Reducing carbon footprints in the apparel supply chain

Reducing carbon footprints in the apparel supply chain


Amidst the intricacies of the contemporary apparel supply chain and the challenges posed by its substantial carbon footprint, we are witnessing a profound shift towards sustainability, says Partha S Dash.

We live in a world of fast fashion, characterised by ever-changing styles, volatile demands, and increasingly low prices. In this rapidly evolving landscape, the textile and apparel sector stands as an enormous industry with short product life cycles, high waste production, and a massive carbon footprint. In fact, reports suggest that the global apparel industry is solely responsible for approximately 10 per cent of all carbon emissions, making the sector a larger carbon producer than both aviation and shipping combined.

With sprawling supply chains that span vast geographic regions, encompassing everything from planning and sourcing to manufacturing and distribution, managing carbon emissions poses a significant challenge. Despite the sector’s immense revenue generation – expected to reach an astounding $ 1.79 trillion in 2024 and projected to rise to $ 1.84 trillion by 2025 – its environmental impact cannot be ignored. The textile and apparel industry ranks among the world’s top contributors to greenhouse gas emissions, water pollution, and the overconsumption of natural resources.

A critical concern is the lack of effective measures for recycling and reusing clothing, with less than half of used garments collected for reuse and a mere 1 per cent recycled. These statistics underscore the urgent need for sustainable practices within the industry to mitigate its detrimental effects on the environment.

However, amid growing global awareness and efforts toward sustainability, the apparel supply chain finds itself at the forefront of a green revolution. In this article, we’ll dive into the complexities of the modern apparel industry, taking a detailed look at the thriving sector, the carbon footprint generated across the textile supply chain, the innovative strategies to reduce carbon emissions, the collaborative efforts making a difference, evolving trends and challenges, and so much more. 

Beyond fashion: Key strategies to reduce carbon footprints

As the world gradually understands the detrimental results of irreversible environmental damage and greenhouse gas emissions, the textile and apparel industry is swiftly moving towards sustainable fashion. This comprehensive modern approach encompasses the entire apparel supply chain and focuses on the reduction of waste and carbon emissions. In order to reduce carbon footprints and create a sustainable textile and apparel supply chain, a number of key strategies can be adopted by clothing manufacturers.

  • Utilisation of sustainable materials: A fundamental strategy for reducing carbon emissions is to utilise sustainable, eco-friendly materials. Historically, the fashion industry has been built on materials such as cotton, leather, and other fabrics that have been developed with profit in mind and not sustainability. These materials are often sourced from unsustainable farming and deforestation and prepared with chemically intensive processes such as dyeing and bleaching. Instead of using these environmentally harmful raw materials, manufacturers can opt for sustainable fabrics such as organic cotton, recycled cotton, hemp, linen, bamboo, and cork, to name a few. Not only do these raw materials contribute to a greener tomorrow, but they also help manufacturers develop a positive brand image in an age of conscious consumerism.
  • Focus on energy efficiency: With a large number of production plants, the apparel industry is a considerably energy-intensive sector, resulting in substantial greenhouse gas emissions. By reducing energy consumption, manufacturers can lower costs while simultaneously helping the environment. This can be achieved by sourcing raw materials from certified sustainable sources, improving the use of electricity in manufacturing facilities, minimising the use of fossil fuels, and supporting supply chain partners with a commitment to energy efficiency. Furthermore, by creating high-quality products that are durable and require minimal washing, fashion items can be made more energy efficient at the consumer level.
  • Optimisation of shipping routes: Optimising shipping routes is a pivotal step in reducing the carbon footprint associated with transportation within the apparel supply chain. By strategically planning and optimising shipping routes for both raw materials and finished products, companies can significantly minimise emissions generated during transportation. This involves identifying the most efficient routes, considering factors such as distance, mode of transportation, and traffic patterns.

Additionally, transitioning to more fuel-efficient vehicles for transportation and distribution plays a crucial role in further mitigating the environmental impact. By replacing older, less efficient vehicles with newer models that utilise cleaner fuels or alternative propulsion technologies, companies can significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions and contribute to overall environmental sustainability. Moreover, adopting fuel-efficient vehicles not only helps in reducing carbon emissions but also leads to cost savings in the long run, making it a win-win solution for both businesses and the environment.

  • Adoption of greener packaging solutions: This is paramount in mitigating the environmental impact throughout the apparel supply chain. By implementing recyclable or biodegradable packaging materials, companies can significantly reduce emissions associated with packaging production and disposal. These materials are designed to break down naturally over time, minimising the accumulation of non-biodegradable waste in landfills and oceans. Additionally, opting for eco-friendly packaging solutions not only reduces the carbon footprint but also demonstrates a commitment to environmental sustainability. By choosing packaging materials derived from renewable sources or those that can be easily recycled, companies can minimise their environmental footprint and contribute to a more sustainable future for the apparel industry.
  • Integration of technological innovations: The integration of technological innovations, particularly Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems, is pivotal in modernising and optimising supply chain operations within the apparel industry. By leveraging ERP systems, companies can streamline various aspects of their supply chain, from procurement and production to distribution and inventory management. These systems enable real-time tracking and management of raw materials and products, allowing for efficient resource allocation and inventory optimisation. As a result, companies can minimise waste and reduce their environmental impact by ensuring optimal inventory levels and minimising excess stock. Furthermore, ERP systems facilitate the measurement and tracking of sustainability progress, empowering companies to monitor their carbon footprints and environmental performance. This enables organisations to identify areas for improvement and implement targeted strategies to drive continuous sustainability initiatives throughout the supply chain.

Collaborating for a sustainable future

With sustainability and carbon neutrality emerging as imperatives for the modern textile and apparel industry, collaboration now holds the key to driving the sector forward. Major players in the fashion industry can collaborate and exchange resources, knowledge, and expertise to form resilient partnerships and create a truly sustainable ecosystem.

A prominent example is the global clothing brand Lacoste, which partnered with IUCN Save Our Species to inspire support for threatened animals by changing their iconic crocodile logo for one of 10 other animals. Similarly, the brand also strives to massively reduce greenhouse gas emissions, use only preferred raw materials, and only work with sustainable suppliers. Similarly, sports and fashion brand Adidas partnered with Real Madrid to manufacture jerseys made from up-cycled marine plastic debris, turning the material into usable yarn fibres with modern technologies.

H&M, the renowned fashion and design brand, has joined forces with Singapore-based financial services group DBS to introduce a groundbreaking green loan program. This initiative serves as a prime example of how companies can effectively contribute to mitigating their suppliers’ environmental impact. Through this newly launched program, suppliers partnered with H&M gain access to financing options provided by DBS, featuring highly favorable terms designed specifically for implementing targeted greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reduction initiatives. In addition to the financial assistance, suppliers enrolled in the program receive valuable technical support from sustainability consultant Guidehouse. This comprehensive guidance aims to empower suppliers to embark on significant factory upgrades geared towards reducing their climate impact.

Other companies are also taking steps to put pressure on their supply chains to adopt sustainable practices. For example, Unilever has a Supplier Code of Conduct that requires suppliers to meet certain sustainability standards. And Nike has a Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC) index that measures suppliers’ sustainability performance.

What tomorrow holds: Building a greener future

Amidst the intricacies of the contemporary apparel supply chain and the challenges posed by its substantial carbon footprint, we are witnessing a profound shift towards sustainability. This transformation, driven by innovative approaches and collaborative endeavors, marks a promising trajectory for the industry.

As the apparel sector navigates towards greener practices, focusing on eco-friendly materials, enhancing energy efficiency, optimising transportation logistics, and fostering industry-wide collaborations, it emerges as a frontrunner in paving the way towards an environmentally conscious future. With consumers increasingly advocating for transparency and accountability, brands not only have the opportunity to minimise their carbon footprints but also to catalyse positive transformations across the entire fashion landscape.

About the author:

Partha S Dash assumed his role as Managing Director (New Business and Growth) at Moglix in 2015 and has been a part of the seed to scale journey for the MRO and packaging verticals. Going forward, he will focus on growing the new business verticals and geographies. Dash is an NIT Rourkela and XIM alumnus, he has worked in leadership positions at manufacturing giants such as ITC, Tata Steel and Olam International across 15 countries globally. Before joining Moglix, Partha was heading the distribution business for Olam in the entire South Africa.