emission and implementation progress.

Delivering Results

Across the 45 facilities that were piloted an aggregated annual savings of approximately 1.52 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent was achieved. Furthermore, a facility-level average carbon reduction potential of 45-50% by 2030 compared to the 2018 baseline, was realized. 

Since the pilot, CLP has engaged 130+ large wet processing facilities on setting facility-level carbon reduction targets and conducted more than 400 CTAs globally. We are also using the action plans developed for the facilities to identify and group facilities into actionable cohorts for implementing complex interventions, such as eliminating coal boilers and transitioning to renewable energy sources. 

Nowhere is this better demonstrated than in Vietnam. More than eight leading brands are working together on developing the methodology and tools for phasing out coal from the apparel manufacturing supply chain. This group will work to develop a wider usage guide based on the CLP to support factories in carbon reduction. 

We are also in the process of developing a technical guide linked to the CLP toolset and approach to support suppliers through the process of developing a baseline, an action plan, and targets. Offsite renewable energy procurement has been identified by CLP brands as a way to accelerate scope 3 decarbonization in China, Vietnam and India.

While the results are overwhelmingly positive and we are thrilled to see the CLP being highlighted as a key aspect of business sustainability strategy across key sustainability reports and documentation from the likes of Columbia Sportswear and Ralph Lauren, there is more work to be done. 

Our vision is to make the program accessible to 200 carbon hotspot manufacturing sites by the end of 2022, and to involve 1,000 manufacturers by the end of 2025. The CLP is just the start of a schedule of ambitious initiatives that support our mission to make meaningful reductions to business’ carbon, water and waste footprint across the region. We look forward to being joined on this challenging but exciting journey by apparel brands and suppliers! If this sounds like a Program that your corporate could benefit from – connect with our team!