The Importance of Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions in the Fashion Industry

The Importance of Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions in the Fashion Industry


In 2018, the fashion industry was responsible for about 4% of the global total of greenhouse-gas (GHG) emissions, amounting to approximately 2.1 billion metric tons. Despite abatement efforts, if the fashion industry continues on its current trajectory, emissions will remain at 2.1 billion metric tons of CO2 equivalent by 2030. This amounts to mitigation of only the emissions attributable to incremental growth, as it is anticipated that increasing demand and population growth will result in industry expansion in the coming years.This scenario would represent a failure by the fashion industry to adhere to the commitment outlined by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in the 2015 Paris agreement to cap the global temperature rise at 1.5 degrees this century. In order for the sector to do its part in reaching this target, sector emissions would need to be reduced to 1.1 billion metric tons of CO2 equivalent by 2030.   

In order to align industry emissions with these objectives, stakeholders at all industry levels must be involved in the process. 

A serious adjustment to upstream operational practices could result in approximately 60% of the emission abatement necessary to reach the 1.5 degree pathway. Interventions at this level could include improving energy efficiency, transitioning to renewable energy sources, and reducing production and manufacturing waste.  

The majority of the remaining 40% of required emissions reduction would come from improvements in industry operational practices and a shift toward more sustainable consumer purchasing practices. At the operational level, change could be observed through the incorporation of more recycled materials into clothing production and the use of more sustainable fabrics, minimizing emissions in the transportation and packaging processes, decarbonizing retail operations, and striving to eliminate overproduction. At the consumer level, incentivization for more sustainable purchasing practices – such as participating in circular business model practices like renting and thrifting clothes, and proper clothing disposal – should be implemented.

While the task of reducing emissions by around 1 billion tons by 2030 may seem daunting, more than half of actions taken to reach this goal would actually result in net cost savings. Policymakers and government officials can encourage the implementation of these initiatives and interventions through incentivization and stricter regulation to enforce emissions reductions. If sustainability at all levels of the fashion industry is both regulated and rewarded, the shift toward a circular economy devoid of dependence on carbon emissions will become intuitive.  

As reported by Achim Berg, Anna Granskog, Libbi Lee, and Kari-Hendrik Magnus for McKinsey & Company.

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Written by Olga Speranskaya