Greenhouse Gases (GHG) can absorb heat in the atmosphere, thereby causing global warming. The major GHG emitted from human activities include carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and fluorinated gases. In practice, GHG emissions are often presented in the unit of carbon dioxide equivalent, and are therefore also called carbon emissions. Carbon footprint is a measurement of total carbon emissions from a certain activity, with a larger carbon footprint indicating more carbon emissions released to the atmosphere. According to the World Bank, the global average carbon footprint in 2019 was about 4.4 metric tons per capita. To prevent global warming, the global annual average carbon footprint should be lowered to under 2 metric tons per capita before 2050. The fashion and textile industries enjoy a long history of development and many of its traditional production practices have significant impact on the environment. The carbon emissions of the industries mainly come from energy consumption, water consumption, chemicals usage, waste generation, etc., accounting for approximately one-tenth of the total global annual carbon footprint. To help curb global warming and limit global temperature from rising over 1.5°C, the fashion and textile industries are taking action.
According to the GHG Protocol Corporate Accounting and Reporting Standard, carbon footprint comprises 3 scopes. Scope 1 includes emissions that are directly emitted from owned or controlled sources such as fuel combustion of generators and burners. Scope 2 includes emissions that are indirectly emitted from the generation of purchased energy such as electricity and heating. Finally, Scope 3 includes all other significant indirect emissions that occur in a company’s value chain. Because the fashion and textile industries have developed complex networks of global suppliers and trading partners, Scope 3 contributes significantly to the industries’ overall carbon footprint. An overview of the scopes and emissions across a value chain is shown below.
(Source: World Resources Institute)
The fashion and textile industries can take different measures to reduce the carbon footprint of operations and the value chain. To reduce Scope 1 and 2 emissions, companies can explore energy-efficient solutions for production and transportation, apply renewable energy when feasible, etc. Companies are encouraged to work together with their upstream partners to lower Scope 3 emissions relating to raw materials production and shipping. Through increasing efficiency of material production, processing and manufacturing, as well as reducing waste generated from the above processes, most manufacturers can achieve a significant drop in carbon emission. Finally, the trend of sustainability is rising and consumer behaviour is changing. Companies in the fashion and textile industries can take the opportunity to step up in developing and applying innovative and sustainable fabrics, and also to minimise waste to landfill by encouraging reusing, repairing, and recycling apparels, in order to move together towards a more sustainable and circular economy.
In Hong Kong, many fashion and textile companies have also started implementing sustainable measures to mitigate their carbon emissions. For example, some have already set targets for minimising carbon emissions, wastewater and solid waste, switching to clean energy, and purchasing sustainable materials. As a major hub for the global fashion and textile industries, Hong Kong continues to play a key role to mitigate the industries’ carbon emissions and to contribute significantly to global sustainability.