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Sustainability progress “has slowed” reveals new data

By Danielle Wightman-Stone


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According to new data from the Global Fashion Agenda (GFA), Boston Consulting Group (BCG) and Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC), the pace of sustainability progress in the fashion industry has “slowed” by a third in the past year and is not moving “fast enough to counterbalance the harmful impact of the fashion industry's rapid growth”.

The 2019 update of ‘Pulse of the Fashion Industry’, an annual assessment of the fashion industry's environmental and social performance has revealed that the pulse score increased by four points in 2019, from 38 to 42 (out of 100), however, in 2018, it increased by six points, so the speed of measurable progress in the past year has decreased by a third.

The organisations behind the report have stated that current pulse score shows change is not currently fast enough to combat industry growth and that fashion will continue to be a net contributor to climate change, increasing the risk that the Paris Agreement's objective of keeping global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius during the remainder of this century will not be achieved.

Morten Lehmann, chief sustainability officer at Global Fashion Agenda, said in a statement: "These latest findings emphasise the dire need for the whole industry to join the race and accelerate change now. Scaling existing solutions will depend on leadership from brands. However, some transformational changes will take cooperation among policy makers and stakeholders across the entire value chain.”

Pulse of the Fashion Industry reveals that pace of sustainability progress has slowed by a third

The report adds that projections suggest that by 2030 the global apparel and footwear industry will have grown by 81 percent, to 102 million tons, exerting an unprecedented strain on planetary resources, and if the industry remains on its current trajectory, the gap between industry output and pulse score will continue to widen, and the harmful consequences of increased production will become even more challenging to overcome.

While the report does add that the fashion industry has “made some progress” toward better social and environmental performance over the past year, the improvement was due mainly to rapid progress among brands that are in the early stages of their sustainability journey and have put in place foundational measures in strategy, governance and target setting.

It notes that progress has slowed among larger companies, who are continuing to “figure out how to scale disruptive business models and harness innovative technologies”. However, the report does add that some larger companies have implemented “promising sustainable practices” that the pulse score does not currently measure, so their impact is not included in the score.

Sebastian Boger, a partner at BCG, added: "It is very encouraging to finally see changing momentum in consumer sentiment. Our representative consumer research shows sustainability is shifting from a secondary consideration to a primary decision driver: Over a third of surveyed consumers have already actively switched from their preferred brand to another because it credibly stands for positive environmental and/or social practices.”

Amina Razvi, interim executive director at Sustainable Apparel Coalition stated: "To achieve the transformational change required, we must collaborate and make meaningful commitments to end our industry's damaging practices. We need to scale our efforts to assess impacts through a common framework and increase improvements in sustainability performance globally.”

Image: courtesy of H&M - sustainable production at its factory Hangzhou Suntex in China

Boston Consulting Group
Global Fashion Agenda
Sustainable Apparel Coalition