Luxury fashion brands urged to ‘make climate change action irresistible’ as risks to industry mount

Photo credit: Will Bugler.
By Will Bugler
The world of high fashion likes to set itself apart. Unfortunately, when it comes to climate change, the luxury sector has also carved itself a niche: it is considerably more vulnerable than the rest of the fashion industry.
The findings come as part of a recent report which calls on high-end brands to take urgent action to adapt to climate risk. The report also says that luxury fashion brands can use their considerable cultural influence to ‘make climate action irresistible’.
The study is given particular weight coming as it does from one of luxury fashion’s biggest names: Kering. If you have never heard of Kering then you will have certainly heard of some of the brands that it owns: Gucci, Stella McCartney and Alexander McQueen to name just a few of its stable.
The report, produced in collaboration with global business network BSR (Business for Social Responsibility), shows that luxury fashion is exposed, like many industries, to supply chain disruption and resource scarcity. However, it also finds that it is particularly sensitive due to its reliance on specific, high-quality raw materials.
Materials such as cashmere, vicuna, silk, and lamb leather are climate-sensitive and are also derived from production systems that have a limited geographical spread. Being able to source materials only from a few suppliers, in a few locations makes the supply chain vulnerable to climate shocks.
The report, “Climate change: implications and strategies for the Luxury Fashion sector”, provides luxury fashion companies with information and advice that will help them to better understand their specific vulnerabilities to climate change, and to take steps to increase their climate resilience.
The report focuses on strategic raw materials providing analysis on the current and future climate risks for cotton, cashmere, vicuna, silk, beef and calf leather, and sheep and lamb leather.
The study provides three important findings for the luxury fashion industry relating to raw materials:
  1. Climate change is already driving a reduced availability of luxury fashion’s raw materials, and will continue to do so.
  2. The impact of climate change will likely escalate over time and will lead to a reduction in raw material quality that will drive significant business risks for the luxury sector.
  3. The consequences of climate change will also be evident in negative effects on small-scale producers relying on raw material production for their livelihoods.
The report urges companies to take action to reduce their risk stressing that “it is imperative that companies develop a strategic approach to tackling the challenges posed by climate change risks to their business and across their supply chains. Key to this will be outlining a clear agenda to build resilient supply chains focusing on the prioritization of actions and mechanisms for monitoring impacts.”
In order to do this the report suggests three actions that luxury fashion companies can take to build resilience:
  1. Invest in targeted raw material resilience: This involves a three-step process for companies: 1) first, identify raw material priorities by mapping supply chains against climate change risks; 2) then take action and set targets with supply chain partners and other stakeholders; and 3) finally, monitor impact.
  2. Prepare your operations for a low emissions future: Luxury fashion brands can swiftly contribute to the new low emissions economy by reducing their own GHG emissions and by implementing measures at key points in their value chains that facilitate adaptation. In addition to a focus on raw material production and processing, key areas for attention can include: 1) product design and manufacturing; 2) more effective energy and fuel management in manufacturing facilities, offices, stores, and logistics; 3) working on the efficient siting of facilities and stores; and 4) investing in and procuring from suppliers that are climate resilient.
  3. Make climate action irresistible: Luxury fashion brands can harness their leadership position as ‘influencers’ to build awareness of and excitement around a climate-smart world. Luxury brands can catalyze action on climate change through their clients, as well as more broadly in the public sphere.
“Given the luxury sector’s reliance on high-quality raw materials, we must understand the potential vulnerabilities that climate change will pose to them and be proactive in building resilience across our supply chains,” said Marie-Claire Daveu, Chief Sustainability Officer and Head of international institutional affairs, Kering.
“In fact, implementing an ambitious climate strategy at a company level is non-negotiable. By doing so, businesses will have opportunities to reduce risk and deliver against their business goals, while at the same time making significant contributions to the environment and society more broadly.”
Will is a climate change resilience specialist working for climate change consultants Acclimatise. Here he focusses on climate policy and communicating climate change adaptation. He writes on climate issues and curates the online web magazine http://www.getresilient.com/  You can find him on Twitter @willbugler and on LinkedIn.

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