Italian luxury house Gucci recently made an announcement that it has achieved carbon neutral status. Now that, dear audience, is quite an impressive statement. Unlike amorphous terms such as sustainability, which has no official parameters, carbon neutrality refers to “achieving net zero carbon emissions by balancing a measured amount of carbon released with an equivalent amount offset”, according to UN Environment.
Unsure what that means? Here’s the breakdown: every single entity (where you’re a person, company or country, for example) has a certain amount of carbon footprint (some are simply higher than other, developed countries especially) and being carbon neutral simply means to have your carbon emissions “cancelled” by funding initiatives elsewhere in the world that reduce carbon, such as renewable energy projects or reforestation programs. Simply put, you’re “taxed” according to the amount of carbon you produce (taking a flight, for example, is a prominent contributor) and if you pay fully for the exact amount you produce (yes it’s calculable, though not precise), you’re considered to be carbon neutral.
Gucci is already somewhat of a leader in the eco-friendly sector, evidenced when it moved to ban the inclusion of real fur in its collection in 2017 and in its wake, an array of major labels committed to the same cause. This announcement however, is on another level altogether – Gucci has stated that it’s carbon neutral through its entire supply chain, which is really quite something to marvel at.
You might have heard the saying that the fashion industry is the second most polluting industry in the world, just behind oil. While that has been debunked (still, the industry as a whole contributes more than eight per cent of global greenhouse emissions), the fact remains that fashion is a deeply complicated and opaque business due to its notoriously intricate supply chains, be it fast fashion or luxury. For example, if you think that your latest bag is made in Italy just because the label says so, you might want to read up about it, sweet summer child.
But back to Gucci. Impressively, Gucci says this carbon neutrality extends all the way to the deepest recesses of its entire manufacturing process, even including those at the earliest stage, such as leather tanneries, which are typically external vendors.
The brand will be partnering Redd+ (a UN program that aims to reduce emissions from deforestation) in order to offset its carbon emissions – it will pay US$8.4 million to four Redd+ projects that support forest conservation in Cambodia, Peru, Kenya and Indonesia.
Now, the skeptics among us (I count myself as one) may say that the ideal way to reduce one’s carbon footprint is simply to not buy on the consumer’s part and to not create products on the supplier’s end. Gucci’s CEO Marco Bizzarri acknowledges that point candidly in an interview with The Guardian: “The best way to have zero emissions is to close the company, but then 18,000 people will lose their jobs. When we talk about the environment, we need to keep that in mind as well,” says Bizzarri. “Offsetting is better than not doing anything, and if in the long-term it can be done (differently) we can look at that. But there is a danger, to (thousands of people) to go too much in a different direction (too quickly).”
With fashion month currently ongoing, it’s pertinent to think about the huge amounts of carbon produced from even just one single fashion show, says Emily Farra from Vogue. It’s not just the constant flying about by hundreds of industry insiders and influencers – think also of the decor, the food, invitations, intricate sets and plenty of other minute details that are produced for the sake of a 15 minute show, all of which costs resources to produce. The answer? No one knows, not even Google apparently.
To give Gucci credit where it’s due, the brand says its upcoming S/S’20 show in Milan (set to take place September 22), will also be carbon neutral by offsetting the carbon emissions produced, and this includes travel costs (by attendees and employees etc) and Forest Stewardship Council-certified paper invites, according to an interview with the New York Times.
One caveat: as independent fashion platform The Fashion Law points out, calculating carbon emissions accurately is not an exact science, and it’s made all the more slippery when you think about the sheer complexity of fashion’s vast supply chain. It’s definitely no small task – and one that’s rendered all the more difficult considering Gucci’s ambition to take it all the way to the raw material suppliers. Bizzarri is upfront about it, telling Fast Co. that “tracking our impacts earlier in the supply chain is not as easy as measuring our own direct impact.”
On our part, we’re 100% for Gucci’s monumental (and hopefully, game-changing) initiative that goes far beyond the common lip service spouted by many other labels – for example, using organic cotton in place of cotton. And like the previous case with Gucci’s initiative to ban the use of fur, we’re hoping a tsunami of brands will follow suit to pursue carbon neutrality. One already has – the latest Burberry show was also certified carbon neutral.